An Excited Beagle Mix Learns Some Self Control

By: David Codr

Published Date: July 21, 2015

Lucy 1

Lucy is a two-year-old Beagle mix who barks and charges the door when guests arrive and gets crazy on walks when she sees other dogs.

When I arrived for the session, Lucy launched herself at the glass door angling for my head. While I wouldn’t call it a bad case of aggression, she wasn’t bringing me flowers either. Once inside she calmed down pretty fast, but changing her behavior at the door was one of her guardian’s top priorities for the session.

To build up Lucy’s ability to self restrain and teach her guardian how to disagree with the proper timing, I went over a leadership exercise I developed a few years ago. The exercise involves a human placing a high value item on the floor, then claiming it as a dog would. Only after a dog gives up and lays down to communicate it surrenders to I let the dog get the item, in this case a high value meat treat.

After practicing the exercise with Lucy myself a few times, I coached her guardian through it until she got the same results.

After we wrapped up the leadership exercise, I showed her guardian how to claim the area around the door and get Lucy to stay back and let her answer the door without the dog. Increasing the distance between a dog and something it is reacting to is always a good technique to apply. It took a little practice, but eventually Lucy and her guardian were able to answer the door without Lucy’s lunging.

Next I wanted to o out for a walk so I asked her guardian to put the dog on a leash. As soon as Lucy’s guardian asked the dog if she wanted to go for a walk, she started walking around the room. She wasn’t overly excited which was good, but she was walking away which caused her guardian to have to follow the dog. In a very literal sense this put the dog in a leadership position.

I asked her guardian to stop and return to her seat at the kitchen table. We waited for the dog to settle down before trying again. This time I had her guardian call the dog over to her and wait for the dog to settle down and stay in place before adding the leash. It took a few repetitions, but eventually the dog came over and sat when called.

Once we were all leashed up, Lucy wanted to race ahead of her guardian, again placing her in the leader position. When a dog is reactive to other dogs on a walk, its imperative that the dog is not out in front. Walking in front makes the dog think its in a leadership position and can impact a dog’s reaction to other dogs it encounters.

I called her guardian back and we ran through the leaving exercise again, but this time we stopped each time the dog tried to move in front. It took more time, but eventually the dog was able to restrain herself and wait to follow her guardian.

I had fitted Lucy up with a Martingale collar and added the special twist to the leash prior to our leaving and that, along with taking our time and waiting for the dog to assume a follower position made a real difference. Lucy was walking next to her handler rather than pulling on the leash to move ahead. Simply talking the time and making sure the dog in in this follower position will make a huge difference in her behavior on walks.

We didnt encounter any dogs on our walk, but I did show her guardians a distraction technique that they can use to help Lucy stop reacting to other dogs. I call it the eyes technique and it conditions the dog to look away from the oncoming dog and up to its guardian to receive a high vale treat. By moving the dogs eyes away from the approaching dog, we can help lessen its reaction and keep its focus elsewhere.

By practicing the eyes technique when no dogs are around, it will become an easy action for the dog to repeat. This will allow her handler to distract her and stop an outburst before it has a chance to happen.

By the end of the session, Lucy was showing far more respect to her guardians. Her reaction to their commands or corrections was immediate, she was following them rather than racing in front and even her reaction to someone at the door improved. I tested this after leaving by knocking on the door after putting my case in the car. This time, Lucy didn’t bark once and only needed one correction to move away from the door and stay there.

Based on how quickly Lucy adapted to the new communication methods and leadership from her guardians, it shouldn’t take long to put a stop to most of her unwanted habits and behaviors. As she build up her ability to control herself inside, her behavior and reactions to other dogs will improve as well. In time, she will defer to her guardian’s reaction and learn that approaching dogs are no longer something she needs to react or respond to.

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