A Dog Learns to Literally Follow His Guardians

By: David Codr

Published Date: July 15, 2015

Clancy 1

Clancy is a six-year-old Bischan Tsitzu Mix in Omaha. His guardians called me in to help put a stop to his occasional aggressive behaviors that manifested when correcting the dog or taking items away.

In the course of discussing Clancy with his guardians, it quickly became apparent that the dog considered himself equal in authority to the humans in the home. When a dog thinks its a leader but the humans don’t act like followers, it can cause the dog to become stressed out.

I started out by suggesting some simple new rules and limits to adopt. While some people think correcting a dog, its actually an important part of human canine communication. Dogs don’t speak or understand english so they observe us and our reactions to their behavior and movements to determine what is and is not ok. When a dog crosses a boundary and you correct it the second it crosses the line every time, eventually the dog learns that its supposed to stay behind it.

But when a dog is not corrected, it assumes what it is doing is OK. That’s why setting clear rules and boundaries from day one is so important. To help the dog lean to start looking to his guardians for guidance and help them practice correcting the dog with good timing, I walked them through a leadership exercise I developed a few years ago.

After Clancy’s guardians completed the leadership exercise, we discussed the leader follower dynamic. In a very literal sense, they will need to start having the dog in a follower position. By having the dog literally behind the humans, it sees itself as a follower. This needs to happen in many areas, really whenever possible; when answering the door, when out on a walk, walking down the hallway, eating food, going down stairs, etc. By asking the dog to wait for the humans, we can help it learn to self restrain while also reinforcing the leader follower dynamic his guardians want.

I showed his guardians how to correct Clancy when he moves ahead of them as well as how to condition him to start waiting for them to pass first on his own. Whenever possible, I always want the dog to do the work.

When one of the guardians got up to get me a glass of water, I noticed that Clancy followed her to the kitchen. I mentioned this when she came back and learned that this was pretty common. Combined with his other behaviors, this made me concerned that the dog may develop a case of separation anxiety.

One of the ways I rehabilitate a dog with separation anxiety, i often teach a dog a “stay” command. But my new apprentice Tara teaches the stay a different way so I had her take the lead and run through her version of this command. By teaching the dog to stay until the human gives it a release word, we can avoid it developing a separation complex and also help it develop more self control.

Because the family has a little one due towards the end of the year, I showed his guardians how to establish a boundary to the future nursery. While baby gates work to keep dogs out, its not exactly convenient, especially when you are carrying an actual baby.

Using the new follower concept we went over, I had Clancy’s guardians go into the future nursery then turn around the face the dog. Clancy had started to follow them into the room so his guardian walked right at him to communicate he needed to back up. Once he was past the boundary into the room they stopped. After waiting a second, she took a step directly backward then paused to observe the dog. Clancy started to move forward again so she repeated her movement. After this one correction, Clancy laid down outside the room right behind the newly established boundary.

Clancy 2

Judging by the number of “I can’t believe it” comments from his guardians, I knew they were impressed by their dogs ability to respect this new boundary so quickly.

Because the dog pulled in the leash and walked as far in front of his handler as possible, I showed them how to use a Martingale collar with my special twist to the leash. While I knew this would greatly help curb his pulling, he was still attempting to take a leadership role by walking in front of his guardian.

As the family lives in a split level home, I decided to show them how to use the short flight of stairs to the front door as another exercise. By correcting the dog when it attempts to move ahead and taking the time before actually leaving the house, the dog will learn he needs to watch his handler and follow his or her lead.

By the time we exited the house, Clancy was completely calm and walking next to his guardian in a near perfect heel. I offered a few tips and suggestions while on the walk, but by taking our time inside the house, Clancy’s energy and behavior were much improved.

Shortly after returning from the walk, Clancy zonked out on the floor. I asked his guardians how they felt about the progress we made in the session. They said he seemed far calmer and much more in tune with them and what they wanted. My apprentice Tara mentioned that the humans seemed more relaxed too which is big. Dogs are very perceptive to humans, especially their guardians so a calm demeanor can be a major positive influence on a dog and its behavior.

Clancy 3

Clancy’s occasional aggression when corrected is an offshoot of his perception that he was in a position of authority. Now that his guardians know how to lead him, he can return to a follower position. Once he sees and identifies this way, most of his aggressive, possessive or unwanted behaviors should abate on their own.

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