Helping a High Energy Black Lab Develop Respect For Her Guardians

Lilly the Black Lab

Lilly is a four-year-old Black Lab in Omaha who likes to run away at times, doesn’t always listen to commands and gets overexcited often; especially when guests arrive.

This is the first time that I have worked with a dog where it was more subdued during the greeting than it was for the rest of the session.

I sat down with Lilly’s guardian to discuss her issues and how I could best help her. The conversation didn’t last very long. Lilly continually barked whatever we stopped paying attention or petting her. We call this Demand Barking.

Lilly’s guardian normally takes her to spend the day with her parents who have a number of acres that are fenced in. Because we did the session in the mid afternoon today she didn’t get quite as much of a workout is she normally did. Boy did it show. Lilly is absolutely a high energy dog.

I went over a technique that I like to use to disagree with dogs that are over excited. Basically I use the leash to give a doggy timeout.

While the leash timeout is an effective method of disagreeing with dogs who are overexcited, you can really only apply it when a dog has had a sufficient amount of exercise. After about 10 minutes it became clear that Lilly had way too much energy for us to be productive in the session.

One of the ways that I like to deplete excess energy is through a game a fetch. Lilly’s guardian mentioned that she liked to do that with the dog, but at times Lilly did not always bring the ball back.

I suggested that we head out to the backyard to practice the fetch so that I could show the guardian how to get the dog to drop the ball where she wanted. But even going out the door was too much for Lilly to process in her super excited state.

Instead of letting the dog race out the door in this unbalanced state of mind, I spent the next few minutes showing the guardian how she can apply some structure to letting the dog outside.

Once we got outside, Lilly’s energy skyrocketed. I attempted to use a number of different techniques to get her to settle down to no avail. I knew that we were not going to be very productive in the session unless I could channel Lilly’s unspent energy in a constructive way.

I decided to strap on my rollerblades and headed down the street so that I could have Lilly pull me until her excess energy was spent. It took a good 20 minutes of having the dog pull me around the neighborhood, but eventually Lilly stopped pulling and started walking. At that point I knew that we had burned off enough energy to start working with her.

We returned to Lilly’s home and headed out into the backyard to resume the fetch exercise that I had attempted to start earlier. But a minute after we got into Lilly’s backyard, their neighbor let one of their dogs out which resulted in some fence fighting between Lily and the neighbor dog.

When Lilly’s guardian mentioned that this was a problem that occurred pretty regularly, I used the opportunity to demonstrate how we can apply counterconditioning to stop Lilly from reacting to Teddy, the barking neighbor dog.

It will probably take a week or two of counterconditioning before Lilly completely ignores Teddy and his barking outbursts. It really depends on how often the guardian can practice the counterconditioning technique. I would like to see her practicing this technique at least once a day, preferably more. When you are using counterconditioning it’s important to do it a little bit at a time at regular intervals. If you take a day off here or there, the dog usually regresses. Short 2-5 minute counterconditioning exercises is the goal.

After going back inside, I went through a couple of tips and suggestions that will help Lilly develop more respect for her guardians as authority figures. I’m pretty sure that she sees them as peers right now which is why she only listens when she feels like it and has taken up this bad habit of demand barking.

The exercise that I showed her guardian will help the dog develop more self-control while simultaneously helping the humans interact with her in a way that the dog identifies as coming from someone in a leadership position.

It’s going to be very important for the guardians to be consistent in enforcing new rules and boundaries with timely corrections. If everyone in the house consistently asked Lilly to follow the same rules and standards, it will be a much quicker rehabilitation process.

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