Changing the Leader Follower Dynamic to Stop a Pack From Marking in the House

By: David Codr

Published Date: December 18, 2014

Max and Petey

Petey is a eight year old Pekingese who has a history of marking the home. Max is a four year old Terrier mix who jumps up, has accidents in the house and also marks.

Max was pogo-jumping at the front door waiting for his owner to let me in. For a little guy, he has an impressive vertical, at least three feet. Petey came along with her owner, moving at a decidedly slower pace.

When I sat down with their owner to discuss the situation, both dogs jumped up on the couch and took turns pawing at their owner for attention. While there is nothing wrong with petting a dog, providing that sort of attention on demand can send the wrong message to a dog. It puts the human in a follower position and gives the dog the impression that they have equal or more authority than the owner, i.e. they can tell them what to do; in this case, pet or pay attention to me.

Dog marking in a house with multiple dogs is basically the manifestation of a competition for the top spot. I have found the best way to stop it is to change the leader follower dynamic in the dog’s eyes. I suggested that their owner adopt a few basic rules and also showed them how to communicate and enforce boundaries.

Because dogs equate status to the height they sit at, I suggested they block the dogs from getting on the furniture for a month or so. This will help the dogs identify as being in a subordinate position. At first the dogs tried to ignore the command to get off the couch, but once their owners started communicating in a confident and assertive way, the dogs started responding faster.

I recommended that they adopt the No Free Lunch method of a affection. By only petting the dogs when they follow a command like sit, dawn or come, we can help them practice following their owner using positive reinforcement. The more the dogs identify as being in the follower position, the less inclined they will be to mark in the house.

We wrapped up the session with a structured feeding ritual. Their owner had them eating out of the same bowl and was essentially free feeding them. Because eating is such a primally important activity, their owners can really elevate into an authority position by having dominion over the dog’s food.

I had their owner add food to two bowls and place them down, but communicate to the dogs that she wanted a five foot boundary. At first the dogs were disorientated and confused, but their owners consistently blocked them and enforced the boundary until the dogs sat down a few feet away.

The family took out some pretzel sticks and snacked on them in front of the dogs while they waited. Once they were done, they gave Max permission to eat first. It took a little coaxing, but eventually Max came over and ate most of his food. As soon as he walked away form his bowl, I had his owner dump the remaining food back into the bag then replace the bowl to the floor.

Once Max was done, his owner communicated she wanted him to leave the area so she could invite in Petey to eat. Max attempted to come over but his owner used body movement to communicate he needed to keep a respectable distance. By controlling who has access, and controlling the other dog, their owners can really increase their authority in the dog’s eyes. As this respect for their authority increases, the dogs will stop feeling that a position is open to challenge each other for which should stop the marking completely.

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This post was written by: David Codr

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