Training a Pair of Dogs to Come While Adding Structure to Boost Their Confidence

By: David Codr

Published Date: December 7, 2016


Georgie (left) and Hamilton are a pair of a one-year-old Terrier mix litter-mates who live in Hidden Hills, California. Their guardian scheduled a dog behavior training appointment to address several issues, getting over excited, stop jumping up on people, not coming when called, pulling on the leash, chewing the family’s daughter’s toys and charging the door.

The dogs met me at the door and I could immediately tell that Georgie was a little timid about my arrival. She wanted to approach and give me a sniff, but instead she backed a few feet away and barked. I made a few adjustments to my position and posture to make myself a little more approachable. Once I knelt down, Georgie felt confident enough to come over and give me a better sniff.

Hamilton showed some good confidence; approaching me to smell what I was all about.

I made sure to wait quietly in a kneeling position while Gracie sniffed me. As a general rule of thumb, I like to let a dog finish sniffing me and move away on their own before coming into a house much past the doorway. Of course this is only with dogs who are not trying to jump up, are over excited, territorial or aggressive. Dogs with that type of energy usually do better when they are seven or more feet away from the door. This lessens the intensity of the new arrival which helps the dogs calm down faster.

I also recommended that the guardian instruct all guests to ignore the dogs. Like many people do, their guardian had been petting them to calm and sooth them when they were barking and getting over excited for guests. But because a dog associates any attention or affection with whatever they happen to be doing at the time, these interactions were actually nurturing many of the behaviors the guardian wanted to avoid.

Simply ignoring the dogs will be the best method. Im guessing that the rules and structure I was going to introduce will have a positive impact on the dog’s and their confidence. Many people think less rules will help a dog relax but in most cases, its the opposite. The rules, boundaries and structure allow the dog to relax as they no longer think they are the top dog which allows them to better follow the humans they live with.

I spent a couple of minutes with the dogs and their guardian discussing their day to day routine. This is when I learned that they didn’t have many rules or boundaries to respect. While that is fine for many dogs, when you have multiple dogs, especially from the same litter, rules and boundaries can help the dogs learn to stay calm, behave better and respect their family members as authority figures.

I recommended a few rules and made sure to point out that petting or correcting a dog within 3 seconds of them doing something you do or don’t like makes it much easier for the dog to connect the reward / correction with the action.

I also recommended that the guardian start to practice my Petting with a Purpose method. This positive dog training method involves asking the dog to sit or lay down any time they paw at or nudge a human for attention. By asking them to sit before we pet them, we can help the dogs start to understand that they must ask for, then earn attention. Not only will this help the dogs get better at sitting or laying down, it will build up their respect for the humans as authority figures.

Next I went over a series of Escalating Consequences that I use to communicate that I disagree with dogs. By consistently hissing, standing up, marching at the dog and using a leash time out if it continues, we can help the dogs better understand what we do and do not want from them.

I was in the middle of explaining the consequences when the family’s house keeper arrived. I used this opportunity to demonstrate how to use the escalating consequences to keep the dogs from getting over excited or jumping up on people when they arrive.

About mid way through the video, I turned to face the camera which gave Hamilton an opportunity to cross the boundary that I established. I saw this action a little late and tried to use my leg to block him from moving forward, but my foot ended up making contact with him at the end of a movement which looked a bit like a kick. It was not and you should never kick, punch or strike a dog unless its attacking you.

It was great to see how quickly Hamilton picked up on the boundary I established. In fact, he may have gotten it too well. Once he was calm and I invited him back into the room, he was a little unsure. This happens with some dogs as they get a little confused and act as if the boundary is permanent. In time he will understand that the boundary is only temporary, used at times when he is over excited or if someone is cooking or eating. In fact, one of the rules I suggested was that the dogs were 10 feet or further away from any human who is eating as that is very rude int he dog world.

Because both dogs have some confidence issues (Georgie much more than Hamilton) and loose control when over excited, I wanted to show the guardian an exercise that will help the dogs learn to focus on command.

The key to the exercise is to reward the dog when it looks up at you. Only then should you raise the treat up 6 inches in front of your nose, then extended directly towards the dog’s eyes and eventually in their mouth.

I recommended that the guardian practice the focus exercise a few times a day with each dog (10-15 treats per dog per practice), while gradually increasing the distractions. By practicing this exercise first in a quiet place, then amongst gradually increasing levels of distractions, the dogs will learn to focus on their guardian when commanded, even when excited.

Next I turned my attention towards the dog’s habit of not coming when called. I find that this is usually the case when before a guardian trains a dog to come. I went over a positive dog training method that will help the guardian train dogs to come on command.

It was a bit of a challenge to demonstrate due to Georgie’s timidness, but this gave me an opportunity to show the guardian a few different tricks to teaching a dog to come. Once the dogs are alone with their guardians, the hesitancy showed by Gracie should abate. Once she and Hamilton get practiced at this exercise, they should get a confidence boost and they should recall much better.

Dog training is a gradual process that works best in 1-2 minute sessions that happen a few times a day. Ideally you want your dog to nap or sleep between each training session as this helps them process what they have learned. I spent a couple of minutes sharing a few other dog training tips as I outlined the practice instructions for the guardian.

Teaching the dogs to come consistently when called will help the guardian head off many problems before they happen. If you see a dog is about to do something undesired, redirecting its attention is one of the best things you can do. Calling a dog away from whatever they are interested in is a great method as out of sight is often out of mind.

Because both dogs showed some insecurities at times in the session, I recommended that the guardian go to Youtube and look for a few simple dog tricks or commands and try to teach them to the dogs once a week. By training the dogs with a new trick each week and practicing it for the next seven days, they will be able to really master these skills. This should give them a confidence boost.

As we neared the end of the session, the guardian’s beautiful six-year-old daughter Payton arrived home from school. This gave us an opportunity for the guardian to practice what we learned.

The guardian adopted a sort of duck walk with bended knees when marching at the dog. This threw off her movements a bit and wasnt the confident posture we need to get the dogs to respect and respond to us. As she continued, she got better, keeping her shoulders back and chin up. She also moved more confidently which dogs respond to much better.

The guardian will also need to pick landmarks or boundaries that she intends to establish. Its not just marching at the dog, its moving toward the dog to take space and communicate you want the dog to back up or move away. Once the dog passes the boundary, the human stops and stands in place with their hips facing the dog. By waiting for the dog to become stationary before the human starts moving again, we can tell the dog that this is the line we want them to respect.

Its also important to not let the dog move around you. Just like a soccer player, you want to keep the dog in front of you as the direction your hips point is the direction of your power. Once the dog is in place, then the human can take a single step backwards, keeping their hips squared up facing the dog. If the dog stays in place, then the human can take another step back before pausing again. If the dog starts to approach the boundary, the human needs to hiss when the dog is about a foot away. If that doesn’t stop the dog, then a sudden and deliberate step right at them usually does the trick.

About half way through the above video, the guardian gave Gracie a firm sit command and instead of waiting, walking away or needing to be reminded a few times, she sat down with aplomb!

This also gave us a chance to train the dogs to not chew on children’s toys. Payton was kind enough to let us use one of her prized stuffed animals. As you can see int he above video, by giving the dog access to something its not allowed to have, and then disagreeing or correcting it with good timing before it gets to the item, we can teach the dog that the item is something to be left alone. This will let the dog’s guardians keep Payton’s toy’s Payton’s.

As we were winding down, Gracie was noticeably more comfortable, but that owes as much to the time I spent in her house as much as the work I did with her. Im really glad the dog’s guardian called me in to help as both dogs are really great. They simply lacked the rules and structure that they needed to adopt a follower’s mindset

Both dogs seemed to be responding to commands and corrections better, had stopped over barking and the jumping up was limited.

Because there were more issues than expected, I recommended that we set up a follow up session after the holidays to brush up on what we worked on and do some leash training to stop them from pulling on the leash.

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This post was written by: David Codr