Gus’s Owners Learn How to Calm Him Down and Tell Him What they Want

By: David Codr

Published Date: April 11, 2015

Gus Gus 2

Gus is a two year old mixed breed dog who has been biting and nipping the family’s five-year-old son. Gus’s owners also asked me to help stop his getting overexcited and jumping up on guests at the door.

When I arrived for the session, I kept Gus in front of me with an authoritative body position to prevent him from jumping up. It worked for a while, but right about the time his owner told me he usually would have jumped all over me by then, Gus made his move. As soon as he jumped up, I applied the technique I have developed to disagree with that behavior. Gus protested right away and attempted to jump up on me a few more times. But by his fourth attempt, he only touched me with one paw.

I coached his owner through the technique and when to apply it. We probably had to use it 3-4 more times, but by the end of the session, you could see Gus stopping himself from jumping up.

While my technique stopped Gus from jumping up, its didn’t address a big issue, his excited energy. Instead of jumping up on me, he was running around and darting around the entryway. I pulled out a leash and put it on his collar before following his owner into the living room.

When we sat down to discuss what she wanted to get out the of the session she told me she was amazed at how I was able to calm Gus down so much and so quickly. She said he normally is so crazy they put him out in the back to avoid the 10+ minutes of his jumping up on and accosting of their house guests.

I went over how I had used the leash and my technique to stop Gus from jumping up so that his guardians will be able to help him understand that way of greeting guests is no longer allowed. While disagreeing with unwanted behavior is very important, I always remind my clients to be sure to reward desired behaviors, especially when done unsolicited. When Gus walked over to his owner and sat down a respectful distance in front of the her, I had her scratch him under his chin while repeating the one word “sit” command, over and over. By repeating the command word and nothing else, we can help the dog learn faster.

Because Gus’s owner had had little success with disagreeing with him verbally, I started to go over some body language to use instead. Communicating non verbally can often speak much louder to excited dogs, so I went over how to use body positioning and movement to disagree with unwanted behaviors and actions.

Gus’s owners had been pushing him back at times with their legs when trying to stop him or move him back. While this can work for a large adult, its not the most effective technique and it certainly isn’t going to be an effective method for the family’s five year old boy. In many situations dogs can interpret shoving as a type of play instead of understanding their owner is asking them to stop or move back.

By using a more assertive body movement, Gus’ owners were able to get their dog to move away on his own. At first it took more coaxing than Id like to see, but as the session progressed, he started to respond to it much faster. In addition to his responsiveness, his energy level had remained calm which always makes for a well behaved dog.

Although he isn’t the highest energy dog I have worked with, Gus had unspent energy and that was certainly related to his wrestling and excited play with the family’s son. Because the family’s mother has her hands full with her newborn and the five year old, I suggested a few activities that can help Gus burn off some of his excess energy.

One of the primary reasons Gus had this excess energy was his behavior on the leash. His owner said she would like to take him for a walk while she walked their baby, but decided she couldn’t risk a problem occurring from his pulling and unpredictability when on walks.

I pulled out a Martingale collar and showed his family how to apply the special twist of the leash to stop Gus from pulling before heading to the door. When we got to the front door, Gus’s energy had gone up quite a bit and he was already pulling. I asked him to sit but he was so excited it was a challenge to get him to do so. I suggested that his owners practice asking him to sit and waiting for him to return to a calm state before actually walking through the door.

When a dog is excited inside the house before going out for a walk, the dog will always bring that energy with them outside. This results in a walk where the dog’s attention is all over the place, is pulling on the leash and paying little emend to their handler. To prevent this from happening, I stopped and put the dog into a sitting position before popping the door open. As soon as I did this, Gus got up and started to move forward. I gave a correction on the leash and returned him to a sit before swinging the door open again. Gus got up out of his sit again, but he only moved forward a little. I repeated this exercise a few times until Gus stopped getting up when the door swung open.

I suggested that his guardians practice this exercise until Gus understands that an open door does not mean he can run out. Because he responded so quickly, it shouldn’t take his family long to teach him this lesson.

Once Gus was calm and waiting for my lead, I swung the door open and walked out while his owners remained inside observing me. Gus followed right next to me and fell into a nice heel position. I went back inside then coached his owner through the entire exercise until she had the same result.

Gus took less time with his owner to calm down at the door which showed me he was starting to get it. Once outside I took the leash and showed his owners the proper hand placement, correction techniques and how to lead the dog. After demonstrating it myself, I gave the leash to the family’s mother. At first she kept tension on the line and her corrections were off. But after a hundred feet or so, her technique and timing improved. She will need to work on keeping the leash slack, but overall looked very in control.

When we got back to the house she told me her dog wasn’t cooperating, laughingly saying he was never this good on the leash. But that is the great thing about dogs, they truly live in the now. By taking the time to allow Gus to calm down, using the right technique and the Martingale leash trick, we put Gus’s owner in a position to succeed and she was loving it. When a dog has great leash manners, it makes the experience of the walk so much more enjoyable for everyone. Hopefully Gus’s family will continue working on his leash manners so that the whole family can enjoy going for walks together now that summer is right around the corner.

By the time we wrapped up the session, Gus was much calmer, more responsive and self correcting himself when he started to engage in the unwanted behaviors. To test his progress, I asked the family’s boy to run around the living room making a big nose. As he ran back and forth across the room, Gus watched him but remained sitting down. His owner said there was no way that would have happened before the session.

Gus is a great, goofy dog. He simply had too much energy and his family wasn’t communicating rules or boundaries in a way he understood. He wasn’t being defiant, he was just doing whatever he wanted. By communicating what they don’t want in a way the dog understands, while rewarding him for the things they do want, they will be able to change their dog into the perfect family pet. It will take some time and practice, but based on how amazed his owners were with the results, Im betting it won’t take long at all.

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