Helping an Excited Chocolate Lab Learn to Stay Calm and Listen to His Owners

By: David Codr

Published Date: September 25, 2014

Max (Choc lab)Max is a one-year-old chocolate lab. His owners contacted me for help with his rambunctious nature; jumping up on them, refusing to follow their commands and getting over-excited when any guests arrived.

After sitting down and discussing the situation with Max’s owners I was convinced that their lack of rules boundaries and structure for the dog had led Max to believe that he was equals to them in terms of authority and rank. I suggested a few rules for them to incorporate that will help get the dog to start to identify as being in a follower position.

Next I suggested that they consolidate the vocabulary that they were asking Max to absorb. It’s pretty common for my clients to assign multiple words for the same command. The smartest dog in the world only knows about 133 different distinct words or commands. When we ask a dog to learn five variations of each command (come, come-here, over-here, dog’s name, comehere-boy, etc) we are making it more difficult for the dog to understand what we say. By only using a single word for each command you make it much easier for your dog to realize what you want.

I also showed them a leash time out technique to stop Max from getting over excited. As soon as he got too excited, I put him on the leash and stepped on it about two feet away from his head. This left just enough room for him to sit comfortably but not to move too far away. At first, Max pulled with all of his might to try to get free. I ignored him and remained standing on the leash for a couple minutes until he settled down. It took about 7-8 minutes, but eventually he calmed himself and a minute later he laid down.

I suggested that they apply the same technique anytime the Max started to get overexcited or too stimulated in the future. By applying the technique the instant that Max passes his midway point of his energy level, his owners will be able to condition him to stay under that energy threshold all of the time.

While this was fairly effective in calming Max, he wasn’t completely calm. Because his owners use a kennel, I demonstrated a technique that uses the kennel to help the dog learn to relax and calm down as well as look to his humans for guidance.

I tossed a high-value treat into the kennel then quietly followed behind Max and stood at the kennel entrance, blocking his exit with my legs. Max shuffled around a bit and tried to exit so I blocked him form doing so. Once Max settled down, I took a small step directly backwards but kept my hips and shoulders facing the kennel door. By leaving the kennel door open, I was able to help Max develop the ability to restrain himself. To do this, each time that Max tried to exit the kennel I immediately moved forward so though I returned to a blocking position in the kennel door.

After a few moments of moving back-and-forth, Max started to understood what I wanted and sat down in the kennel. The second he did this, I took a giant step backwards to communicate thats what I wanted. A minute later Max laid down in the kennel. As soon as he did, I took the step directly backwards again and then took a knee and extend my hand palm upward with a high-value treats in it while repeating his recall command of “come.”

I saw one of Max’s owner’s mouth open with a look of disbelief across his face when he saw his own dog sitting quietly in the kennel despite the fact that I was halfway across the room. I always love getting that reaction from my clients and told him so. He said “it’s like I’m looking at a completely different dog.”

Max is not a bad dog, he just didn’t understand what his owners were asking of him. Now that they know how to better communicate with him and have the tools to keep his energy from spiraling out of control, it should be much easier for them to get the behavior that they’re looking for.

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