A Pack of Cold Weather Dogs Learn to Calm Down and Respect Their Guardian

By: David Codr

Published Date: October 16, 2015

Casper, Meeko and Koda

Casper (left) is three-year-old American Eskimo who moved in with Meeko, a four-year-old Husky male and Koda (right), a three-year-old Husky male. Individually they are pretty well behaved, but after little Casper moved in, the dogs started to get over excited when guests arrived, when people pass by the front of the house and when out on walks.

I started out by going over a few rules and boundaries that their guardian can adopt. While some people think of rules and correcting a dog as being mean, setting rules and enforcing consequences is an important part of the leader follower dynamic.

Dogs go through life probing and testing, waiting to be corrected. If they probe enough, they can get the feeling of “Since there are no rules for me. I must be the rule maker. If I’m the rule maker, I must be the authority figure.” But in this case, three dogs got the idea that they could be the authority figure. So in different situations, different dogs try to assert themselves.

Additionally when you have multiple dogs who all think they have claim to the authority role, you have competition for that top spot. This can lead to conflicts amongst the dogs and dogs who only listen and obey when they feel like it.

My solution to this problem has always been to put the human in the authority light so that the dogs see that the top spot has been filled. Once this realization has been made, there is nothing left for the dogs to compete for. Setting and enforcing some rules, boundaries and limits is a great way for the human to act as a leader in the dog’s eyes.

While we were discussing these rules and consequences, I noticed the dogs got right up in their guardian’s personal space often. And if she started to pet or give another dog affection, the other dogs would come in and invade her space to compete for attention.

I showed the guardian how to use body language and movement to disagree with the dogs when they approached with the intent of invading her personal space as well as if they continued after her warning.

By consistently standing up and facing the dogs whenever they got too close or tried to get in between her and another dog when she petted it, the guardian can communicate to the dogs that she wants them to respect her personal space. While this may not seem like a big deal, it shows the dog’s mindset and that it does not think it needs to be concerned about her personal space. When the dogs start to respect her space on their own, she will know that a change in self perception is taking effect.

I also suggested that she start to pet the dogs for a reason rather than just because one was nearby or pawed at her for attention. By asking the dogs to sit or lay down, then petting them for doing so we can help condition the dogs to start engaging in what I call “Desired behaviors.” These dogs are seeking the human’s attention. If she only provides it to dogs who do something for her (sit, come or lay down), they will start to engage in these actions more often to gain her attention.

To help the dogs learn and practice self restraint, I showed the guardian a Leadership Exercise I developed a few years ago. In addition to helping he dog learn more self control, it helps the guardian practice the escalating consequences I showed her earlier in the session. Just like any other skill, it will take time and practice before she reacts with them as second nature when the dogs break the rules.

After going over the exercise a few times with Meeko, he seemed to grasp the rules and concept.  I walked the guardian through it until she was successful as well. I strongly suggested that she repeat this exercise with each dog individually each day until they are able to restrain themselves and look to her for guidance and permission right away. Once that is the case, she can start adding time to help the dogs develop more self control. Additionally, the exercise will deepen the dog’s respect for her as their authority figure.

Next we tackled the door greeting and over excitement the dogs showed when guests knocked on the door. As soon as they heard any knocking they raced to the door and jumped up on it while spinning in circles waiting for the guardian to come and open the door.

When a dog is in front of a human, it sees itself as leading the person. This applies in many instances; walking down a hallway, up stairs, out the door first, etc. So when we open the door with the dog in front of us, they see themselves as needing to claim the guest (often accomplished by jumping up on them).

Since security of the pack is a job usually reserved for the pack leader, allowing the dogs to be in between the human and the door sends them the wrong message. To change this behavior, I showed the guardian how to claim the space around the door. After doing this myself, we repeated the exercise with the guardian answering the door herself this time.

By the time we went through the exercise the dogs were far less excited. In fact it wasn’t until Casper started barking that their energy level went up the second time we practiced the door answering ritual. I wish I had the first practice of this exercise on tape as the change in their behavior in only one repetition is pretty dramatic.

I suggested that the humans practice this door answering ritual with one another for the next week or two. By practicing amongst themselves, they can do so without any added emotion or energy that we put out when its a real guest and we are embarrassed at our dogs barking and excited behavior.

If they practice this door answering exercise a few times a day over the next week or so, the dogs should start to stay behind the boundary to the door on their own. This self restraint will lessen the intensity of their reaction while will aide the dogs in adopting a new calmer behavior when there is a knock at the door.

By the end of the session, the dogs were already respecting their guardian’s personal space and seemed to be responding to commands and corrections better. While we made good progress, these dogs need some work on the basics. It will help the guardian immensely to work with them individually until the actions are a snap for the dog to do like sitting outside on a walk.

Like many guardians with multiple dogs, the family members would prefer to do things like walk all the dogs together. But because their fundamentals are so weak (hard to get them to sit on a walk, pulling in all directions and poor focus), this will only frustrate the dogs and their handler.

Working with one dog at a time practicing these basics will allow the guardian to move faster as she can give each dog her undivided attention and disagree or correct with the dog the instant it gets out of position. Once they have mastered all the actions and behaviors expected from their guardian and they have become second nature, then they will be ready to start working as a group.

Its going to take a good week or two of consistently monitoring and correcting the dogs for breaking the rules and boundaries before they give up and stop testing the guardian to see if she is vigilant. This is a game of who blinks first, the human has to win before the dogs will give in and change their behavior. Once that is the case, then the over excitement and ornery behaviors will stop and be replaced by the desired behaviors that get the attention and affection of the guardian.

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This post was written by: David Codr

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