Tips on Reducing Excitement Helps a Pair of Wheaton Terriers Stop Fighting

By: David Codr

Published Date: December 23, 2016

lola-nellie-and-daisy

Lola and Neli are a pair of Soft Coated Wheaton Terriers sisters from different litters. They live in Omaha with Daisy, a mature Silky Terrier. The guardians called me for some dog behavior help with the two Wheaton’s dog aggression as they sometimes get into dog fights with one another; especially when over stimulated like when guests knock on the door.

Usually I like to have all of the dogs free so that I can see how they behave and interact with each other when I arrive for the session. However because Lola and Neli had gotten into a few dog fights when over excited at the prospect of a guest outside of their door, the guardian had placed Neli in the kennel.

Although I did not get to see how the dogs acted with each other, I was able to show the guardians how they can communicate that Neli needs to be calm and balanced before we allow her to exit the kennel. As a Dog Behaviorist, I have learned that training a dog to calm down is a crucial skill many need in order to change or modify behavior.

I’ve found that many dog behavior problems are related to the dog being over excited or two stimulated. Just like humans, dogs are not operating at peak efficiency when they are in an unbalanced state of mind. Despite many people thinking the contrary, excited is not necessarily happy when it comes to dogs.

By asking the dogs to stop and then waiting for them to settle down before proceeding or in this case exit the kennel, the guardians can help dogs develop self-control which will go a long ways towards stopping dog fights and otherwise undesired interactions between Lola and Neli.

The other major issue for these dogs was their perception of authority. Because the humans had not introduced or enforced any real rules or boundaries, the dogs had gotten the impression that they had the same level of authority as their humans.

To help the dogs start to identify as being in the follower position, I made a number of suggestions:

  1. Incorporate rules and boundaries and enforce them consistently with good timing.
  2. Stop petting the dogs when they paw or demand it and instead, pet them with a purpose.
  3. Only release Neli from the kennel when completely calm (usually indicated by laying down).
  4. Stop petting or interacting with dogs any time the dog puts a paw on their arm, leg, etc.
  5. Start teaching the dogs a new trick (separate instruction) each week for 8 weeks, alternating between guardians as instructors.

I also shared a set of Escalating Consequences I developed after observing how dogs disagree with one another. Because these are in the dog’s “native language” they responded to them right away. You can see an example of putting these consequences into place when we practiced a new way of answering the door.

By establishing a boundary and stopping / moving Lola away any time she violated it, her guardians can help prevent her from getting too excited (distance reduces intensity), learn to control herself in an excited situation and demonstrate that the human has things covered.

Because Lola and Neli have gotten into fights when overexcited, I recommended that they practice this door answering ritual separately until both dogs are calm and stay behind the boundary without any corrections needed before trying to practice this together. That said, practicing together will need to happen, just not until the dogs have developed better self control first.

By the end of the session, the dogs were already following some of the new rules, were less excited at the door, calming down in the kennel quicker and had started to sit in order to earn attention instead of pawing or jumping on the humans to demand it.

ROADMAP TO SUCCESS

  • Introduce new rules and boundaries and enforce them consistently and within 3 seconds maximum
  • Make sure no furniture is one of the rules
  • Only release dog from kennel when completely calm
  • Only pet dogs when calm and after earning it by sitting or laying down first
  • Make sure dog isn’t claiming the human by leaning over, draping across or putting a paw on them. This is when an approaching dog can trigger a fight
  • Use the escalating consequences to disagree with unwanted actions or behaviors
  • Make sure dogs are properly exercised, especially before any guests arrive or any other exciting or challenging occurs
  • Practice the Focus exercise with each dog at least 3 times a day (more is better) with 10 treats. Gradually increase second movement duration.
  • Practice the door answering exercise with the dogs separately until they have it down cold
  • Once dogs understand expected new door behavior and have adopted a follower, calmer energy, practice together, but only after sufficient exercise before hand. Abort if dogs get over excited.
  • Interrupt or disagree immediately if one dog stares, freezes in place, breathes heavily while looking at other dog or human feels tension
  • Guardians should swap dogs so that they can work with each dog independently in their own home. This will help both guardians develop leadership perception with the dogs individually.
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