A Rambunctious Puppy Learns to Listen to and Respect Her Family

By: David Codr

Published Date: April 1, 2016

Kaiya (Australian Cattle Dog Fox Terrier Mix)

Kaiya is a ten-month-old Australian Cattle Dog / Fox Terrier female in Los Angeles who is leash reactive, jumps up on people, engages in demand or challenge barking and gets over excited when people come to the door.

When I arrived for the session, I caught Kaiya by surprise and she reacted more intensely that usual according to her guardian. I could tell right away that I was dealing with a dog that was nervous. She was barking while backing up and hunching over which can be a sign of lower self esteem.

I sat down with one of her guardians to discuss how I can help while I observed the dog. Kaiya spent the first several minutes barking then backing away while circling the table and keeping her distance.

Kayia’s guardian had originally told me that the primary issue was leash aggression. While Kaiya certainly has some issues with the leash, it quickly became clear that was not her primary issue.

Through my conversation with her guardian, I learned that the dog didn’t really have many rules to follow. Dogs basically go through life probing to determine where boundaries and limits are. If we don’t have any rules or boundaries in place, it’s not unusual for a dog to get the impression that they are in a leadership position.

When a dog believes that it is in a position of authority over humans, but the humans don’t act like they are followers, that can really stress out a dog. Making matters more challenging, Kaiya is most certainly a high energy dog.

Kaiya’s guardian has enrolled her in a dog agility course which will be a great way to channel some of that unspent energy. But due to her dog reactivity, this option is challenging to say the least. For the short term, liberal amounts of fetching and ball chasing in the back yard combined with early morning or late night walks will be an effective way to release her excess energy.

Throughout the session, I offered a number of suggestions for Kia’s guardians that will help the dog start to see and identify as being in a follower position. Once the dog thinks of itself is a follower, a lot of the stress will go away as the dog is no longer responsible for the humans. Because many of Kaiya’s unwanted behaviors stem from this confusion about her status in the group, strictly enforced structure and discipline will accelerate the transformation of her behavior.

A great way to accomplish this transformation is to practice a principle that I like to call Petting with a purpose. This methodology involves not petting the dog unless it does something for you first.

For example, if Kaiya is sitting next to one of her guardians, and they want to pet her, they would simply ask her to sit and then pet her for doing so. This helps the dog develop a respect for the guardians as authority figures while also communicating that rewards will be given when the dog obeys.

One of the rules that I suggested was to make the dog wait and allow all of the humans to pass through doorways first. By literally putting the dog in a follower position, we can it start to see itself that way.

I also recommended that the guardian start defining their personal space. While there’s nothing wrong with petting our dogs or interacting with them as much as we want, how we do it matters. In the several hours that I observed Kaiya, she flagrantly invaded any human’s personal space without any hesitation. There’s a difference between inviting a dog to come and sit right next to you and the dog doing the inviting on its own.

To help the guardians better communicate that they disagreed with Kaiya, I went over a set of escalating consequences to apply. At first the guardians will need to use all of these consequences consistently and with good timing. But in time, they will need to use fewer of the consequences as the dog’s respect and behavior improves.

Because dogs learn through association, disagreeing or correcting the dog the instant it starts to engage in an unwanted behavior is key. If you’re not consistent with your timing, the dog cannot build an association which means that it does not understand why you are disagreeing with it in the first place.

To better help the guardians utilize these escalating consequences, I showed them an exercise that will help them practice using them while simultaneously helping the dog practice self restraint and control. I suggested that the guardians practice this exercise daily for the next 7 to 10 days until they can achieve the benchmarks that we outlined in the session.

At one point in the session one of Kaiya’s guardians came out back with some food for himself and their son. As soon as she recognized there was food, Kaiya made a beeline for them and was under foot as both of them ate. To dogs, it’s very confrontational to be within 7 feet of anyone who is eating food. Even if the dog is not begging or pawing for it, the proximity within 10 feet is inappropriate.

I used this is as an opportunity to teach her other guardian how he could define his personal space. As I was coaching him through the techniques I noticed Kaiya displaying quite a few body postures and movements that were communications. I spent the next couple of minutes pointing these out to her guardians as it will be important for them to understand how they can read their dog’s body language.

We wrapped up the session by going over a structured way of feeding the dog. Because this is a daily activity that is primally important, adding a little bit of structure and discipline to the ritual will go a long ways towards the dog developing a healthy respect for the humans as authority figures.

By the end of the session Kaiya was considerably calmer, but I would not consider her calm. She did pick up on the new escalating consequences pretty quickly and it was great to see the guardians utilizing them on their own. Old habits die hard though, so it will take a concerted effort over the next week or two for the guardians to default to these new mannerisms without thinking.

Although the guardian had originally called me in to work on Kaiya reactivity to other dogs while on the leash, her almost lack of structure and respect for authority had to be dealt with first. Just like any other build, you have to have a firm foundation in place.

As Kaiya’s guardians assume the leadership role in her eyes, she will stop challenging them or protesting when they correct her from engaging in activity or behavior that they do not approve of. If the timing of their corrections is consistent, Kaiya will quickly get the point and give up on these unwanted behaviors for good.

Once Kaiya has this foundation in place, it’s quite possible that her dog reactivity will stop on its own. If that is not the case, I told her guardians to give me a call in a month or two so that we can schedule a follow-up session and deal with that issue on its own.

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