Some Leash Training Helps a Mae Day Rescue Learn to Relax

By: David Codr

Published Date: October 3, 2016


Lucy is a two-year-old Terrier Corgi mix adopted through our friends at Mae-Day Rescue in Los Angeles. Her guardian set up a dog behavior session with me to put a stop to Lucy’s reactive behavior to people she doesn’t know and towards other dogs when she is on a leash.

Lucy’s guardian had informed me that she warms up to people once they start feeding her cookies. so when I arrive for the session I had some high-value me treats in my hand. It only took a couple of treats before Lucy and I had broken the ice.

After sitting down with Lucy and her guardian to discuss the situation, it appeared that Lucy was reacting the way that she was because she is overstressed. This is most likely due to thinking that she has the same responsibility and authority level as her humans.

If a dog thinks that it is in a leadership position, the pressure that comes with responsibility can often add stress to a dog’s life. When this is the case, it is not uncommon for the dog to act out in ways that human does not want. Just like humans, dogs are not at their best when they are under stress.

To reduce the stress in her life, I suggested that her guardian incorporate some rules and structure. These will have a positive impact on the dog as she will no longer feel that she is responsible for the human. Once Lucy identifies as being in a follower position, she’ll be much more inclined to listen to her human’s commands and corrections.

After suggesting of some rules and how to enforce them, I went over a technique that will allow the guardian to add structure when she pets her dog or gives it affection. I like to call it, petting with a purpose.

It will be challenging for Lucy’s guardian to refrain from petting her dog unless she does something to earn it first. But if she can get into a habit of interacting with her dog this way, she will be engaging in a mini dog obedience session every time that she pets her dog for the rest of its life.

Next I went over a series of nonverbal communication cues that the guardian can use to disagree with Lucy anytime she breaks any of the new rules. We were able to put these new communication cues in place when a guest arrived midway through our session.

Because the guardian was a little bit tentative in her movements, the dog did not respond as well as we would like. Crisp, bold, defined and deliberate movements are what is needed when you want to communicate with a dog through movement.

As you can see in the above video, when I moved suddenly and directly at Lucy, I got a much different response. The guardian will need to practice moving briskly to her side to head off the dog before it is able to go around her.

Later on in the session, one of the guardian’s friends dropped by with her dog which gave us another opportunity to practice answering the door.

The guardian started out much better this time. Her steps were more deliberate and had a sense of urgency to them. All until the dog went to the guardian’s right and was able to get around her.

The guardian will need to anticipate this attempt to go around her in the future and take a dramatic step to the right or left to block the dog from being able to do so. If her timing is good, the dog should stop.

I suggested that the guardian consider picking up a secondhand tennis racket that she can use to extend the reach of her arm when answering the door. This tool, combined with consistent enforcement of the new rules and boundaries, will help the dog adopt mind her guardian better and adopt more of a followers mindset which will be needed for her to give up door answering duties.

Because Lucy is reactive to other people and animals will out on walks, I showed the guardian how she can incorporate a Martingale collar with a special twist of the leash to give her more control.

We headed out into the courtyard for a little leash training and the rules I usually suggest for a structured walk.

After discussing the basics and demonstrating how to correct the dog using the Martingale, we headed out for a short walk around the neighborhood. Lucy was much more attentive to her guardian during this walk. The guardian felt that she had much greater control of her dog using the Martingale and confidence goes a long way when leading  dog.

Because of the work we had done in the apartment, and by keeping the dog in the heel position rather than in front, Lucy was much less reactive to people that we encountered on the walk. This is a good example of how quickly dogs can change or modify their behavior. If the guardian is able to continue to enforce the new rules and boundaries with good timing and keep her next to her, Lucy will become less reactive on walks.

When we returned to the apartment, I wanted to go over an exercise that will allow Lucy’s guardian to redirect her attention. I call this a Focus exercise.

It will be important for the guardian to practice this focus exercise inside in a calm quiet setting at first. The goal is to help the dog practice focusing on the guardian in the easiest situation possible.

Once the dog understands the exercise and has practiced it enough inside, then the guardian will be able to take the next step which I discuss in the next video.

After Lucy is able to focus on her guardian amongst all sorts of distractions, then the guardian will be ready to start practicing this exercise out and about near other dogs and people.

However, just like in the first two videos, we need to do this in a gradual progression. If we move too far, too fast, it will result in the dog having an outburst which is the one thing you absolutely need to avoid when applying this technique.

I spent a couple of minutes explaining how the guardian can start to gradually expose Lucy to other dogs while she trains her to look away from them and instead sit down politely next to her guardian instead.

Lucy is not at all an aggressive dog. She simply was confused as to what her role in the home was.

By consistently enforcing rules and boundaries that help the dog see the human as being the authority figure, Lucy’s guardian will be able to eliminate a lot of the stress and pressure that she feels due to thinking that she has to be responsible for the human or security.

Combined with the new communication cues and practice at the focus exercise, Lucy should learn to sit and look up at her guardian and follow her lead rather than trying to control the situation or disagree with things she doesn’t understand.

By the end of the session, Lucy was already starting to follow some of the new rules on her own. Her guardian was asking the dog to sit before petting her and seemed much more comfortable and confident in leaving her dog on walks.

It’s going to take a little bit of time and practice, but based on what I saw out of the dog and the human, I don’t think these problems are going to be too difficult to stop for good.

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This post was written by: David Codr

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