Adding Rules and Structure to Help a Carin Terrier Learn to Control Herself

By: David Codr

Published Date: October 18, 2015


Brownie is a ten-year-old Carin terrier mix who doesn’t listen, follow instructions, can be dog aggressive and has a strong prey drive.

Although she is ten-years-old, Brownie has only been in her current home for a few months. Its natural for a dog’s behavior to change as they get comfortable and “settled in.”

Her guardian noticed a strong reaction any time that Brownie saw a dog pass by a window, near the back yard or on walks. The reaction was so strong that Brownie’s guardian started to decrease the walks in favor of play and lounge time in the back yard.

While a dog can burn energy by running around the yard, its not an activity that develops or reinforces the proper leader follower dynamic. One of my goals for this session was to get the guardian walking the dog with control by the end of the session.

Because Brownie is a terrier, a stronger prey drive is to be expected. While this can be overcome, it requires the dog to develop the ability to control and restrain itself rather than always responding instinctively. A great way to accomplish this is to put into place some simple rules and boundaries and then enforce them. After suggesting a few such rules, I went over how to react when the dog forgets or violates them.

Consistently applying these consequences whenever Brownie gets out of line will help redefine the leader follower dynamic in the house. Each time she does so, the dog’s self perception of being in an authority position will diminish.

This fundamental change in how the dog sees it and its guardian’s authority is an important part of rehabilitating Brownie so that she is not so reactive to the sight of another dog.

While I was discussing this with Brownie’s guardian, the dog brought me a play toy and sort of tossed it at me to ask me to play with her. As retrieving a thrown toy is a favorite activity of Brownie, I showed her guardian how to turn this game into an exercise that helps her practice controlling herself.

By asking Brownie to sit and wait until she is calm before throwing the toy again, we can help her develop the ability to stay calm, even in the presence of something she is very excited about.

Because Brownie didn’t always follow commands the first time and the dog’s lower interest in being petted, I went over a different way to pet her.

While it may seem like a small thing, consistently rewarding Brownie for obedience or following a command is a subtle way to help the dog see the guardian as being the authority figure.

Each time we offer a reward or affection for completing a command, we make it easier for the dog to do it again in the future. The reward reinforces that good things happen when listening and following the lead of the human.

Brownie’s guardian mentioned that in addition to animals, her dog liked to attack the vacuum cleaner so I had her get it out so I could see the reaction.

Many people think that dogs don’t like vacuums due to the sound they make. While the sound certainly doesn’t help, its actually the dust and more specifically the smell that is released when the vacuum is turned on. Everything is a scent to dogs and when we turn on the vacuum, all the smells it has sucked up are released through the air passing through the collecting bag which is why I had the guardian move it without turning it on.

This movement proved to be enough to trigger a response from the dog. I wanted to observe Brownie a little bit to identify the cues that she was getting stressed or ready to strike. Its usually not a good idea to keep pushing a dog once it reaches its limit so we stopped and moved on to another exercise to help the dog relax a bit.

When we picked up the vacuum exercise again, I carefully observed Brownie and corrected her the second she started to get a little excited. Its much easier to get a dog to stop reacting if you can object or correct the dog before it actually reacts.

We practiced this for a few moments until Brownie was able to observe the vacuum first moving, then moving while being on without reacting so intensely.

While Brownie’s reactivity was much better, she was not completely over responding to the vacuum. It will take practice at this exercise combined with the guardian’s timely reaction to Brownie before she starts to react to the vacuum before she stops this unwanted behavior completely.

Next we prepared to go for a walk. I showed her guardian how to stop and pause or walk away the instant that the dog started to get excited. Many times, its an excited dog that gets into the most trouble. Its important to understand that a dog can be happy without being excited.

By stopping and moving away when Brownie started to get excited, her guardian was able to help her learn that the only way to continue was by remaining completely calm. This is another activity that will require practice and vigilance before it becomes a newly ingrained habit.

Now that we had run through several different actions and activities that asked the dog to stop and control itself, we were ready to head out for a walk.

Because Brownie had gotten into a habit of pulling on the leash and lunging at any dogs that came near, I fitted her up with a Martingale collar and added the special twist to the leash.

While Brownie was clearly aware of the barking dog we walked past, for the most part she did not react herself. Part of this was due to the work we had just done inside the house. By practicing the various exercises that required Brownie to restrain herself, we had some carry over into this new experience.

Now Brownie is by no means fixed. Her guardian will need to continue to work with her in order to fully set the proper leader follower dynamic. Additional practice at different situations that require Brownie to control and restrain herself will also be an important part of the rehabilitation.

But if Brownie’s guardian continues to assume the leader role and works on these techniques and exercises; the new more mindful, respectful and obedient behavior we achieved can become the new normal for the dog.

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This post was written by: David Codr

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