A Pair of Little Dogs Learn to Listen to Their Guardians

By: David Codr

Published Date: June 29, 2016

Ivy and Maggie

Ivy (left) is a one-year-old Rat Terrier Chihuahua mix with some leash aggression. Her room mate Maggie is a three-year-old Blue Heeler mix who barks a lot (especially thunderstorms) and feeds off the aggression from Ivy. Their guardian set up this dog obedience training session to address both problems along with a handful of others.

When I arrived for the session, the dogs barked excitedly to announce my arrival. Their guardian did a good job of attempting to control the situation before he opened the door. He was largely successful up until he opened the door when he turned his back to the dogs. As soon as he did this, he lost all of the territory that he had claimed from them which allowed them to greet me at the doorway and jump up on me.

Later in the session we would repeat this exercise and I’m still kicking myself for not videotaping it. The first time we practiced, the dogs behaved pretty much the same way they did when I arrived; barking excitedly and jumping up. However when we practiced it the next time using the escalating consequences that I introduced in the session, the dogs did not bark at all and remained behind the new boundary to the door that we had introduced a few minutes earlier. My clients always love it when I help them stop dog barking.

When I sat down with the guardians to discuss the situation, I spotted a few behaviors that were likely linked to the problems that they called me about; allowing the dogs to jump up on the furniture after being corrected and also petting the dogs any time they demanded it. When I learned that the dogs also did not have very many rules in place, I was not surprised at their behavior.

Dogs go through life probing, waiting to be corrected or rewarded. When we don’t have a lot of rules in place, we don’t spend much time correcting them. I don’t think that was the situation here as one of the dog’s guardians was very vigilant, perhaps even too much so in terms of guiding the dogs.

While it’s important to interrupts and disagree with a dog when it’s engaging in an unwanted behavior as soon as it starts, my goal is to simply put a stop to it. In this case the guardian went one step further by requiring the dogs to finish in a specific posture or position.

While there is some relevance to the dog’s posture and position, my priority is always to disagree with the behavior itself. So once a dog stops challenging me or misbehaving I drop my disagreement without asking them to sit or lie down unless this situation specifically warrants it.

To help the guardians utilize positive reinforcement, I spent the next few minutes showing them how they can add a little structure to they way they deliver their affection.

This type of positive dog training goes a long ways towards helping the dog understand things that it can do that make its guardians happy.

By asking the dogs to consistently do something before the guardians give them any attention or affection, they will develop and deepen a healthy leader follower dynamic in their home. This will lead to the dog’s respecting them as authority figures which will make them much more responsive when listening to commands or corrections in the future.

In addition to helping the dogs see their guardians in a more respectful light, practicing the sit will pay dividends down the road when they start to incorporate some of the techniques that I showed them to help put a stop to Ivy’s leash aggression.

After we wrapped up the segment on positive reinforcement training, I spent a couple of minutes going over a set of escalating consequences that I have developed to disagree with dogs who engage in unwanted actions or behaviors.

While the escalating consequences themselves are very powerful, they are much more effective when delivered with good timing. It’s extremely important that we disagree or reward a dog within a few seconds in order for them to understand what we are recording or disagreeing with in the first place. Within three seconds is the goal.

To address Ivy’s leash reactivity, I spent a few minutes going through the Watch exercise that I learned after reading Karen London’s (CAAB) book, Feisty Fido. If you have a dog that gets aggressive or excited around other dogs win on the leash, I highly recommend this book. It’s an easy read and the techniques are extremely effective at eliminating the behavior.

Another problem that the dog’s suffered from was a fear of loud noises; specifically fireworks or thunderstorms. You can read about the solution that I used to fix this problem in my dog behavior column for the Omaha World Herald last week.

To help the guardians have more control of their dogs on walks, I showed them how to add a twist of the leash to a Martingale collar as well as how to properly position, lead, correct and reward the dog.

I advised the guardians to avoid dogs while out on walks until they have had a chance to sufficiently practice the Watch exercise inside. Only after the dog is consistently responding to the Watch command immediately will they be ready to take the next step; practicing the technique at a park with dogs at an appropriate distance.

We finished up the session by going over a more structured way of feeding the dogs. By adding a little bit of structure and requiring the dogs to wait for permission to eat, only after the human eats first, we can help them develop even more respect for the humans as authority figures.

By the end of the session, the dogs seem calmer, were listening to their human’s commands and corrections faster and as I noted earlier were no longer barking when they heard the doorbell ring.

It’s going to take a little bit of time and practice before the dog’s become proficient at the Watch as well as desensitizing them from the sounds of fireworks. But because the techniques are so easy and the guardians so determined to help their pets, I’m guessing both problems will quickly become a thing of the past.

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