Changing a Dog’s Perception of Authority to Stop His Accidents in the House

By: David Codr

Published Date: April 7, 2015

Cooper TshizTsu

Cooper is a two-year-old Shitzu / Poodle mix who has started to have accidents in the house. Cooper was potty trained, but his owner went through a health issue and during recovery, the dog regressed and started going #1 and 2 in the apartment.

After discussing the situation with his owners and observing the dog it was pretty obvious that a lack of rules and structure had led the Cooper to see his status or authority as equals to his owners. He only listened or followed commands when he felt like it, demanded his owners pet him on demand and had no boundaries or limits.

Making matters worse, his owners rewarded him when he engaged in leadership actions or behaviors like petting him when he demanded it, going to his position to pet him when he didn’t feel like walking over himself and letting him sit on the back cushion of the couch.

The height a dog sits has a correlation to their rank amongst their family or members of the pack. Cooper wasn’t just sitting at the same level as his guardians, he was sitting higher than then. This heightened position and the fact no one disagreed with him when he ascended certainly led the dog to believe that his human counterparts were subordinate to the dog.

I suggested that his guardians incorporate some basic rules and boundaries to help the dog start to see and identify as being in a follower position. Number one on the list was to make the furniture off limits for 30 days. This will provide a literal distinction between dog and human and help Cooper start to see his guardians as having more authority than he does.

I also suggested that his owners stop petting him whenever he nosed, barked or scratched at them. When a dog does this, it is essentially giving the human an order. When the human complies, it puts them into a follower position in the dogs eyes. This is a mistake made all too often by my clients. By simply giving the dog a counter-order to sit, then petting him while repeating the command word “sit,” we can use positive reinforcement to gently communicate that following the humans commands comes with a reward. Over time, this interaction will become second nature to Cooper’s guardians and the payouts will help the dog learn its good to listen to and follow his owners.

Next I went over a leadership exercise to further redefine the leader follower dynamic. It only took Cooper two repetitions before he understood what the exercise was looking for from him. After coaching his guardians through the exercise with equal success, we went over a recall exercise. Living in an apartment, Cooper’s owners don’t have access to a fenced in yard and they wanted to make sure that he will come when called if he ever slips his leash.

We dove into the potty training issues after that. I asked a few questions to determine how they fought the dog to eliminate outside and learn if they marked the action with a command word properly. They had done a good job with the overall structure, so I simply suggested a few structural additions to take away the dog’s ability to eliminate inside. Combined with lavish (but calm) praise for doing his business outside, it shouldn’t take longer than a week to get Cooper to understand that eliminating outside is an activity that his guardians really appreciate.

By the time we wrapped up the session, Cooper was already acting much more like a follower while his guardians had assumed leadership roles with aplomb. He stopped trying to get on the couch, was sitting politely a few feet in front of them to request some attention or affection and responded to commands and corrections instantly. Because he is a smart dog and his issues were minor, it shouldn’t take long for his guardians to communicate exactly what they do and don’t want from Cooper. Combined with the structure and newly redefined leader follower relationship, Coopers days of accidents and not listening should be at an end in no time.

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