Building Up Kaya’s Confidence and Lexi’s Respect for Her Owner’s Authority.
This is Kaya and Lexi, five-year-old Golden Retriever step-sisters. Their owners contacted me for help with Lexi who was having accidents in the house, tended to get over excited at times and could be a nuisance barker.
When I arrived for the session, I could tell that Lexi was over excited and Kaya was a little insecure. While Lexi sniffed me intensely, Kaya stayed a few steps away and avoided eye contact.
When I sat down with their owners to discuss what they wanted to accomplish during he session, I asked what rules the dogs had. In the course of answering the question, their owners told me about some behaviors, daily activities and wishes, but really no rules.
Their owners had rescued dogs before and as many rescue parents do, they thought that since the dogs had had a tougher life before they got them, that the best thing to do was remove all boundaries and rules. While this makes sense to humans, it actually hinders the rebuilding of confidence in many dogs. Not knowing what isnt allowed causes them to get timid as they are in a constant wonder as to what line they should not cross.
Dogs thrive on having clear rules and boundaries put in place by their pack leader. This way they know exactly what is and is not allowed or wanted. Additionally, if a dog does not recognize their humans as being in a leadership position, its difficult for the humans to disagree with any unwanted behaviors. This was clearly the case with Lexi.
To change this dynamic, I suggested a few simple rules to adopt to help the dogs see their humans as pack leaders. These don’t have to be over the top or time consuming. Simple rules such as asking a dog to sit when they want their owners pet them or let them go outside help the dogs learn to take the follower permission.
Next I demonstrated a leadership exercise to help the dogs learn to focus, look to their humans for guidance and restrain themselves. Their owners thought Lexi would be more of a challenge so we started with her. Because the carpet made it hard to see the treat on the floor, I grabbed a paper towel to place it on to help the dogs see the boundary i was asking them to respect. While her owners thought that Lexi was more problematic of the two dogs, her confidence helped her to master the technique within a few repetitions.
After coaching Lexi’s owners through the exercise with equal success, we repeated it with Kaya. It was during this exercise that Kaya’s lack of confidence became much more apparent. She walked far away from the exercise before surrendering to it. Once she did and it was time to reward her for compliance, it took a considerable amount of coaxing to get her to come and claim her reward. As we practiced, she seemed to get it, but her body language and movement made it clear that her self esteem wasn’t as high as it should be.
To start building up Kaya’s confidence, I had her owners move to the corners of the room and we practiced a “recall” exercise. At first Kaya was so unresponsive I resorted to slapping the floor to get her attention. Thats when i noticed she was avoiding the white paper towel I had on the floor from the last boundary exercise. Once I removed it, Kaya started to engage in the recall better. As we practiced, you could see her body language improve as she gained confidence. I suggested they practice the recall and other basic training exercises with her to help her improve her self esteem.
Adding clear rules and practicing the leadership exercises will help Lexi start to see her owners as her pack leaders. Once this transformation takes place, her owner’s will be able to easily correct or disagree with unwanted behaviors. This discipline and structure will also help stop the accidents in the house as her respect for her owner’s authority and position as pack leader becomes clear.
Practicing the recall and mastering other basic commands will be important for Kaya as she build back up her confidence. As this happens, her owners will see more personality come out as well as better and quicker response to their lead and commands.
By the end of the session, both dogs were lying on the floor calmly and contently. With some practice at the exercises and strict adherence to the new rules their behavioral issues should quickly become a distant memory.