Sorting Out Brooklyn in Los Angeles

By: David Codr

Published Date: July 12, 2015

Brooklyn 1

Brooklyn is one-year-old Spaniel Chihuahua mix who lives in Los Angeles. Her guardians contacted me to help with a case of separation anxiety, demand barking, door dashing as well as not listening to their commands or corrections.

When I arrived for the session, Brooklyn was not happy to see me. She growled, barked, made a lot of direct eye contact with a lowered head and showed a dominant, territorial posture. I kept her in front of me and blocked her each time she attempted to circle around or jump up on me.  Because the dog is so small, its easy to overlook the aggressive behavior. While it wasn’t outright aggression, there was some substance to her bark, body language and movement.

I waited in the entryway for a moment to see if she would settle down, but Brooklyn was clearly in a territorial mindset and showed no signs of backing down anytime soon.

Because she was not coming from an insecure place, I knew I needed to earn her respect. I pulled out a training leash then slowly approached her. Brooklyn made it clear she did not appreciate my approach but she did start to move away.

I methodically followed her until she cornered her self into the kitchen. Once this was the case I stopped moving forward going her a 15 foot cushion as I did not want her to feel cornered. After Brooklyn settled down a little bit, I approached her in a sideways orientation. Once I was a few feet away from her she stopped barking completely. I held out the leash so that she could inspect it, then slid it over her head.

We went back into the living room and I sat down with her guardians to discuss Brooklyn and what they want to do accomplish in the session.

A couple of times during this conversation, Brooklyn attempted to get her guardians attention by jumping up on them or invading their personal space. When a dog does not show any respect for humans personal space, it’s usually an indicator that they do not hold a high level of respect for their authority.

I started out by showing her guardians how to claim their personal space using body movement rather than their voice. Each time the dog got too close, I had the person stand up and turn so that they were facing the dog.

While this tactic effectively communicated to the dog that she was to keep a respectable distance, she barked to let us know that she disagreed with this new correction and boundary. Her guardians mentioned that she had a tendency to bark like this whenever she did not get her way. This is called demand barking and one of the worst things you can do is react when the dog barks at you this way. Of course when I explained this to her guardians they laughed as they have been yelling at the dog to be quiet. But when you yell while a dog is barking, they simply think you’re barking with them.

I showed them a different technique that temporally limits the dog’s freedom while it is having an outburst. By simply applying this consequence in a calm, nonverbal way, the dog can quickly learn that the old tactic of demand barking will no longer work.

In the course of our discussion I learned that Brooklyn really didn’t have very many rules, boundaries or limits she was expected to follow. Combined with the fact that her guardians petted her anytime she came near them – it’s no wonder the dog felt it was in a leadership position.

I suggested a number of small changes to their day-to-day lives that will help the dog start to see and identify as being a follower position. One of these was to tell the dog to sit or lay down each time when it scratched at or nudged her guardians for attention. When a dog paws like this to to tell it’s guardian when it is time to pet them, they are coming from a position of authority in their minds. Each time that the guardian petted the dog this way, there were reinforcing this leader follower dynamic.

But by giving the dogs a counter order of sit, or lay down – their guardians were only providing positive reinforcement or a reward when the dog engages in a desired action or activity. Although this is very subtle change, things like this happen many times every day. Once the guardians give the dog this counter order enough, it will become second nature. Once that’s the case they will be effectively training their dog to see itself as a follower without even thinking about it.

To help increase Brooklyn’s guardian’s authority in the dog’s eyes, I walked them through an exercise that asks the dog to ignore a high value treat laying in the middle of the floor. While Brooklyn was able to get through the exercise ok, she got a little confused and barked at the end a few times.

Masting this leadership exercise will help the dog start to see and respect her guardian’s as authority figures. I went over how her guardians will be able to gradually increase the length of time she needs to wait for permission. This gradual increase helps the dog develop its self restraint ability for longer periods of time.

During our discussion I learned that Brooklyn did not like going into her kennel. This was likely due to how her guardians used the kennel. Number one, they only put the dog inside when they were leaving. So to the dog, the kennel represents her family leaving her. While it may seem counterintuitive to have a dog inside of the kennel while you’re home, it’s a necessary part of the training process for many dogs. Many dogs don’t panic because of the kennel, they panic because the guardian is leaving. In order to learn to tolerate the kennel, the dog needs to practice being calm inside the kennel with the guardians still there.

I pulled out a few strongly scented treats and dropped one into the kennel so that I could gauge Brooklyn’s reaction to it. I was expecting a dog that wanted to go nowhere near the kennel, but Brooklyn went right in.

I tossed a few additional treats into the kennel allowing her to enter and leave after she got each one. I started repeating the command word of “place” each time the dog’s lips touched the treat. By repeating a command word in a calm tone of voice the instant a dog eats a treat while it is inside of the kennel, we can associate all three things together. In time, this will condition the dog to go into her kennel on command.

Just about the time we were finishing up this part of the session, there was a knock at the door. As soon as the dog heard the knock, it started barking and rushed over to the front door. I got up and walked over to the door in a calm, casual manner. Once I was at the door, I turned so that my front was facing the dog then started to walk deliberately right at Brooklyn. Brooklyn continued to bark in protest but did retreat away from me and the door. It took a couple of corrections but eventually I was able to get Brooklyn to stay behind a boundary 15 feet away from the door as I opened it.

By claiming the door space this way and not stopping until the dog was behind a reasonable distance, we can help Brooklyn learn that it is no longer her job to be in charge of home security. When dogs live in a group or pack, the leaders of the group are the ones who are in charge of security. Taking away this job from Brooklyn will help her assume more of a follower position.

To get a feeling for how much of a case of separation anxiety we were dealing with, I asked one of Brooklyn’s owners to leave so I could observe the dog’s reaction to their leaving. As soon as she exited the door, Brooklyngot excited, breathing heavily, pacing around and then she started pogoing – jumping up so high that he was able to bite at the door knob which is impressive considering Brooklyn is all of about 12 inches tall.

When the other guardian left, Brooklyn responded in a similar fashion – just not quite as intensely.

I ran through a exercise I like to use for dogs who are trained to use a kennel. I tossed in a high-value treat and allowed the dog to walk into the kennel and get it. I followed quietly behind the dog and stood blocking the exit from the kennel while keeping the door open. Many dogs with separation anxiety it’s the closing of the door that triggers the beginning of their panic. By asking the dog to stay inside the kennel with the door open were able to bypass this panic mode.

Once Brooklyn stop moving around in the kennel I took a sudden and deliberate steps backwards then stopped and waited. Brooklyn started to move towards the exit of the kennel so I made a sound to disagree with her and stepped forward at the same time. Just put me back in front of the exit to the kennel blocking her from exiting.

I waited for her deposit again and as soon as she did, I took another step backwards. The sun Brooklyn stayed in place so I took a second step, paused, then a third step and so on. As soon as Brooklyn sat down, I immediately took a big step backwards. Once the dog laid down inside the kennel I took a knee and extended a treat toward the dog while giving her a recall command.

Brooklyn 3
I suggested that her guardians practice this exercise every day for the next week or two while gradually increasing the length of time she was asked to stay inside. This gives the dog the ability to practice remaining inside of his kennel in a calm frame of mind.

Next I went over how her guardians can use this technique to stop the dog from getting over excited or worked up when one of the guardians left. By placing the dog inside the kennel when one of them is leaving, they take away the dogs ability to pace back-and-forth and get all worked up. Only after the dog returns to a calm and balanced state of mind do they let her exit the kennel after the other guardian leaves.

I have used this technique with a number of dogs that had severe cases of separation anxiety. At first Brooklyn will likely protest by barking and attempting to rush past human. This is why it’s going to be very important for them to be consistent and block the dog each time that it tries to exit without permission. In time, the dog will adopt this calm frame of mind faster and faster until it no longer panics when one of her guardians leaves.

In the course of our earlier discussion,  I learned that Brooklyn was reactive to some dogs while out on walks and that no leash, collar or harness combination they had tried gave them the control they needed for a walk. I pulled out of Martingale collar and explained to them how it was used before sliding it on Brooklyn’s neck before adding my special twist of the leash.

As we started to leave for the walk, Brooklyn immediately ran in front of her guardian. Whatever the dog is in front while on a walk it is in a leadership position. I showed Brooklyn’s handler how to correct her when she attempted to move in front and we repeated the exiting process again.

We had to pause and run through the exit exercise a few times before Brooklyn was calm enough to stay in a heel position or wait for the guardian to go through the door first. By the time we made it outside Brooklyn was in a calm balanced frame of mind and was very easy to lead as well as correct when she got out of position.

After practicing how to use the Martingale leash, we went to offer a short walk. It only took a handful of corrections before Brooklyn stopped trying to pull ahead and fell into a nice heel position next to whoever was holding her leash.

Brooklyn 2
We ran into a couple of dogs where Brooklyn was able to control herself, and a couple where she started to lose it. I pointed out her various “tells,”  the things that she will do to indicate that she was not comfortable with another dog; staring at the other dog with a lowered head, moving her ears forward, raising her hackles, stopping in adopting a statuesque posture as well as heavy breathing.

By observing the dog when out on a walk and looking for these “tells,” the guardians will be in a position to correct Brooklyn before she has an outburst. Disagreeing with an unwanted action or behavior as early as possible is a crucial part of rehabilitating reactive dog.

When we started back to Brooklyn’s home, she started to pull ahead when we approached the steps to her complex. Her guardian allowed the dog to run n front of her up these steps. This is likely habit on both handler and dog’s part, but it also offers us a great exercise opportunity. I had Brooklyn’s guardian bring her back down to the bottom of the steps and repeat taking the stairs, this time making the dog match her pace. Its a small thing, but having a dog literally follow you goes a long way.

When we returned from the walk, I went over a structured feeding ritual that will also help the dog see and identify as more of a follower. For dogs that live in groups, eating is a very primally important activity. The leaders eat first and then the rest of the dogs eat in the order of the rank amongst their peers.

I had Brooklyn’s guardian add food into the dog’s bowl then place it on the floor. As soon as the dog saw her moving to place the bowl on the ground, she started to move forward. I had her guardian stand up, then immediately turn and face the dog while making a sound to disagree with her movement to the food.

This caught Brooklyn by surprise; she paused and looked up to her guardian for a clue as to how to respond. Her guardian stepped forward walking directly at Brooklyn until she backed up behind a 3 foot boundary. From that point on, anytime that Brooklyn attempted to approach the food, violating this three-foot border, her guardian made the same sound to disagree while moving at the dog until she stopped and retreated three feet away.

Once Brooklyn understood that she was not to approach the food waiting for her in her bowl, I had her guardian pull out a couple of chips and snack on them while leaning on the counter facing the dog. While it would be better to eat a full meal, all that is required is for the dog to see its authority figure eat something in front of it before it eats itself.

Once Brooklyn’s guardian had finished her snack, she walked over to the bowl and gave the dog permission to eat. At first Brooklyn was a little confused and needed some additional coaxing to come over to her bowl. Brooklyn came over and ate about half the contents of the bowl before moving away. I had her guardian pick up the bowl and dump the remaining food back into the bag then replace the empty bowl to the floor. By dumping any leftover food when a dog walks away, the dog eventually understands that when there is food provided it better eat everything because it will not be there after they leave.

By the end of the session Brooklyn was wiped out which will be an important part of her rehabilitation. Dogs that get regular exercise tend to get into far less trouble. This was part of the reason why she was responding to her guardian’s commands and corrections so much quicker. Communicating to her and assuming more of a leadership position also contributed heavily to her change in responsiveness.

Separation anxiety and demand barking are some difficult behaviors to stop, but based on how quickly Brooklyn responded during our session, I’m confident that her guardians have the tools they need to put an end to these unwanted behaviors.

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This post was written by: David Codr

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