Introducing Rules and Boundaries to Help Zoey Learn to Behave

By: David Codr

Published Date: April 29, 2014

ZoeyZoey is a four-moth-old Cocker Spaniel puppy. Her owners contacted me to help stop her jumping up on furniture, stealing things, listening better and to put an end to her demand barking and occasional accidents.

While discussing the situation with her owners, Zoey took turns jumping up on her owners and myself. I stood up each time to disagree with the behavior, but as soon as I did, she simply moved on to the next person. After a few moments, I used my own technique to stop her from jumping up. As soon as I did, she got the message and stopped jumping up for the remainder of the session.

Next I suggested a different way of disagreeing with unwanted behaviors. Its common for dog owners to get frustrated at unwanted behaviors and that usually results in communicating that disagreement in ways the dog doesn’t understand.

I prefer to introduce what I call escalating consequences. This is a regimented series of steps a person can utilize whenever a dog breaks the rules or misbehaves. By consistently ramping up the disagreement communications until the dog stops the unwanted behavior, we can help it understand that the owner is just as determined as the dog. Once a dog makes this realization, they usually stop engaging in the unwanted behavior altogether.

There was a table in the living room that had a few shiny place settings on it. These seemed particularly appealing to Zoey as she attempted to get to them over and over. Usually a dog owner moves an object like this out of the dog’s reach. While this temporarily stops the dog from gaining access to the item, it does nothing to communicate they item is off limits. I prefer to put the object on the floor and communicate to the dog that its not for them. This way they learn that the object is not for them or not to be interacted with.

Because it was extremely interesting to Zoey, I took a vase filled with shiny bobbles (To her right in the above photo) and placed it in the middle of the living room floor. As soon as Zoey approached it, I made a loud sound to disagree with her interest. As soon as I did, she immediately moved away and stayed away for a few moments.

Each time she started to show interest in the vase, I disagreed by using the same sound. The timing of this disagreement is crucial. If the dog is able to stare, then creep closer and even interact with the object without any disagreement, the dog interprets this action as being ok.

By immediately disagreeing with the dog the second it shows interest, we are able to communicate our displeasure. Usually this process has to be repeated a few times before the dog “gets it,” so you must practice patience and vigilance. If you can’t stay in the room with the dog and the object, either take the dog with you or replace the object back to its original location.

After the first time I disagreed with Zoey for showing interest in the vase, she stayed away for a few moments. The next time she showed interest was when she happened to be walking near it. I disagreed again and Zoey walked away form it immediately.

By the end of the session, Zoey was pooped. She laid on the floor a few feet away from the vase that so intrigued her before, showing zero interest in it. She was responsive to her owner’s commands and disagreements and had calmed down considerably.

By practicing the escalating consequences and disagreeing with unwanted behavior with good timing, her owners will be able to communicate the rules, boundaries and limitations they expect her to follow. Because they started when she was a puppy, these good behaviors will become natural for Zoey. This will retranslate to a happy healthy relationship between dog and owners that should last a lifetime.

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