Adding Rules and Boundaries to Help a Yellow Lab Respect His Guardians

By: David Codr

Published Date: October 16, 2016


Irvin is a two-year-old Yellow Lab who lives in Omaha. His guardians set up a dog behavior training session with me to get him to listen better, stop pulling on the leash, not push past them on stairs and stop his Separation Anxiety.

Usually when I am called into work with a lab, especially yellow labs, the dog who meets me at the door has a abundance of energy and difficulty controlling themselves. That was most certainly not the case here.

I sat down with the Irvin and his guardians so that I could observe how the dog and humans interact with one another. I noticed that Irvin did not show any respect for his human’s personal space despite the fact that he did have some rules such as not being allowed on the furniture.

I recommended a few additional rules and some basic interaction tips to practice. Dogs who suffer from Separation Anxiety often get that way to a lack of rules and structure. By helping him see his humans as authority figures, we can help Irvin learn to relax and not stress about his humans.

During the observation period, I noticed that just about anytime Irvin got close to his guardians, they reached over and started to pet him. Because dogs learn through association, anytime that we pet our dog, we are agreeing with what ever they happen to be doing at the time we pet them.

Essentially, Irvin’s guardians were in teaching him to do the exact thing that they wanted me to help them put a stop to.

To help the guardians start to reward Irvin for desired actions and behaviors rather than training him to do things they did not want it, I went over my petting with a purpose strategy.

It will take the humans a couple of days to a week or so before they are able to get into a habit of asking the dog to come, sit or lay down before they start to pet him. But once they do, they will unintentionally practice a mini dog obedience training session with Irvin every time they pet him for the rest of his life.

Although Irvin showed a good and reasonable energy throughout the course of our session, his guardians did mention that there are times that he was not so mellow. I suggested that they start to incorporate a short game of fetch anytime Irvin started to show signs of anxiety or excitement. By channeling the dog’s excess energy in appropriate ways, the humans can eventually develop a cocktail of activities that results in a dog who is exhibiting the behavior they want because he does not have a bunch of stored up energy.

Next we addressed Irwin’s habit of racing or pushing past the humans when they went up or down the stairs.

Irvin picked up the exercise very quickly. I suggested that the humans practice this 4 to 6 times per practice session and to conduct 2 to 4 practice sessions a day. If they can do so, Irvin should be sitting and waiting for them to call him anytime they go up or down the stairs by the end of this week.

Another great way to help a dog see and identify humans as being in a leadership position is what I like to refer to as a structured walk. This involves the dog walking next to the humans instead of being in front and paying attention to the handler.

Because Irvin pulled on the leash quite a bit, his guardians had not been walking him as often as they would have liked to. I pulled out a Martingale collar and showed the guardians how they could apply a special twist of the leash to give them more control and stop Irvin from pulling.

After sharing my rules for a structured walk, we headed outside for a little leash training.

Irvin did better on the leash with the Martingale but was still not responding as well as I would have liked. I suggested that the guardian bring out a large quantity of high-value treats for the walks he takes with the dog over the next week or two.

This will give the guardian the ability to practice something I like to call the Long Walk. Often times when humans are out to walk their dogs, we tend to think of the destination. When this is the case, anytime that the dog pulls on the leash or does something that keeps us from getting to our destination, we can get a little bit frustrated. This usually results in a lot of corrections or leash pulling which is no fun for human or dog.

Ironically, the long walk exercise involves taking the dog out for a short walk; to the end of the black and back Because the target is only a short distance away, we don’t focus on it the same way we do as if we’re walking our dog normally.

On a long walk, I have the dog’s handler stop every one, two, three or four steps and put the dog back into a sit (the human needs to vary the number of steps to keep the dog guessing). As soon as the dog sits down, the guardian should immediately reward him with a high value treat while simultaneously giving the command word “Sit.”

Because we are stopping frequently and repeatedly rewarding the dog for putting itself into a sitting position, we can help the dog learn to pay attention to the human and that sitting on the walk is rewarded. After a couple of walks, Irvin should start to pay a little bit more attention to his human and sit automatically each time the human stops.

Once Irvin is paying attention to his human; stopping and sitting automatically each time the human stops, then the guardian can start adding in additional steps before stopping and rewarding the dog for a sit.

By gradually adding in a few extra steps each subsequent walk, Irvin should be able to maintain his focus or attention level on the handler anticipating the high-value rewards. Because we progress gradually, the dog is more than willing to go along for the ride (or walk).

If Irvin continues to pull on the leash after a week or practicing the Long Walk, his guardian may want to start each walk with a short fetch session in the backyard. By burning off Irvin’s excess energy and then giving him 10 or 15 minutes to cool down before heading out on a walk, his guardian should find the dog to be much more receptive to following his lead.

If that doesn’t stop the leash pulling, we may need to set up a dog training session with one of my apprentices to focus exclusively on that problem rather than trying o solve so many issues in one appointment.

By the end of the session Irvin was starting to show respect for people’s personal space, the humans were using the nonverbal communication cues I taught them and were disagreeing with the dog before he had a chance to get himself into trouble.

If the humans can get into a habit of claiming their space, using the new non verbal communication methods, start petting Irvin with a purpose, enforcing rules and boundaries within three seconds and finding a combination of exercise and structure that helps him remain in a balanced state, they should see improvement in his behavior every day. Eventually they will get to a point where they no longer have to consider Irvin’s behavior because it is exactly what they want.

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This post was written by: David Codr