Introducing Rules and Boundaries to a Pack of Lapdogs

By: David Codr

Published Date: December 24, 2014

Jack, Elphaba and TotoYesterday I worked with Jack, Elphaba and Toto. Their owner had called me for help with a number of issues; chewing furniture, marking and not listening.

I observed the dogs while discussing the situation with their owners. All three dogs jumped up on their owners to demand attention. It was almost like a line. Each dog would jump up, get shooed away, get down then move away. The next dog would jump up and repeat the process.After watching the dogs cycle through several times, I showed their owner how to use a hissing sound to disagree with their jumping up and demand for attention. It only took a few corrections with this new sound before the dogs stopped so I suggested that they incorporate the hissing sound anytime they wanted to communicate; “no,” “don’t do that,” or don’t even think about doing that.”

After their owners started to disagree with the jumping up and defining their personal space, Elphaba stayed away which puzzled her owners. They felt she was the “alpha” dog out of the pack, but once they started to disagree and assume a leadership role, she didn’t know what to do. To me this was a clear indicator of a lack of confidence. I wanted to give her time and space to process the change, so I turned my focus to Jack.

Jack had jumped up on the couch next to the kitchen table we were sitting at in an attempt to regain some authority. In a pack setting, the top ranking dog sits in the highest position. I had learned earlier that the dogs were allowed on the furniture. While there is nothing wrong with that in a calm, well behaved and balanced dog, these dogs were anything but. They jumped up, pawed for attention and wouldn’t follow the most basic of commands; the “sit.”

Their owners had not introduced any rules, boundaries or limits to the dogs. In fact, on multiple occasions they told me the dog “had” to do this or that. Adopting this follower mentality is a big part of why these dogs consider themselves as equals or superior to their owners. This is related to the marking, chewing and destructive behavior.

To stop the unwanted behaviors, their owners will need to assume a leadership position in their dog’s eyes. One way to do this is to introduce the concept of rules and boundaries. I suggested a few rules that will help the dogs start to see themselves as being in the follower position. First up, no furniture for a month. By claiming the high ground exclusively for the humans, the dogs can see a literal distinction between the humans and dogs.

I also suggested they make the dogs sit and wait before being allowed to go in or out any door as well as need permission to eat their food. Their owners had been free feeding the dogs. Dominion over a dog’s food is an excellent way to assume the leadership position. But in order to do this, we needed to make some changes to their current set up. Their owners had been feeding the dogs out of one communal bowl in a hard to reach part of the room.

Because I wanted the owners to call the dogs up to eat one at a time, I had them pull out three bowls and place them on the floor in different location so that they could block and guard access to the food. As soon as they put the bowls on the ground the dogs started to converge on it, so I showed them how to establish a boundary of ten feet.  It took a few minutes of corrections before the dogs started to respect the boundary their owners were communicating. Once the dogs settled down, I had their owners snack on some chips while casually leaning against the counter.

After eating in front of the dogs while enforcing the boundary, they called over Elphaba who they thought was the top dog in their pack. It took some encouragement to get Elphaba to even come over to the food. It was clear that she lacked confidence and the new rules and boundaries we had introduced had her feeling uncertain. The change to an individual bowl and a new feeding location combined with the new rules and structure was too much for Elphaba. She would walk near the bowl but not all the way up to it.

After giving Elphaba a sufficient amount of time to eat, I had her owners pick up her bowl, dump it back into the bag then replace the bowl to the floor. As soon as they did this she walked over to her bowl and licked it. This told me that her hesitation was not completely out of insecurity. Not eating when her owner gave her permission was a way of protesting and resting the changes we added. I explained how important it will be for her owner to stick to this feeding ritual until all three dogs eat when given permission. Its easy to feel sorry for your dog and cheat for it, but this cheating only works against their owners need to take over the top or leadership role.

These dogs had basically lived with zero rules, boundaries and limits as long as they have been in the home so they will likely protest and be stubborn to change. It will be incredibly important that their owners strictly enforce these new rules and boundaries for the next week or two for the dogs to take them to heart. Each time they outlast their dog and the dog complex with their command or correction, they take another step towards the leadership position. Once they are there, most of the unwanted behaviors will dissipate. The new communication methods we introduced will enable them to effectively disagree with those  issues that remain.


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This post was written by: David Codr

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