Helping Excited Mya Learn How to Calm Down and “Go to the club!”

By: David Codr

Published Date: March 13, 2015

Mya Omaha Mix

Mya is a one-year-old German Shepherd mix. Her owners rescued her from a bad situation in which the dog was abused. As a result her owners told me that she was a little reserved and cautious when meeting new people but warms up pretty fast.

As many rescue parents do, Mya’s owners felt sorry for her past life experience and tried to compensate for it by letting the dog do pretty much as she pleased for the first several months. Once they earned her trust and Mya came out of her shell, she started to exhibit a few unwanted behaviors they wanted me to help stop; barking, mouthing, not listening and pawing at them for attention and

When I arrived for the session Mya jumped up to try to claim me as soon as I walked through the door. I made a movement to disagree with her attempt which caused Mya to bark in protest to my objection. I kept her in front of me and projected a confident energy and used body movement to communicate I wanted her to respect my personal space. I waited for her to settle down and move away before I came into the home and sat down.

I noticed that any time Mya was near her owners she was leaning against them or pawing them for attention. The only time she didn’t, was when her owners were petting her. I suggested that they adopt a more structured way of petting and interacting with the dog. Instead of automatically reaching over and petting her when she was near or pawed for attention, I had them give her the “sit” command. Once Mya sat down, I had them scratch her under her chin while repeating the command word “sit.”

By countering Mya’s “order” to pet them with a command of their own, her owners will be able to use positive reinforcement to stop Mya’s pawing for attention while also communicating that she has to follow their command to get the reward or attention she is seeking. Her owners had a little difficulty in this transition which is normal. But by the end of the session, they were redirecting her when she attempted to paw for attention. When they started objecting before she violated their personal space, I knew that this problem wouldn’t be around much longer.

I also suggested that they do not allow her on the furniture until she was showing them respect for their authority. To dogs, the height at which they sit has a correlation to their perceived rank amongst the members of their group or pack. By reserving the furniture for humans only, May will see a literal difference between human and dog.

To help with this process I had them pull out a doggy bed that had been unused and showed them how to condition Mya to use it. At first Mya was reluctant to place any of her paws on it. But I enticed her with a high value meat treat and kept at it until she was walking onto it and sitting down to get her treat. I suggested that her owners assign a command word for the dog bed. We went though a few options before her owners decided on “Club.”

To help accelerate the association of dog bed and command, we took turns tossing high value treats onto the dog bed then repeating the command word “club” each time she went over and retrieved her treat. I also suggested that they sneak a treat onto the bed when Mya wasn’t looking or was outside. This way each time she goes to the dog bed, something good happens for her.

By the end of the session Mya was walking over and checking the bed for treats on her own. It should only take a few days before she starts to use the bed as her perch in the living room.

I had asked her owners not to feed her after breakfast that day so I could show them a structured way of feeding Mya. But when we got to her food dishes, I noticed that the water dish was empty. When I asked them about it, they said that she was obsessed with water; drinking it all until she would throw it up. This was likely something that came from her previous owner. But what disturbed me was that their vet had told them to restrict how much water the dog had access to. As a result they were measuring in a small amount of water at a time and of course, the dog immediately drank it all.

I never want to see a dog without access to water so I had them fill the bowl to the brim, them place it down. As expected, Mya went over and started drinking as much as she could. I gave her an opportunity to get a sufficient amount of water before walking over and inserting myself between the dog and the bowl. When I did this Mya walked way from the water bowl on her own.

We walked to the far side of the kitchen and discussed the feeding ritual for a few moments. Mya sat on the floor next to us and had no problem leaving water in the bowl. A minute later she went back for some more and after a decent amount, I had one of her owners walk over and do the same. When you remove something necessary completely from a dog, it becomes true forbidden fri=uit when they have access. But by leaving the water bowl full and helping he dog only consume reasonable amounts at each visit, we can help remove the stigma that has been built up about the water.

By the end of the session, Mya was calm, listening to her owners, was showing respect for their personal space, stopped pawing for attention of jumping up in anyone. It will take a little practice, but based on how smart Mya was and how impressed her owners were in her change of behavior, It shouldn’t take long for them to condition her to act the way they want all the time.

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This post was written by: David Codr

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