Adding Rules & Structure to Help a Puppy Learn He’s Not the Boss

By: David Codr

Published Date: June 18, 2015

Farley SYMix 1

For this session I worked with Farley, an 11 month old Shih Tzu Yorkey mix who pulls on the leash, has separation anxiety, the occasional accident in the house and over barks.

When I arrived for the session, Farley barked at me in an alerting sort of tone. He clearly was disagreeing with my arrival but wasn’t doing so with any aggression in his bark.

I sat down to discuss the situation with his guardians and learned that Farley really didn’t have any rules that he was expected to follow. When a dog doesn’t have any rules in place, it generally assumes that it is the one making the rules. This gives the dog the impression that it is in a leadership position over humans.

When you have a dog that considers itself a leader over humans, it generally causes problems. An example is what happened when Farley’s guardians attempted to disagree with his barking or pulling on the leash; he simply ignored them because he assumed they were subordinate to him.

To change this perspective I suggested a number of rules, boundaries and limitations for his family to start enforcing. While some humans consider adding rules and structure into a dogs life as being “mean,” in my experience dogs prefer living in a home where there is a clear leadership structure. Once the dog comprehends that the leadership position is no longer open, it stops challenging.

Its important to note that dogs act very differently when living exclusively amongst other dogs. When we domesticate a dogs it is our responsibility to communicate the rules and behaviors that we expect our dogs to exhibit in our world. If we don’t tell them the rules in a way they understand, how can they know to follow them. Adding limits and boundaries then enfacing them is actually a way to communicate with your dog. Setting no rules or boundaries is a communication too, just not one a human usually wants.

One of The issues Farley’s guardians wanted to work on was his refusal to recall when called to the back door. Like many dog guardians, Farley’s family never called him to the back door when he was outside in the yard unless it was time for him to come inside. Over time, only calling a dog when it’s time to come inside translates to that dog assuming that being called equals the end of playtime. Because the dog quite enjoyed his playtime, he was simply ignoring the recall command much the same way a young child does with their mother calls them home for dinner.

To change this dynamic I started out with a simple recall exercise in the living room. I showed Farley’s guardians how do use a hand position command to call him over and a movement to make following the command even more appealing. Once Farley was recalling consistently, I transitioned to the backyard so we could continue practicing there.

Within a matter of minutes, Farley was bounding over to whoever called him, then sitting politely at their feet looking up at them in a respectful manner. I suggested his guardians practice this exercise frequently over the next few weeks to really reinforce the desired behavior. I also suggested that they practice recalling Farley to the back door when they had no intention of bringing him inside. This way Farley will no longer equate a recall from a person as the end of fun time.

Next I went inside with his family members to practice a leadership exercise that I like to use. The exercise involves asking the dog to ignore a high-value treats that is placed in the middle of the floor of the living room until given permission to retrieve it.

Farley SYMix 5

It only took Farley a couple of repetitions before he seem to understand so I transitioned to having his guardians conduct the exercise. Within a couple of minutes Farley was laying down on the floor and respectfully looking up to whoever was in charge of the exercise to get permission to claim his reward.

Farley SYMix 3
Next I went over a technique to help Farley understand that he can appreciate and be with his guardians without being on their lap or leaning against them. This can lead to insecurity issues so I like to find ways to help the dog feel more at ease on its own and not feel it needs to be touching their owner every minute. To communicate I wanted him to keep some distance, I showed their guardians how to make a sound to disagree with this action or to stand up abruptly if he did not respond immediately.

Farley SYMix 2

It only took Farley a couple of corrections before he started respecting a 3 foot bubble of space around the members of the family. Now there’s nothing wrong with the dog jumping up on your lap when you call him. But in Farley’s case he was making that decision on his own and it was related to his over barking and reactivity to other dogs.

To address Farley’s behavior while outside I asked his guardians to go through the ritual of putting him on a leash. As soon as they walked over to where the leash was kept, Farley started to get over excited. This excitement can lead to a number of other issues so I had Farley’s guardian replace the leash and return to the living room to sit down next to me. We waited until Farley was completely calm before he got up and tried again.

The guardian had to start and stop five times before he was finally able to pick up the leash and attach it to Farley’s body while the dog remained completely calm. This is a small but crucial step that many dog guardians skip. But if you attach a leash to a dog that is overexcited and then attempt to go for a walk, that overexcited energy is going to be something the dog brings with it.

By stopping the second the dog starts to show signs of anxiety or overexcitement, and then only resuming when the dog is completely calm, we can help the dog and understand the only way it is going for a walk is if it remains in a completely calm state of mind.

To help with the pulling on the leash, I fitted Farley up with a Martingale collar then added my special twist to the leash. Initially I had his guardians remain inside so that I could take him out for a short walk to gauge his reactivity and leash manners.

Well Farley made it abundantly clear that he desired to be in front, but it didn’t take long for me to get him to walk next to me at a heel. Once I was comfortable with his walking position I invited his guardians out to join me.

I suggested some rules to incorporate on the walks to better help Farley pay attention to his handlers. Some of these include not allowing the dog to mark any vertical objects it passes, keeping it in the heel position to the right and not allowing the dog to sniff. A dogs nose control’s 60% of its brain, and dogs can only focus on one thing at a time. So if you’re walking your dog in a heel and it is sniffing something on the ground it, cannot pay attention to you even if it wants to. So for structured walks, I do not allow the dog to sniff the ground. This is called a migration walk.

Now it’s important to note that scent is the dogs dominant sense. To say that a dog could never snuff would be cruel and inhumane. What I’m referring to here is not allowing a dog to sniff while it is on a structured walk for training purposes only. Often I suggest that my clients allow the dog some time to sniff at the middle and end of the walk. That way we are asking for structure and discipline before reward.

While the Martingale collar absolutely helped improve the experience, Farley consistently tried to walk in front of his guardians. I showed them how to offer a correction and stressed the importance of applying said correction in a timely manner.  As I mentioned earlier, its crucial that we provide the correction at the precise moment the dog passes the threshold position we want it to stay in. This is how the dog learns where and how far ahead it can move when on a structured walk. As we progressed, Farley did better and it was nice to see him walking in a heel next to his handler.

Farley SYMix 4
By the time we returned to his home, Farley was much better on the leash. While he was much better and it was far more enjoyable for his handlers, he still needs work. It will be extremely important for his handlers to consistently correct him the second that he moves too far ahead and provide positive reinforcement when he falls into line.

By the end of the session, Farley was much calmer, was responding to the commands and corrections of his guardians right away and was even starting to follow some of the new rules on his own. It will take patience and practice before these new behaviors become Farley’s default, but because of how quickly humans and dog picked things up, it shouldn’t prove too challenging.

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