Delilah’s Guardians Learn How to Lead her and the dog Learns How to Follow

By: David Codr

Published Date: June 25, 2015

Delilah 1

Delilah is a three-year-old Basset Hound / Chihuahua / Terrier mix who barks at people, dogs and the TV, pulls on the leash, is aggressive at times when playing and occasionally get jealous when other people get attention.

When I arrived for the session,  Delilah was barking excitedly at the door but not in an aggressive or territorial way. Knowing she had a propensity to jump up on people, I made sure that I kept her in front of me as I entered the front door. She only tried to jump up on me once and a quick verbal reprimand put an end to that.

I sat down to discuss the situation with her guardians and noticed that in addition to her jumping up on the furniture whenever she pleased, one of her guardians reached over and patted her the instant that she got within arms reach of him.

I consider petting a dog or giving it attention as paying the animal. Just like humans, I find it is better to pay the dog when it does something for us rather than for no reason at all. Now if you have a calm, well mannered and balanced dog, there’s nothing wrong with petting it whenever you feel like it. But if your dog has some authority issues or other behavioral problems, over petting it can often reinforce the exact behavior you want to eliminate.

I pointed this out to Delilah’s guardian and suggested that he has adopt the “Nothing in life is free” methodology. This involves only petting the dog when it does something for you such as sitting or lying down. After the dog sits, you reach over and pet it while repeating he command word. This way we are rewarding the dog for engaging in activities and behaviors that we want. Over time this conditions the dog to repeat these actions to get our rewards or affection.

As we discussed Delilah and her day-to-day life, I learned that she really didn’t have any rules or structure in place. When a dog does not have any rules to govern its behavior, It’s common for the dog to believe that there are no rules for it because it is the leader that is making the rules.

I suggested a couple of rules and boundaries that the guardians can easily adopt. These rules and limitations can actually be beneficial in helping to redefine the leader-follower relationship between human and dog. By correcting the dog the second that it breaks one of the rules or crosses a boundary, we can communicate to the dog what we do and don’t want. The timing of these corrections is crucially important; a second too early or too late can cause the dog to think that the reprimand is coming for another reason altogether.

One of the rules I suggested was to make the furniture off limits as dogs infer they have more status or authority when they sit at the same height or higher than their peers.

But once we started to enforce this new rule, I quickly discovered that Delilah was masking some insecurity. Once she was asked to get down, the dog didn’t know what to do with herself; oscillating between leaving the room altogether or standing beneath the legs of her guardian. Normally it only takes a dog a few minutes to adjust to the rule of no furniture, but in Delilah’s case it was clearly debilitating. She literally did not know what to do with herself if not allowed to be on the furniture.

Because it was clear that removing her status from being in a heightened position was affecting her in a negative way, I suggested that we stop enforcing that rule so that we could move on to other exercises.

I started to run through an exercise that I like to do with many dogs that helps the guardians learn to communicate and enforce boundaries as well as let the dog practice restraining itself. This exercise is a bit of a challenge to the dog but most dogs overcome the challenge fairly quickly. Not Delilah. She attempted to reclaim her status or authority by jumping back up on the couch which kind of defeated the purpose of the exercise.

Because it was clear that Delilah’s self-esteem was dropping before my eyes, I decided to switch things up and run through a simple recall exercise instead.

I sat down with her owners in a circle in the living room and showed them how to use a hand motion to call the dog over when it didn’t respond to the initial recall command. It took a little coaxing at first because Delilah’s self-esteem was so low. But due to the positive reinforcement that is included in the way i teach the recall exercise, Delilah’s confidence started to increase. After a few moments you could literally see it happen as she started to add a bounce to her step as she trotted over to whoever called her.

Once it was clear that Delilah was in a better, more positive frame of mind and feeling good about herself, we went back to the leadership exercise I started before. But this time I coached her guardians through the exercise instead of conducting it myself.

The switch of exercise and personnel proved to be a wise decision. Delilah was much more engaged in part because of her increased confidence, but also because she was running through the exercise with people that she knew. After both of her guardians were able to successfully complete the exercise, I went over how they can make it more challenging to keep increasing her confidence.

Next I had my apprentice Tara go outside and play the part of a guest knocking at the door. As soon as Delilah heard the knocking, she started barking and ran over to the door. I got up and followed the dog to the door in a calm and deliberate manner.

As soon as I got to the door, I turned so that it was to my back and I was facing the dog. Once I was between the dog and the door, I started to march directly at the dog to have her back up, move away from the door and up the steps of the split-level home. Once Delilah had retreated to the top step, I stopped moving forward. This was my way of communicating to the dog that she was in the position and location that I wanted her to be in.

This exercise is challenging for the dog due to her past habit of rushing the door combined with my apprentices constant knocking and ringing of the doorbell. I wanted to make the situation as challenging as possible so that I could demonstrate for Delilah’s guardians how they could claim the area around the door.

After running through the exercise successfully, I had Tara go back outside so that we could repeat the exercise with Delilah’s guardians answering the door themselves.

This time Delilah barked far less and didn’t run to the door immediately. Once she recognized that her guardian was getting up to answer the door, she ran down the stairs and started bouncing around the entryway. I coached her guardian through the same technique that I had used while remaining at the top of the stairs.

Her guardian had a little difficulty getting Delilah to move away from the door at first as the dog shut down and curled up into a ball on the floor refusing to move. I had her consistently approach the dog and gently nudge it away from the door until eventually Delilah got up and walked up the stairs on her own.

Once Delilah was as the boundary that I had established, her owner stopped, then walked backwards to the door while remaining facing the dog. After pausing again, she reached out her left to jiggle the door handle while keeping her front facing the dog. The sound of the door handle or deadbolt jiggling are triggers that causes many dogs to rush the door. By breaking down answering the door into individual steps, it’s much easier to correct the dog and for the dog to understand exactly what it is that it did wrong.

Delilah’s guardian eventually opened the door and welcomed Tara inside while the dog remained at the top of the stairs on her own. I suggested that the guardians practice this exercise each time that they are returning to their home over the next week or two. Usually it only takes 6 to 12 repetitions before the dog starts to instinctively stay behind the boundary on it’s own every time someone knocks.

Next I had her guardian go to pick up the dog’s leash so I could gauge Delilah’s reaction.  As soon as the dog recognized that the guardian was going to retrieve her harness, her energy level spiked and she started barking excitedly. As soon as the dog’s energy went up, I instructed her guardian to turn away and walk back to the couch.

By stopping or pausing the instant that a dog starts to become over excited, then waiting for the dog to return to a completely calm state before continuing, we can help the dog understand that the only way the human is moving forward is if the dog remains completely calm.

Delilah’s guardian only had to stop twice before the dog was able to restrain herself and remain completely calm as she retrieved the harness leash and attached it to the dog.

I suggested that they repeat this ritual anytime they are doing any activity that the dog gets over excited about. Feeding, going for a walk, going for a ride, playing with the favorite toy etc. overtime this practice will help the dog develop the ability to self restraint for longer and longer periods of time.

I had her guardian remove the harness and then slipped a Martingale collar over her head before adding the special twist to the leash. I handed the leash to her guardian and went over how she could use defending down the stairs as another exercise. She paused every few steps and corrected the dog each time it tried to race ahead. By taking our time, it took longer to get out the door, but when we did, the dog was completely calm.

I took the leash and walked the dog in front of the house a bit so their guardians would see the proper position, correction and way to lead the dog. Then I handed the leash to her guardian and watched as they walked on down the street. It only took a few small corrections before Delilah was walking next to them in a heel with hardly any pulling on the leash.

Delilah 2
Once I saw Delilah walking next to them with a loose leash, I offered a few more pointers for the walk before we all went back inside. While the Martingale stopped some of the pulling, it was taking our time that had the biggest impact on the dog’s behavior so I was sure to point that out to her guardians. In time, the dog will remain calm on her own and they won’t need to pause over and over as we did this initial run through.

Once we got back inside, I had her guardian turn on the TV as they had captured a program that included dogs barking. I wanted to see if we could recreate and trigger a barking outburst from Delilah.

As soon as Delilah recognized that there were dogs on the screen she ran over to the TV and barked. As soon as she did, I stood up and made a hissing sound to disagree with her actions. Delilah immediately stopped barking turned and walked away from the television. Clearly all the other exercises and activities had made a big impact on the dog which will help. I suggested that they keep the program in their DVR and repeat disagreeing with her the same way I did each time she sees a dog on the TV. It will take some practice, but with timely corrections, Delilah will learn to not bark at dogs on TV.

By the time we wrapped up the session, Delilah was spent. But wheel her energy was low, she was still carrying her head high and even stopped trying to get on the couch. Now that her guardians are communicating with her in way she understands and setting rules, boundaries and structure, her belief that she is in charge of security will subside. Each correction for breaking the rules and rewards for a desired behavior will further redefine the leader follower balance in the home. It will be a gradual process, but eventually Delilah will learn to defer to her guardians and let them take the lead.

Categorized in:

This post was written by: David Codr

%d bloggers like this: