Rules and Counterconditioning Help a Doberman Gain Confidence and Respect for His Guardians

By: David Codr

Published Date: August 25, 2016

Mac Doberman

Mac is a two-year-old Doberman who barks a lot, doenst like his kennel, charges the door, has Separation Anxiety and a fear of children and loud noises. His guardians also wanted me to help him stop jumping up on people and stop dog barking.

It didn’t take long to see that Mac needed to develop some self-control; he invading people’s personal space, pressing his chin onto their knees, nudging, pawing and jumping on his guardians to get their attention or some affection.

Because Mac’s guardians had not introduced rules, boundaries and limits – he had gotten the impression that he had the same authority that they did. This gave him license to demand attention in a physical way and ignore them when they disagreed with him.

I suggested a number of simple rules and boundaries that the family can adopt to change this dynamic. Enforcing these rules with great timing consistently will communicate to Mac that those ways of asking for attention will no longer be honored while simultaneously helping him adopt more of a follower’s mindset.

Because a new baby is on the way soon, it will be extremely important for all of the guardians and any family members or friends who interact with Mac maintain these new rules. If one person decides to pet him when he jumps up or sneaks him food from the table they will be working against everyone else who is helping Mac grow into a balanced and well behaved dog.

This new structure will help Max start to identify as being in a follower position which should have a positive impact on his interaction with other humans and also help him see them as authority figures to respect and follow.

They say that necessity is the mother of invention, and that’s a great proverb to use here. Mac is only going to change his behavior if those around him start demanding it and correcting him immediately when he deviates from the new standards. Unity amongst the humans will be the path to success which is why its so important all the humans are on the same page.

I went over some nonverbal communication cues that the guardians can use to disagree with Mac whenever he breaks any of these new rules. I also went over a way that they can add a little bit of structure to petting Mac. I call this Petting with a purpose and it is probably the easiest thing any dog guardian can do to help their dog respect them as an authority figure.

For many of the dogs that I work with who have dog aggression issues, simply redefining the leader follower dynamic in the home eliminates the problem. However, because Mac was taken away from his littermates too young and time is ticking with the baby’s arrival, I wanted to give his guardians a way to start changing his perception of other dogs or children. We call this technique counterconditioning.

Mac’s guardians can use counterconditioning to help him have a better association with many things including babies, children and dogs. It works very effectively but takes a lot of repetition. But the time invested is a good one as the problem is eliminated for life.

After going over the basics of counterconditioning, I was ready to demonstrate how his guardians can use this technique with Mac.

You can counter condition a dog in one of two ways; where your dog approaches whatever it is it is reactive to and having the reactive thing approach your dog.

In a perfect world you want to practice both scenarios so I spent a couple of minutes explaining how the guardians can utilize the alternative method of counterconditioning.

Counterconditioning seems really simple, and it is. However don’t mistake easy for ineffective. The key is to consistently practice this multiple times a day. Because the baby is on the way, I strongly suggested that the guardians shoot for two or more practice sessions every day while they still have free time.

When I arrived for the session, Mac was clearly excited; barking, jumping up and spinning around in circles near the gate to the doorway. His guardians had gotten into a habit of petting him when they arrived home which only intensified this reaction.

I spent a couple of minutes explaining how the guardians can utilize the nonverbal communication tools (I call these escalating consequences) that I introduced to them earlier to move Mac away from the doorway before they opened the gate.

By controlling the door answering ritual, we can help the dog see us as an authority figure as this is a job that is usually only handled by the top dog in the pack.

Another activity that got Mac all excited about was getting released from his kennel. I had one of his guardians place him inside the kennel in the other room and waited a few minutes so that I could show them how to release him with a little bit of structure.

This kind of kennel training is something many people neglect to do, but goes a long way toward helping the dog develop self control; a skill set Mac needs pronto.

By only releasing Mac from his kennel when he is completely calm, his guardians can communicate to him that this is the desired behavior he needs to show in order to get something. I recommend that the guardians look for ways to ask the dog to engage a calm energy level before they interact with him. By attacking this problem on multiple fronts, his guardians will help Mac understand that this boisterous, bouncing invasion of personal space will no longer be rewarded.

Helping a dog learn to maintain a calm and balanced energy is appreciated in most houses. But when you have a baby coming, I really can’t underscore how much of a life improvement this will be for Mac’s family.

While I wouldn’t call him fearful, Mac could really benefit for a confidence boost or two. I have found a great way to boost a dog’s confidence and self esteem is by teaching them new commands and corrections like the Stay. To this end, I recommended that the guardians look for eight new tricks or commands on YouTube and teach one to Mac each week.

By teaching him a new command, and practicing it for a week before learning another new command, Mac will develop more respect for his guardians as authority figures. This will also build up a dog’s confidence which will help him feel more comfortable around other dogs and children.

By the end of the session, Mac seemed calmer, he was showing respect for people’s personal space and was responding to commands and corrections right away.

With a baby coming home soon, it will be really important for Mac’s guardians to maximize the time that they have now. The more that they countercondition him and enforce the new rules, boundaries and limits, the easier he is going to be to deal with when the baby arrives.

Because he seems to be an intelligent dog, Mac’s rehabilitation is really going to be a up to the guardians and the amount of time and effort that they invest.

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This post was written by: David Codr

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