Helping a Pair of Boston Terrier Puppies Learn to Calm Down and Listen

Huck and Bo are a pair of nine-month-old Boston Terrier siblings who live in West Omaha. Their guardian scheduled a puppy obedience training session with me to stop the redirected aggression that occurs when the puppies get over excited or the aggressive behavior that starts when another dog is nearby or on the TV.

The guardian had come out to one of my Dog Behavior Workshops and did an impressive job of keeping the dogs back away from the door. To dogs, the closer they are to something, the more intense it can become so establishing an invisible boundary and training the dog to stay behind it is a great approach.

The guardian was missing a few steps of the door answering exercise I teach so I spent a few minutes going over them later in the session. I suggested that when the guardian is on their way back home, they call or text one another while they are a few minutes away. This allows us to practice the exercise without the pressure or an actual guest waiting in the cold outside of our door.

Eliminating the excitement from the activities that get the dogs all worked up will be an important part of their rehabilitation. Behavior modification is all about teaching the dog how we want them to behave by breaking any activity that gets them over excited into small steps, then repeating that individual step over and over until they behave how we want. Once that step is mastered, we can move on to the next one and practice that one the same way.

Once the dog can behave the way you want throughout the process, the next step is to practice it over and over in a drill like way. This way the dog adopts the same “oh its just another drill” mentality that we do when we practice fire drills when in school or other similar scenarios. We want to practice it so much the activity becomes boring.

To address the dog aggression, I had the guardians take one of the dogs into the other room so I could show them how to do a little counterconditioning. Basically we recreate the situation that triggers a response, but reduce the intensity so the dog isn’t reactive as we deliver a positive reinforcer at the same time the stimulus occurs. In this case, I let the dog start nibbling on a high value meat treat pinched between my fingers. Once he started nibbling, I had the guardian play a scene on the TV that had a barking dog.

I only had the guardian play the clip while the dog was nibbling on the treat. Before the treat was gone, I had him stop the playback. Within a few repetitions the dogs were sitting and chewing on the treat while the dog barked on TV without responding.

The guardian will need to repeat this technique over and over while gradually increasing the volume of the barking dog. Once the dog can ignore the barking completely, the next step will be to repeat the process with the dog facing the TV If the guardians take their time and practice each step individually until the dog no longer reacts, they should be able to stop dog aggression from their Boston’s for good.

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