Redefining a Family’s Leader Follower Dynamic to Put a Stop to Their Puppy Problems

By: David Codr

Published Date: September 28, 2015

Mac, Pepper and Patch

Nine-year-old Havanese male Mac (left) likes to mark inside the house. His long time room mate Patch (right) is also  a nine-year-old Havanese male but is more subordinate. The newest member of the pack is Pepper, a six-month-old Havanese female who is trying to assert herself amongst the other dogs and often plays too roughly with Patch.

Because Pepper is so much younger than the other dogs, I asked about her daily exercise and was surprise to learn that she wasn’t walked while the other dogs were. Evidently Pepper’s short attention span and general peppiness disrupted the group walk that the other dogs had been enjoying for years so she stopped going.

But in this case, Pepper is the dog with the unused energy who needs an outlet. I suggested that they arrange for her to get regular walks as well. I also recommended that they enrolled Pepper into a puppy socialization class. Dogs learn some things best from other dogs and that is certainly the case when it comes to behavior.

One of the issues they guardians had with Pepper is her over rambunctious interaction with Patch the more subordinate male. A good portion of this can be eliminated by regular walks and scheduled play time amongst dogs of a similar size and energy level.

The first year of a dog’s life is how they learn to meet and interact with other dogs. The more exposure and practice Pepper has of meeting other dogs, people and places in the next six months of her life will determine how well adjusted she will be when encountering them.

In the course of discussing the dog’s daily life, I uncovered a lack of real rules or structure. This missing framework was ok when it was the two older dogs as they had come to an understanding; Mac was the authority figure. While it ok for Mac to have more authority than Patches, he shouldn’t think he has more than the humans.

But because the humans didn’t have many rules or limits in place, Mac got the idea that the leadership position was open. By imposing some simple rules and limits, we can easily change that. To wit I offered a short list of new rules that the guardians can apply.

One of these was to make the furniture off limits for 30 days. Because dogs equate height with status, not allowing the dogs to sit at the same level as us helps the see themselves as subordinate. This mindset is crucial to stopping many of the unwanted dog behaviors.

After showing the guardians how to claim the couch, I showed them how to condition the dogs to use a dog bed on the floor of the living room.

To accelerate a change in the leader follower dynamic between human and dog, I went over some non verbal forms of communication and ways to disagree with the dogs in a way they understand and respect. By speaking to the dog in “dog” we can make it easier for them to understand what we do and do not want.

Next I demonstrated a Leadership Exercise I developed a few years ago to help dogs learn and practice how to restrain themselves and their guardians practice correcting the dogs when they fail to do so. I started out with Mac who was a pretty stubborn little guy. It took almost 10 minutes before he gave up and went to lay down on the floor to tell me so.

I coached one of their guardians through the exercise with Mac before we changed things up and the other guardian practiced it with Patch.

Now that they know how to conduct the exercise, I went over a way to make it gradually more difficult to really help the dogs develop more self control. It will be important that the guardians practice this with each dog daily for the next week or two until each dog is able to ignore a treat on the floor for 20 minutes.This will  create and develop a  newfound respect for the guardians in the dog’s eyes.

One of the problems the guardians wanted to work on was Pepper’s habit of shredding tissue and other kinds of paper. I had them get out a tissue and had them toss it onto the floor so we could correct the dog the instant she showed interest in the paper.

By making the off limit item readily available at a time when the guardian can monitor it around the dog, they can practice teaching the dog to leave the item alone. It will take some practice at this when the humans are present until the dog has enough practice being told to leave it alone. Once that is the case, the dog will continue to ignore the item even when the humans are not around.

One way that dog’s identify as being an authority figure is by being in charge of security. When your dogs bark and race ahead of you to the door, they think they are leading you by being in front. If we open the door whent hey are in front of us, we are saying that they are in charge.

Because the dogs didn’t invite the arriving guest, they bark to both announce their presence and let the guest know they know there are there. This is often accompanied by jumping up on the guest. This jumping up is a way for dogs to also claim the person.

By claiming the door way, we can take away the dog’s job of helping with security. By moving the dogs away from the door and disagreeing with good timing when they try to return to the area, we can claim ownership of the space and security position.

I had the guardian use a tennis racquet to help move the dogs back because of their shorter stature. The tennis racquet becomes an extension of the guardian’s arm and allows her to reach the dog’s level without having to bend too low.

We practiced the door answering exercise four time and by the final attempt, the dogs were already starting to stay back behind the new boundary on their own. Its going to take a few practice run throughs so I suggested that the guardians call or text one another when coming home so they can play the part of an arriving guest.

By the time we wrapped up the session, the dogs were much calmer, listening almost immediately to their guardians commands and adopting a few new desired behaviors. The more that the humans lead and correct the dogs, the more they will respect their position of authority.

Once the leader follower dynamic has been redefined and the guardians arrange to channel Pepper’s excess energy into constructive ways while socializing her with other puppies, these unwanted behaviors will diminish and fade on their own.

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