Teaching a Puppy to Listen to and Respect Her Guardian

Libby (Yorkie Pop)

Libby is a one-year-old Yorkie-poo who over barks, mouthes / nips and gets over excited quite often.

After discussing the situation with her guardian, it was clear than most of Libby’s unwanted behaviors are a result of her family over-loving her and failing to include any rules, boundaries or limits. When I pointed this out to the guardian she laughed and told me that she did all of that when it came to raising her own child and that the dog was a baby substitute of sorts.

While the petting, affection and cuddling is a great benefit of having a dog, providing love and attention with no boundaries and limits often causes a dog to expect those things. While unconditional love is a revered thing to humans, it doesn’t translate the same way to dogs. They often interpret that as weakness if it isn’t accompanied with structure and discipline.

To help change this perception, I suggested some rules, boundaries and structure that Libby’s guardian can incorporate. Each time we correct or disagree with a dog for breaking the rules, we enhance the leader follower dynamic that leads to a balanced well behaved dog.

One of the rules I often suggest is to make furniture off limits for 30 days. To dogs, the higher you sit, the more rank you have. So by allowing the dog to sit at the same level as the humans, Libby’s guardian was inadvertently telling her they were equals. But when a dog is on a different (lower) level than the humans, they see the humans as having more rank and authority.

Libby’s guardian had a dog bed that she almost never used, likely due to the dog preferring the furniture which gave her more status. I had her bring out the dog bed and place it on the floor of the living room so I could show her how to get the dog to use it.

To help Libby and her guardian understand each other better, I went through some non verbal communication cues. Not only does this make it easier for the dog to understand as its their native tongue, eliminating the excitement humans often include when we speak can help Libby stay calmer.

I also ran through the set of escalating consequences that I use when a dog isn’t listening or breaks the rules. By consistently incorporating non verbal reprimands when the dog isn’t listening or breaks the rules, we can teach it that we are going to follow through so it may as well obey the first time.

After I finished explaining the escalating consequences, Libby’s guardian asked me how to respond when the dog simply ignored her. The example she gave was calling Libby over. If the guardian had a treat or the dog felt like obliging, then Libby obeyed. But if she didn’t have a treat or the dog didn’t want to comply, the guardian didn’t have a next step.

I went over a hand movement I like to use to get a dog’s attention. By making it look like I have a treat in the palm of my hand, I can condition the dog to respond faster. I add a little chin scratch after giving the dog the treat so that when we transition to affection only rewards, the dog is satisfied and continues to comply.

To fix Libby’s habit of not recalling on command, I showed the guardian how to use the hand movement when recalling the dog to get an immediate response.

By the end of the session, Libby was much calmer, was showing more control and even stopping herself from violating the new rules we introduced an hour or so before. It will be difficult for the guardian to stop over loving Libby, but by petting her with a purpose, being a good leader and enforcing proper rules and decorum the dog will continue to develop the proper respect for her guardian. Once this is the case, then she can go back to letting the dog on the furniture and petting the dog for being so darn cute!

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