Diego Learns to Stop Chasing the Room Mate’s Cat

By: David Codr

Published Date: January 28, 2015

Diego (CA)

Diego is an eight year old Greyhound / Black Lab mix living in Silverlake California. His owner asked me to help stop his chasing of their room mate’s cat and how to deal with his strong reaction to head on meetings with some dogs on walks.

When I met him in person Diego showed a nice confidence and medium energy level. He was respectful of my personal space and after giving me a good sniff, he laid down on the floor nearby. He was certainly one of the calmer dogs I have worked with recently.

After discussing the situation with his owner, I learned that his recall when outside was intermittent so we went out to the back yard to correct that issue first. Unlike many people in southern California, Diego has a backyard with an upper level deck leading to the house.

We started out on the deck with his owner and I standing on opposite ends. I showed her the hand signal I like to use with the “come” command; an extended hand with the palm facing up and only the slightest of curve to my fingers. When held at waste level or higher, it appears to the dog that the owner is holding something in their hand.

I held my arm out to my side with a high value meat treat in the palm of my slightly cupped hand and gave Diego a “come” command. Diego didn’t even look at me, standing right in front of his owner looking up at her as he could smell the treats she was holding. I had her cross her arms across her chest and turn her head to look to the left. This conveys a “nothing here for you” message to the dog.

I repeated the “come” command and while Diego turned and looked my way this time, he did not “come.” I repeated the command a second time, but this time when he looked at me, I started to lower my hand towards the ground. This caused Diego to take note and he trotted over to see what I had in my hand.

Once he was near me I raised my hand up in a diagonal movement over his head. This caused Diego to look up and put him into a sit position at the same time. As soon as his butt was on the ground, I immediately lowered my hand so that it was right under his mouth so he could lick the treat off my palm.  As soon as his lips touched the treat, I started to repeat the command word of “come” in a calm tone of voice. By introducing the command word at the same time the treat touches the dogs mouth and repeating it while it chews, we can help the dog associate the reward with the action.

Once his finished she called Diego over and repeated the hand movement to put him into a sit. We repeated this a few times until Diego was responding right away each time before increasing the space between us. By gradually increasing the distance between his owner and myself, we were able to increase the range that Diego responded to the recall command.

Next I went over some basic communication methods using body language and movement to which Diego responded really well. Because of his medium energy and high level of intelligence, Diego adapted really quickly which allowed us to move on to an exercise that will help him practice self restraint.

It only took Diego three repetitions before he understood the rules of the exercise. Once that was the case, I walked his owner though it with equal success. The exercise involved Diego staying away from a high vale meat treat that was laying in the middle of the floor. By using body language and movement without any verbal commands, his owner was able to walk away from the treat and sit down on the couch while Diego calmly laid on the floor.

Practicing this exercise will help Diego learn to self restrain. This is a crucial skill Diego will need to develop to help stop his instinctive reaction to chase the cat. To that end I suggested that his owner practice the exercise several times a day for the next week or two while gradually increasing the time he had to wait before she gave him permission to get the treat.

Before we introduced the cat, I wanted to burn some of his excess energy. Its always a good idea to physically drain a dog’s energy before working on any reactive behavior so we prepared to go out for a walk. His owner mentioned to me that she had been using a Haltie but that the dog did not like it and the snap had recently broken.

Because Diego is sometimes reactive to other dogs which caused concern for his owner, I fitted him up with a Martingale collar and added my special twist to the leash to prevent him from pulling. As we approached the door, Diego’s energy level went up a little so we paused. By stopping and waiting until a dog is in a calm, balanced state of mind before continuing, we can help the dog understand the behavior and energy level we want. On the walk we were afforded a few opportunities to practice this pausing technique; on the stairs from the house, when another dog was approaching, etc.

We were fortunate enough to encounter a few other dogs out for a walk. The first one was a chubby Sheba Inu who was pulling on his leash and giving Diego some psedo-confrontational body language and eye contact. Diego did well until the dog got within ten feet of us and gave a little growl that triggered some barking from Diego.

This gave us the ability to practice a few different techniques such as putting him into a sit, breaking his eye contact and giving his attention to his owner. I suggested she introduce a “eyes” command; holding up a high value treat right in front of his owners eyes to engage direct eye contact between dog and human. While Diego looked at his owner’s eyes, she moved the treat on a straight line towards his mouth while repeating the “eyes” command. Mastering this technique will help Diego learn to stop staring down oncoming dogs which should reduce his reaction while also helping the other dog feel less confronted.

When we returned to their home, I wrapped his leash around one of the legs of the couch then had his owner go and get her room mate’s cat. As soon as she returned, Diego’s energy and body language changed. He got stiff, his eyes widened, he lowered his head and he let loose a garage of barks. After correcting and redirecting him, his owner sat down on the couch a few feet away with the cat in her lap. Once I was able to get Diego to lay down, he calmed himself a bit but was still staring so I used the eyes command each time he started to stare at the cat.

Once Diego was settled, his owner let the cat off her lap and it trotted over to the other side of the room. This movement triggered another barking round from Diego but it was less intense and easier to stop. His owner took a seat on the floor and practiced redirecting him with the “eye’s command each time he started to stare.

By interrupting and redirecting him as soon as he started to stare, it was easier and took less effort to stop Diego before he got too intense or started barking again. I suggested that his owner practice this scenario as much as possible and make sure to keep Diego calm while doing so. The more practice he has at being calm in the same room as the cat, the less reactive he will be.

It will take time and practice, but because Diego is a smart dog with medium energy and a committed owner, he should be able to learn to control himself and in time, not blink an eye when the cat is around.

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