Helping a Persistent Dog Learn to Respect the Authority of His New Family

By: David Codr

Published Date: May 4, 2014

BoBo is a 11-month-old Lab Huskie mix who was recently re-homed. His new owners contacted me for help as Bo was pretty inconsistent when it comes to listening or obeying basic commands.

When a dog is rehomed, there is usually an adjustment period that lasts for a few days or weeks. During this period its natural for the dog to push the boundaries and limits of his new charges to see what is and is not allowed.

Some dogs can live a calm balanced life without rule and boundaries, but most dogs that are re-homed are not in this group. One of more bad habits or behaviors is usually the reason that their former owner’s gave up the dog so its important to start things off the right way in the new home.

I suggested that his new owners practice the “No Free Lunch” method which calls for a dog’s owner to not offer any praise of affection unless the dog does something to warrant it. If the dog gets petted or attention no matter what it does, the dog is apt to do what it wants rather than what its owners do. By rewarding the dog when it does something that is desirable, we can help condition the dog to engage in the behaviors or commands we want.

Next I demonstrated a leadership exercise to help Bo identify his new owners as authority figures. It only took a few repetitions for me to get Bo to surrender to the exercise. However, when I started to coach a member of the family through the same exercise, Bo completely ignored her authority completely.

The teen girl told me that it was not unusual for Bo to snatch food way from them which confirmed my thought that he did not respect the authority of all the members of his new family.

Because the leadership exercise is more advanced, I took everyone outside to practice a recall exercise. It also helps a dog see its owners as authority figures, but is easier to practice.

Its not at all uncommon for different members of the family to “call” a dog in a different way and this family was no exception. When I asked them individually how they called Bo, one said she said “come here Bo.” Another slapped their thigh and just said “Bo,” another said “Bo come,” etc. While all of these commands mean the same thing to someone who speaks English, to dogs there are unique and separate commands. The variety of their recall command was making it harder for Bo to learn than necessary.

I gave each family member a few high value meat treats and asked everyone to stand in a circle about 20 feet in circumference. Because dogs learn faster when a command or action is repeated the same way, I went over my preferred way to call the dog; holding the treat out in an open hand while calling the dog’s name and consistently saying the command phrase “come.”

As we took turns calling Bo to “come,” he started off slow then started to react faster as we continued – with a few exceptions. Bo wasn’t completely responsive to some of the female members of the family. This is likely due to a combination of their lack of size or projected confidence or authority.

Dogs respond much faster and more consistently to clear, calm and confident leadership. As we continued, Bo started to show more responsiveness to the females, but it will be important that they continue to practice this exercise until Bo’s response is consistent and prompt.

When we went back inside I asked the father to bring out Bo’s kennel so I could demonstrate a variation of the leadership exercise I showed them earlier. I tossed a high value treat into the kennel, then followed behind Bo as he walked into the kennel.

I remained right up against the kennel blocking Bo from exiting. After he turned and saw I was blocking him, I took one deliberate step backwards, then paused. Bo started to move to exit the kennel so I lurched forward to block him. As soon as I moved forward, he paused so I stopped. By mirroring the dog this way we can communicate we want it to stay inside the kennel, despite the door being left open.

It took a lot longer than most dog’s before Bo sat, then laid down to communicate he was no longer resisting my wishes he stay inside. As soon as he did, I took a knee and called him out. Despite the dog spending a half hour telling me he wanted to come out, after he gave in it took some coaxing to get him to understand I was giving him permission to come out. This confusion is due to Bo’s determination to outlast me. By taking as long as he did in resisting, he completely surrendered to such an extent it was hard to change.

With practice, Bo will learn to both respect the members of his family and follow their commands without hesitation. Its going to take a week or two of everyone in the family practicing these new rules and techniques, but based on how well Bo eventually responded, I suspect his days of determined disobedience and food snatching will be a distant memory.

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This post was written by: David Codr

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