Teaching a Lion Hunter its Not Nice to Nip Human Houseguests

Duke and Seren

Seren (right) is a four-year-old Rhodesian Ridgeback who lives in Malibu with seven-year-old Duke. Their guardian set up a dog behavior training session with me to address a few problems with Seren; clinginess around her guardian and nipping of a few houseguests and workers in the home.

While speaking with their guardian on the phone I learned that the senior dog Duke has been interceding and positioning himself between Seren and any human¬†when she starts to show signs of aggression or anxiety. While this is great, their guardian wanted to put a stop to Seren’s behavior so Duke doesn’t have to play lifeguard.

I got to see how Duke inserts himself between Seren and what she is reacting to when I arrived for the session.

The dog’s guardian’s strategy of handling the greeting was a great way to keep Seren from getting over excited and stimulated. But later in the session I showed him how to settle her down and communicate she needs to stay away from the door on her own. This distance and added control will help Seren learn how to adopt more desired behaviors for future guests.

It only took a few moments to see that these dogs are both very well trained. This is a testament to their guardian who is a very confident and assured person. But its also a great example of how behavior and training differ. There is some cross over, but a well trained dog can still have behavioral issues.

Because Seren was following her guardian around the house, I suspect a little insecurity at hand. This can often turn into Separation Anxiety and is often related to dogs who are possessive or protective of their guardian.

One of my preferred ways to help people fix their dog problems is to figure out ways to add structure to every day activities. I suggested that the guardian start putting the dog into a sit / stay when leaving the room to help Seren practice a little self control.

The guardian mentioned that she knew how to stay, but as we discussed it further it sounded like there were a few missed steps so I asked him to demonstrate it. Seren did well as long as she could see her guardian. But as soon as he went out of eyesight, she got up and started to search for him.

If a dog thinks it can self release, its not really in a proper stay so I spent a few minutes going over a Stay exercise that breaks it down into individual steps; duration, distance and distraction.

You can watch a great video tutorial on the Stay on youtube with this link.

Being able to stay focused and control herself without the presence of her guardian will really help Seren build up her self control and confidence. He will need to practice this with her a few times a day and gradually work up to longer periods, distances and distractions while ALWAYS giving her a release command so the dog learns Stay means to stay put until given the release command.

This will allow the guardian to put her into a sit / stay in situations where she has a history of nipping. It will be a good idea to practice this exercise with known houseguests after he can get her to sit and stay without an auto release no matter if he is out of sight or there are distractions.

Another great exercise to help a dog develop more self control is a Watch exercise. This involves the dog needing to go into a sit position in front of the guardian and watch his face.

Because dogs can only focus on one thing at a time, this is a very effective technique to employ when a dog is in a situation that it may get into trouble in.

Because Seren is only nipping when her guardian is not present, developing more self control and confidence when he is there will be a big part of helping her learn to give up this unwanted behavior.

Based on my observations with her, Im guessing Seren’s nipping is out of a feeling of possession. Often this is an issue with dogs who could use a self esteem boost. I suggested the guardian browse the thousands of training videos on Youtube as the more commands and tricks Seren knows, the more self assured she will be.

Practicing having to stay when her guardian goes to the bathroom, throws in a new load of laundry or makes a sandwich will be a great way to start eliminating any insecurities that may be contributing to her nipping of strangers.

By the end of the session, Seren’s guarding was communicating with her through body language and movement and she was responding really well. He was able to establish invisible boundaries in doorways to rooms with the door wide open and she was respecting them.

By teaching her these new commands and exercises and a few others, Seren should start developing the confidence and self control needed to no longer feel that guests or workers are a threat to her position or relationship with her guardian.

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