Using Counterconditioning to Stop a Dog From Nipping Her Guardian When Grilling Out

By: David Codr

Published Date: July 17, 2018

For this Omaha dog training session we helped a 5 year-old Sheltie named Holly who gets worked up and nips at her guardian when he is cooking on the grill.

When I sat down with the guardians to discuss this unusual problem, I learned that Holly was getting less exercise than she needed, could use more structure and saw herself as protector or shepherd of her guardians due to them petting her on demand (as well as a lack of consistent rules and structure).

In oder to stop Holly from nipping her guardian when she does things she disagrees with (of thinks are dangerous in the case of the grill), I know we needed to shift the leader follower dynamic.

I suggested a number of rules, how to enforce them as well as the importance of rewarding Holly for desired behaviors (either freely offered or on demand). Stopping a dog from correcting a human can only happen if the dog starts to see and respect the humans as being leaders. Now that the guardians know how to demonstrate they have things under control through their actions and interactions with Holly, we were ready to address her nipping to correct habit.

I started out by asking the guardian to show me what he does when getting ready to grill to hopefully get a “before” version of this unwanted dog behavior.

Just like when you take your car to the mechanic, Holly decided not to act up with the dog behavior expert in her home. Still I did spot some signs of stress in her actions and movement; increase in speed of movement, stiffness, picking up a toy to occupy her mouth, pacing, etc.

I recommended the guardian recreate this pre grilling ritual a few times a day for a week or two (when he is not planning on grilling) to help desensitize Holly to these triggers.

Next I went over the technique to prevent a dog from getting upset at an activity or movement.

Counterconditioning is a powerful tool that dog behaviorists have been using to help dogs develop a new behavior or stop reacting negatively to things they are fearful of or disagree with.

I think Holly is acting out thinking that her guardian is in danger when he is at the grill. Could be the smell of gas, sizzle of food, getting a hot drop of grease fall on her or one of several other factors that caused this behavior. But the good news is this approach should help her stop feeling anxious about the grill.

Since Holly wasn’t cooperating during the session, I also offered an alternate approach based on Behavior Adjustment Training or BAT.

It will take a month or so of desensitizing, consistently enforcing the rules, rewarding desired behaviors and increased exercise before Holly can really start to develop new behavior patterns. If she is still acting this way in a month, the guardians can try the BAT suggestion at the end of the above video. If that doesn’t do the trick, we may need to set up a short follow up session to work on this problem further.

To help the guardians remember all the positive dog training tips we shared in this in home dog training session, we shot a roadmap to success video.

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This post was written by: David Codr

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