Using Counterconditioning to Stop a Dog From Getting Jealous When Family Members Touch

By: David Codr

Published Date: April 8, 2021

For this Omaha dog training session we introduced a counterconditioning exercise to help 4 year-old Lab Rottweiler mix Lightning stop being jealous when one of his guardians is touching or making contact with the other.

I could tell right away that Lightning was a high energy dog that probably wasn’t getting enough exercise. Labs can be incredibly high energy dogs when they are young and if you keep them intact, that’s going to amplify everything.

Lightning spent the first hour of the session sharking or patrolling the room; nudging people for attention, jumping up on them, then going to check the door to look outside then repeating the circuit. He was panting heavily as if he just got done with a long run but he did this continuously for almost two hours straight. This big boy has some serious energy.

I went over a number of exercise options with his guardians after I gave him a lick mat and bully stick to settle him down. I also discussed a few different ways to mentally stimulate him. It’s going to be crucially important for the guardians to make sure that he is getting some mental stimulation or physical exercise every hour or two.

I also strongly recommended that they have Lightning neutered. Some male dogs who are intact can be territorial and more possessive than dogs who have been adjusted. Due to the busy schedule that the guardians keep, I think it’s gonna be difficult for them to sufficiently exercise the dog. WHile neutering wont by itself solve his behavior issues, it will make fixing them easier and reduce the amount of exercise he needs.

The reason I was called into the session is Lightning had bitten the wife twice. When I asked the guardians about the situations, I learned that there were contributing factors in both cases.

The first incident occurred when the couple was having a disagreement. The bite was singular and Lightning did not hold on which are indications that the dog was trying to communicate he disagreed but was not trying to do damage.

The second bite occurred while the dog was at a dog grooming facility and was animated with the presence of a small dog that he normally does not like being around. When the female guardian stepped in between him and the dog he was reacting to, he latched onto her arm.

In both bites, the dog was reacting to a situation that was chaotic which can be stressful and produce a reaction from many different types of dogs.

Combined with under exercise / stimulation and the additional testosterone that comes from being an intact male dog, the two biting incidents happened at times where outside factors were the main contributor. However, if the guardians do not dramatically increase the dog’s daily exercise regimen and or have him neutered, there is a strong possibility that another bite may occur if the humans are animated or the dog is put into another overstimulating situation.

I spent part of the session going over the core aspects of modern dog training. Specifically getting into force free interactions, looking for signs of consent as well as providing a lot of positive reinforcement. The guardians had informed me prior to the session that occasionally Lightning would growl when he was grabbed in a way that he doesn’t like or scolded. These are a few of the reasons why modern dog training is force and punishment free. Our goal is to create a situation where the dog does the thing that we want on its own and then is rewarded richly. After repeated practice, this becomes the new normal behavior for the dog.

But in order to adopt behavioral changes, the guardians are going to need to make sure that they adjust their lives by looking for signs of consent and no longer physically holding the dog in ways that he communicates he is uncomfortable with.

Lightning responded wonderfully to the positive reinforcement interactions and exercises with me and showed that he was a smart dog. He responded quickly and consistently when properly motivated and calm enough to listen. I mentioned to them that they can set the dog up for success by properly exercising him before a walk or times that he may be more aroused. Being proactive in terms of his physical and mental needs will go a long ways towards him adopting a calmer and more obedient behavior.

The female guardian said she was not happy with Lightning and in fact was uncomfortable in his presence. This is not a good situation for any dog or family.

One of the recommendations I made was to have the wife start hand feeding lightning for a week. I also strongly recommended they stop free feeding the dogs as it rubs them of motivation and the young children in the house were interested in going over to the food bowl. The likelihood of a dog becoming possessive or territorial when it’s eating or hire with a intact dog so by removing the presence of food aside from two or three meal times a day will ensure that nothing bad happens with the kids and that the dogs are more interested in listening to the humans.

After a week of hand feeding, Id love the guardians to switch over to feeding Lighting with a Snuffle mat and provide him with toy puzzles like Kong’s or an Omega Tricky Trainer treat ball.

I went over a counter conditioning exercise to help the dog have a positive association with the humans interacting with one another. This is an easy way to help a dog stop reacting when it sees one human touching another. In order to effectively practice this counter conditioning exercise, it’s important that the humans progress slowly so that the dog is not reacting. If the dog reacts at all, that means that we are advancing too fast and need to back up a step or two and practice at a previous level of success.

You can learn how to use counterconditioning to stop the dog from being jealous of humans who touch each other by watching the free positive dog training video below.

Lightning did absolutely amazing with this trick to stop dog jealousy. The only problem I had was him being more interested in me than looking at his guardian as they reached towards one another. Towards the end of the video I showed the guardians how they can be the ones delivering the treats as well as the steps they need to take to make the situation more lifelike.

The more the Lightning is practiced at being reinforced with treats after the guardians finish touching each other, the more he will see that interaction as a positive and beneficial thing.

I hope that the guardians saw that Lightning‘s behavior improved in the few short minutes we practiced that exercise because they will need to practice it two or three times a day for a week or two to start seeing real progress.

Throughout the session, Lightning was a really great dog. I do not see him as being an aggressive dog at all. I see that he is in a situation where he is not having all of his needs met and some extraordinary situations provoked a negative response in him. Sometimes when a dog bites or shows aggression, people think they may need to put the dog down. That is certainly not the case here for Lightning. He can get better and his guardians have severl things they can do to help him.

If the guardians are unable to change their lifestyle to provide him with the daily exercise and stimulation that he needs, the next solution would be to find him a good rescue group to place him in a home that is more suited for what he needs in terms of exercise, stimulation and structure rather than put him down. But based on how much the guardian loves his dog, Im optamistic that the dog behavior secrets shared in this session will help the family put these problems behind them for good.

To help the guardians remember all of the dog tips I covered in this in-home Omaha dog training session, we recorded a roadmap to success summary video that you can check out below.

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This post was written by: David Codr

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