Teaching an Excited Puppy to Respect His Guardians

By: David Codr

Published Date: August 3, 2015

Jessie

Jesse is a one-year-old male Black Lab / German Shepherd / Golden Retriever mix in Los Angeles who has growled at the family’s six year old child a few times.

When I arrived for the session, Jesse was barking at me a bit; nothing more than an alerting bark which is not too big a deal. The problem was his guardian kept reaching over and petting the dog telling him it was ok. When a dog is in unbalanced state and we give it attention of affection, it can give the impression you are agreeing with its actions. So every time Jesse barked and the guardian petted him, he was saying “thanks for barking.”

After pointing this out, we sat down to discuss the dog and past growling episodes. While a dog growling at a child is not something to aspire to, it is a communication that the dog is uncomfortable or disagrees with something. I never want to stop a dog from growling, I want to stop the thought that its appropriate to growl at the human in the first place.

I went over some non verbal communication methods and sternly advised the to practice the No Free Lunch methodology of petting the dog for doing something or changing its state on command whenever possible. Instead of petting the dog for looking pretty, asking it to sit, then petting it for doing so is a great way to use positive reinforcement to teach the dog to do things we want.

Next I walked the family through the leadership exercise I developed a few years ago. Normally I do the exercise, but I had seen some insecurities from the dog. When a dog is less confident, I can usually coach the family members through it from the start themselves.

It didn’t take long for Jesse to master the exercise with the mother and father. Next up was the six-year-old that the dog had growled at. It only took her a minute to get this 85 lb dog to respect her authority and leave alone a treat lying on the floor.

After the leadership exercise I had the mother show me how she got the dog leashed up for a walk. Normally people have the leash fairly close so it is a bit of a delayed reaction. But the closer the dog gets to getting leashed up, the more excited it gets.

I had the guardian place the leash on the table in the room for a second run through, but as soon as the dog realized that she was getting the leash it got excited so I had her stop and return to the couch. By stopping the instant the dog gets excited, we can help tell it to stay calm.

It took two more practices at the exercise before Jesse was able to stay completely calm throughout the whole thing.

We started the actual walk the same way. Each time the dog started to get excited, she stopped and waited for the dog to return to a calm state before continuing. As you can see in the clip below, the dog figures out on its own to wait and walk behind the guardian instead of running in front.

While Jesse was able to get through the start of the exercise ok, I knew we could do better so we started the exercise over again.

Because we took out time inside and stopped as soon as the dog got excited, we were able to go for a nice calm walk with the dog in a nice heel position and few corrections needed by the adults.

I decided to push things a bit further and had the family’s six-year-old take the leash last. Although the dog needs more one on work with more equipped handlers before the child should try walking him again, she did pretty good with the new and calm improved Jesse.

As we were ending the session, I learned that the dog had a food eating issue. A few months prior the dog had somehow injected a toothpick that ended up puncturing in his colon when sitting down. I also learned that at one stretch the dog went nearly 10 days without eating much. The guardians took him to see multiple vets and specialists who didn’t find any medical reason why the dog wasn’t eating.

My guess is its a combination of multiple factors so I suggested a structured way of feeding he dog and charting how much food the dog eats and gets as treats to get an accurate feel for how much he is eating a day. When petting Jesse I could not feel his ribs at all and his chest and other areas seemed way too big.

By applying a consequence of removing the food if he doesn’t eat it in a set period of time and limit the training treats to a small amount each day, we should be able to motivate Jesse to eat what is presented when it is presented.

Jesse is not at all an aggressive dog. However he did show some insecurities that can lead to some unbalanced behavior in the wrong circumstances. Practicing and mastering the leadership exercise, petting Jesse for a reason and using the new non verbal communication methods should help redefine the leader follower dynamic in the home. Once the dog sees all the humans as having more authority that he does, his feeling that its ok to growl should dissipate and eventually go away completely.

That’s a good thing, because I’ve become rather partial to the hand crafted Elephant art his six-year-old guardian gave me as I left the session.

Jesse Elephant Art

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