Teaching a Dog to Respect His Guardian

By: David Codr

Published Date: August 28, 2015

Jack (CA - Spaniel mix)

Jack is a one and a half year old Jack Russell / Terrier mix who is becoming increasingly aggressive to unknown dogs, snapping at his guardian’s friends and has difficulty focusing or relaxing.

The dog was able to see me walking up to the door and started barking in a territorial way. But I could also hear a little inflection in his bark that told me he was a little insecure. When I got to the door I had his guardian let me open it rather than holding the dog back. When we hold a dog back while they are reacting to something, we can actually intensify the reaction.

I kept the dog in front of me and blocked him when he tried to jump up on my leg to claim me. The first time I did this, the dog nipped back in disagreement, then moved away. The second time, I made a sound to disagree the instant before he tried to nip. Disagreeing with a dog’s reaction, before it actually starts, is an extremely effective technique when rehabilitating a dog.

I waited for the dog to approach me using his nose with a calm energy before I allowed him to get in my personal space. I let him give me a good sniff and once he was satisfied, I game him a sit command. Jack sat down immediately so I scratched him under his chin while i repeated the command word to reward him.

When I sat down to discuss what his guardian wanted out of the session, Jack walked over and laid down between my feet. His guardian told me that Jack never sat under his foot like he was with me. As we continued to discuss the situation, I discovered that Jack had no rules and was petted profusely by his guardian.

While the guardian had the best of intentions, over petting a dog and failing to provide it with rules and structure can often lead to a dog who feels entitled to attention. Instead of seeing the attention or petting as a reward, the volume of attention caused the dog to look at it as something he was entitled to.

I knew I needed to change the human dog dynamic in the house before we could really start the rehabilitation process. I suggested some simple rules and structure the guardian can introduce that will change how the dog sees the guardian. Each time the guardian properly corrects the dog for brewing the rules, the dog’s respect for the human increases.

But possibly the most important change that I suggested was that the guardian start petting the dog for a reason. Asking a dog to sit, come or lay down, then petting him after he does so instantly resets the human / dog leadership dynamic the right way.

By having the guardian refrain from showering the dog with attention and affection for only a few moments, then petting the dog for compliance, we were already seeing a difference. The dog was looking to the guardian and sitting in a respectful position in front of him. The dog was now trying to determine how it could make the human happy.

While petting the dog for a reason is going to go a long way in terms of redefining this relationship, I wanted to make sure the guardian knew how to communicate no to Jack in a way he understood and respected.

Next I showed the guardian a leadership exercise I developed a few years ago. This exercise helps the dog practice respecting boundaries and restraining itself while it teaches the guardian how to correct and communicate with the dog using body language.

While Jack got the overall just of the exercise, he was exceedingly insecure about coming to take his reward when he successfully completed the exercise. I ran through it a few times and while he got better at the exercise, his reluctance remained.

Because the exercise can be challenging for dogs with lower self esteem, I changed things up and switched over to a simple recall exercise. Because the recall exercise is easy and uses positive reinforcement, it was the perfect remedy to Jacks lack of confidence.

Once Jack had mastered the recall exercise, you could see a bounce in his step. Just like humans, dogs feel a sense of pride or accomplishment when they master a new exercise. Additionally, Jack was releasing how to please his authority figure. This was big as I doubt the dog ever put much effort into doing anything for the guardian until now. He didn’t have to, the guardian gave him everything which caused Jack to want nothing. Not a good combination.

To capitalize on Jack’s newfound confidence, I had the guardian run through the leadership exercise I had showed him earlier. The first time he went through it with his guardian, it took the dog over five minutes to complete the leadership exercise.

He kept at it and the second time he went through the leadership exercise, Jack completed it in half the time.

Now that we had changed the leader follower dynamic and the guardian knew how to communicate with Jack in a way he understood and respected, we were almost ready for a walk. But before we headed out, I went over the cues that Jack would display before he reacted to an unknown dog; staring with a lowered head, hackles standing up on his back, quick breathing or holding of the breath, freezing in place, etc.

I wanted to give the guardian a tool to help distract the dog’s attention when out on walks so I demonstrated what I call the “eye’s exercise.” By practicing getting the dog to look up at his handler on command, the guardian will be able to redirect the dog’s attention the instant he starts to stare or show any other signs of excitement or aggression.

With the dog in a calm state of mind and energy, we headed out for a walk. I showed the guardian how to use a Martingale collar and add the twist to the leash to stop the dog from pulling while we were still inside the house. Then we practiced going through the door while keeping the dog in a follower position.

It only took one correction before Jack understood he needed to walk in the heel position next to his guardian and follow his lead. Once we were outside, I spotted a neighbor walking her dog in front of the house so I asked her if she could help us out.

She stood on the sidewalk in front of Jack’s house with her dog while I took his leash. I wanted to see how intense the dog’s reaction was and if I could stop him before he got started. AS we approached the dog, Jack started to get tense and then suddenly tried to lunge. I was expecting this so I gave a quick correction on the leash the instant he coiled up.

Because I disagreed with him the instant he started, i was able to get Jack to stop and return into a sitting position. Once he was calm again I took another step and Jack tried again. I repeated the process step by step until we were only a few feet away and Jack was calm.

I walked Jack around the dog stopping periodically and placing him in a sit when he started to get a little excited or stared. After a complete circle around the dog, Jack was calm enough to meet. I found out later that Jack had been reacting to this dog in a negative way for a while now.

I gave Jack’s guardian the leash and had him walk around us so I could coach him through correcting the dog with good timing. He only needed to do so once. After that, Jack was following the lead of his handler. Because we had changed the leader follower dynamic inside the house, Jack’s guardian had earned enough respect to actually lead the dog successfully.

We continued down the street and encountered another dog who’s guardian agreed to help us as well. This time the guardian was the one holding the leash. At first he kept his leash arm tense which can cause some dogs to react or get a little uptight. But the handler’s technique and timing got better the more he practiced. After only a few moments, he was walking Jack past this new dog without any incident or reaction at all.

After we walked away, Jack’s guardian was in disbelief. This was when he told me that the first dog was one that Jack always reacted to. While he started out that way, it was easy to stop him before he got a chance to get too excited. It may be challenging for his guardian to do the same thing at first, but if he continues to practice, he will start to see signs from his dog that indicate he is about to react. Recognizing these signs allow the handler to rect with the timing that is necessary to stop the dog’s unwanted reaction.

We walked around the block and as we did, the dog started heeling on his own and was easily led by his guardian. Even when we passed street workers that the dog used to back and react to, the handler was able to prevent any reaction by using a small, but well timed correction.

When we got back to Jack’s home, I showed the guardian another exercise that will help the dog learn to follow his lead. We used the steps next to the house with Jack’s guardian correcting the dog each time he started to walk ahead. By the time he reached the top of the stairs, Jack was watching his guardian to follow his lead. When he headed down the flight of stars, the dog was walking in an almost perfect heel position.

By the time we finished the exercise, Jack was following his guardian in a literal sense. He was also paying attention to him and following his commands instantly. The change in the relationship between human and dog was pretty big. It was clear the dog now respected his guardian and saw him as an authority figure.

While we made considerable progress over the course of this three hour session, it will be up to the guardian to continue and compete the transformation. If he continues to enforce the new rules and boundaries and uses petting to reward the dog for wanted actions and behaviors, this new Jack will be here to stay.

Jack Chill

Tags: , ,

Categorized in:

This post was written by: David Codr

%d bloggers like this: