A High Energy Golden Retriever / Brittney Mix Learns to Respect His Family

buddy-and-duke

Buddy (left) is a seven-year-old Wirehaired Griffin who lives in Omaha. Three months ago Buddy’s family rescued Duke, a one-year-old Golden Retriever / Brittney mix. The guardians set up this dog behavior training session with us to get Duke under control. As one of this guardians put it, “He took the house over immediately.”

Duke is very high energy and has difficulty controlling himself or listening. He lunges at Buddy when eating, gets excited when he sees the leash, barks a lot, doesn’t drop the ball when playing fetch and races up and down the stairs, bumping past the humans.

I knew Duke was an excitable dog from discussing the situation with his guardian over the phone when we booked the session. So I was caught a bit by surprise by his behavior once the door opened.

Fortunately this was more of a territorial display (likely due to being overexcited and his lack of control). Once Duke got a chance to give me a good sniff, he stopped acting in an aggressive way.

I was concerned when Duke turned to snap at Buddy during the excitement. As the session progressed, it became clear that Buddy is a sweet and sensitive dog who was likely still processing this new dog who came into his house like a wild man.

Duke gave us another example of his over excited and wild nature when Sam and I tried to sit down with his family in the living room.

Because the family had failed to establish rules, boundaries and limits when Duke arrived, this high energy dog had basically taken over. This lack of dog training or obedience is not healthy for Duke, Buddy or the family.

After about 10 minutes, it had become obvious that there were two primary issues that needed to be addressed; finding appropriate ways to deplete Duke’s ample supply of energy and adding in structure so that he started to see his humans as the authority figures.

While I was formulating a plan, Buddy came into the cozy living room and tried to push past Sam. Now as you saw in the above video, Duke was all over the place, barking like crazy and paying little attention to the humans. As a result, Sam and I had adopted faster and more intense posters and communication methods to reach him.

Because we were almost under siege by Duke, Sam disagreed with Buddy’s attempt to push his way through a little more intensely than we would have it not been such a chaotic scenario. This was when I saw how sensitive and gentle Buddy was. He immediately left the entire area.

Now Sam’s disagreement was not harsh; she simply stood up quickly while hissing at the dog. For 90% of the dogs we work with, this would have been totally ok, but in Buddy’s case, it was a little too much.

I made sure to point this out to Buddy’s guardians. It will be important that they are a little more soft spoken with Buddy due to his more sensitive nature. I also recommended that they start petting him by scratching him under his chin as he consistently dropped his head. This is a body posture usually displayed by dogs with lower confidence or self esteem.

Later in the session (after Sam did some great positive interactions with Buddy to build him back up) I noticed that any time the guardians gave a command to Duke (who rarely complied), dutiful Buddy was following the command right away on the side, and without any reward.

After the session, I was a little disappointed in myself for not stressing how wonderful a dog Buddy was. He was really displaying much of the behavior the guardians were looking for. I did recommend that they go out of their way to start petting Buddy when he complies, even if the command was directed at Duke. If Duke sees that each time Buddy follows an order he is rewarded, that can motivate Duke to start following them. It will also help build up Buddy’s self esteem and confidence.

After Sam’s interaction with Buddy, I knew I needed to do something to address Duke’s over excited energy as it was effecting everyone. I pulled my roller blades out of the car and spent 20 minutes Dog Skiing with Duke around the neighborhood while Sam was patching things up with Buddy.

Sam also went over our Petting with a Purpose strategy. This involved everyone in the home refraining from petting Duke unless he does something to earn it first (like following a command to sit, lay down or come). Over time this will help Duke learn that he has to earn his affection and the only way he can do that is by being obedient and calm.

Many people inadvertently get their dog all worked up by excitedly talking about an activity (whoooooo wanna goooooo for a waaaaaalk?) and then petting them. But any time we pet our dogs, we are agreeing with whatever they happen to be doing at the time. So if Duke is all crazy and they pet him, they are telling him they enjoy his excited nature so much he gets a reward. This can actually trigger more barking and I knew in this house, we needed to find a way to stop dog barking.

Ifs the guardians want to pet Buddy for no reason, its OK because he is so respectful and obedient. But practicing the Petting with a purpose strategy with him can have a positive impact as he will feel he is earning his reward. So our recommendation is that the rules and structure be equally applied to both dogs (with a little cheating for Buddy ok on occasion).

When I returned from Dogskiing, Sam was showing the family how to train the dogs to use a dog bed on command.

Because the family room was cozy and the dogs will not be allowed on the furniture for the near future (or potentially for good), providing them with a out of the way area that includes a dog bed will help all involved.

Sam had also gone over a series of escalating consequences the family can use to disagree with the dogs when they did something they didn’t like or broke one of the new rules. It will be important that the guardians are petting or rewarding the dogs within 3 seconds of them doing something they like or dislike.

I pointed out a number of opportunities to pet Buddy for following a command that Duke ignored but also recommended that the guardians start petting Buddy (and Duke) whenever they engaged in a desired action (like sitting, coming or laying down). If the family can get into a habit of petting the dogs for doing the things that are linked to a command word, even though they didn’t give the dog the command, they will make it easier for the dog to be obedient when they do make it a command.

Now that we had covered rules and structure, we headed to the basement steps so I could show the humans how to train Duke to wait at the top or bottom of the stairs rather than pushing his way past them as he raced up or down.

Duke responded really well to this exercise. Im guessing in large part because he was finally somewhat drained energy wise. I suggested they practice this exercise a few times a day for a week or two so that Duke gets into a habit of waiting for the humans to go first.

As I have mentioned several times in this case study, Duke’s high energy was a major impactor on his behavior. I had asked if Duke liked to fetch and he did, he just didnt like to drop the ball after retrieving it.

We headed outside so that I could show the guardian how to get Duke to drop the ball on command.

It was great to see how well Duke responded to the technique, but of course the important thing will be that he performs the same way with his guardian.

We swapped positions and I coached her though the new fetching technique until she got the same result on her own.

I recommended that the guardian start keeping a journal of Duke’s exercise and behavior each day. I have found for high energy dogs, we often have to come up with a regimen that is customized to that dog.

By changing up and testing different combinations of walks, fetching, dog play, visits to the dog park, etc (and adding it to the daily journal with an overall grade for the day) – Duke’s guardian should be able to find the right recipe. Then they can repeat the exercises in the right combination and repetitions ever day to help meet Duke’s needs.

Now that the guardians can use the fetch, this will be an outstanding maintenance exercise to engage in any time Duke gets riled up or shows he has a little too much stored up energy.

Because of how intense Duke’s issues were, we didn’t get a chance to address Buddy’s fear of waving the ball chucker. Because of how loving and gentle Buddy was throughout the session, this really bothered me after we left.

The technique I would have suggested for Buddy would be some counterconditioning. This is a process where we expose the dog to something it is fearful or reactive to under a controlled situation at a low intensity while simultaneously providing it with a high value reward. When done right, it helps the dog develop a positive association with the activity.

In Buddy’s case, this would involve someone holding a treat in front of his face so he could nibble on it while he watched someone else wave the ball chucker in the same fashion they would when throwing the ball.

This video from another session explains the counter conditioning technique.

If the guardians can practice waving the chucker while someone else holds a leash attached to Buddy and also lets him nibble on a high value treat while watching the chucker being waved, they can help him stop being fearful of it.

It will be important to start with some good distance between Buddy and whoever is waving the chucker. If Buddy can stay in a sit and shows interest in eating the treat, they can move a step or two closer and repeat practicing the exercise.

If they go slow and at Buddy’s pace (not moving closer until he can sit and eat a treat while watching the ball chucker waving 5 times in a row before the humans take a few steps closer), he will eventually feel calm and not react when he sees or hears the chucker being waved.

Duke was a challenging dog for sure. One exercise we practiced went quite a long time while Duke challenged and barked at his guardian. This is due to going from no rules to some structure all at once and having too much pent up energy.

I strongly recommended that the guardians look into getting a dog walker if they can’t walk Duke at least once every day. The fetch will be far more effective at burning energy, but a good 45 min to hour long daily walk would work wonders.

If the guardians consistently enforce the new rules (within 3 seconds), practice the techniques we introduced (like petting with a purpose), reward the dogs for engaging in desired behaviors (even if done unprompted) and find the right combination of exercises for Duke, Duke should learn to identify as being a follower and stop challenging Buddy and the humans.

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