Going Back to the Basics to Help an Excited Dog Relax and Listen

By: David Codr

Published Date: January 8, 2015

MarzMarz is a one and a half year old Shepherd Husky mix who is over excited when guests arrive; jumping up on them, gets into the trash, digs in the yard, chews the wrong things, and doesn’t always listen to commands or corrections.

When I arrived for the session, his owner was holding him back from the door. He was excited, but not in any sort of aggressive or dominant way so I asked his owner to let him go. Marz jumped up on me and as a big dog, this could be a problem. Im a big guy (6-1) and when he was fully extended, his front legs were practically on my shoulders. I applied the technique I developed to communicate that jumping up was not a desired action. Marz protested verbally for a second, but after that, he did not jump up on anyone for the rest of the session.

While discussing things with his owners I discovered that he needed some help as he had difficulty with the simplest of basic commands; the sit. His owners had to ask him repeatedly to sit and when he did, he did so a good ten feet away from the person. I showed them how to offer a treat in such a way that it put him into a sit.

That’s when the next issue arose, Marz placing his paw on top of the hand or arm of anyone trying to pet him to reinforce the action of sitting. This is a control move that indicated to me that the dog considered himself equal or superior in position or rank to his owners. I suggested that his owners immediately move their arm so his paw falls off or stop petting him any time he put his paw on their arm this way. Repeatedly doing so will eventually condition Marz to stop that unwanted behavior.

Next I went over some ways to disagree with unwanted behavior and how to reward and encourage the behavior they wanted. Marz responded immediately to these new communication methods for me. As his owners practiced them, they started to get the same results. I went through a few leadership exercises that they can practice that will help Marz practice respecting boundaries and looking to them when he doesn’t know what to do.

Because they had increasing difficulty getting Marz into his kennel, we worked on that next. His owners had resorted to creating a gauntlet of sorts to lead him to the kennel and sometimes physically pushed him inside. Once they left, he went nuts and had bent the kennel quite a bit trying to escape.

I showed them how to change the perception of the kennel to Marz. Before the session he looked at the kennel as something that kept him from his owners. To change this I tossed a high value treat into the kennel and walked away. I kept an eye on him out the corner of my eye but did not try to encourage him at all. Its important that a dog goes into the kennel on his own power. After a minute or so, Marz slowly and cautiously walked to the kennel. I had his owners remain still and we waited from him to enter the kennel and retrieve the treat. As soon as he got it, he darted out of the kennel so I tossed in another treat and repeated the process a few times until he was walking in on his own with no hesitation.

Once he was completely comfortable, I tossed in another treat but this time I followed behind him and stood in the kennel door blocking his exit. I stood there motionless and waited for Marz to stand still. Once he did I took a step back and paused. When he tried to exit the kennel, I took a step forward so I was in the blocking position again. I kept repeating this process until he stayed put. Once he did I took deliberate steps back, pausing between each one. When Marz sat down, I took a step back at the same time to communicate that I appreciated his settling in and not trying to exit. As soon as he laid down I took a knee and called him to come. When he did I offered a treat while repeating the “come” command.

I walked his owners through the exercise so they can repeat it over the next week or two. In time, this practice of being calm in the kennel with the door open will result in Marz learning to relax and no longer fear the kennel. I suggested that they also leave treats in the kennel when Marz is away so that any time he enters it, he gets a reward.

By the end of the session Marz was calmer, more responsive while remaining confident. It will take some time and practice, but based on how quickly his energy level  and behavior changed, it shouldn’t take long for his owners to put his unwanted habit and behavior to rest for good.

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This post was written by: David Codr

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