A Force Free Way to Teach a Formerly Abused Rescue Dog to Stay out of the Kitchen

By: David Codr

Published Date: April 7, 2021

For this Omaha dog training session we worked with Maggie, a 7 year-old Great Pyrenees / Pointer mix who was rescued from an abusive situation and has recently shown some reactive behavior towards a family member and nipped the kids.

We were expecting Maggie to be standoffish or reactive when we arrived, but she didn’t do any barking or show any signs of being uncomfortable with us throughout the entire session. In fact she was a sweet dog who we really enjoyed working with.

After sitting down with the family I learned that the dog had nipped and acted a little bit reactively to a few of the family’s blended children recently, but that was not normal behavior. This was obviously concerning for the parents and as a result you could feel tension in the room when the kids came home from school.

The devoted and hard working father obviousy was concenred for his boys safety. To protect his children he had pretty much separated them from the dog since the nipping incident. While this is a good strategy to use for a limited period of time to ensure nothing repeats, it can have a negative impact on the dog.

You could tell that the dog and boys were rusty being around one another. Additionlly, the parents were a bit gunshy. Any time that Maggie would come over near the kids, the parents would call her away or tell them to not interact with her. While you obviously want to keep family members safe, dogs are often going to remember the most recent interaction they had with someone or some thing the most prominently.

This is why it’s really important that if your dog has a negative experience, you put it back into the same situation in an easier scenario so they can have a positive experience – as soon as possible. if you don’t do this, the dog continually ruminates on the memory of the negative interaction and that can make it much more impactful and long lasting.

We spent a good portion of the session discussing the difference between modern dog training and the ways that people used to train their dogs. The old way of correcting dogs and sometimes punishing them is something that we stay away from because studies have shown that it lowers the dogs confidence, increases anxiety and stress and all aggression comes from stress. This is especailly the case with rescue dogs who came out of a bad situation like Maggie did.

I like to put it this way, you get out of the dog what you put into it. Some dogs are able to learn from a firm handed approach, but many will eventually start pushing back, often with those that they perceive to be lower status than them.

At a few points in the session, the dad mentioned he expected some things or behavior from the dog that could be achieved, but are not natural for dogs wihtout training them to do so first. He also was concerned about how many treats we were using and my recommendation to not correct mistakes.

As a boss, I have found my staff performs best when I clearly communicate what I expect, teach them how to achieve these things and reward successes. Dogs respond to this positive informative approach too and Maggie was no exception. She was coming over to me and sitting to ask for attention because I only aksed once and when she did what I wanted she was rewarded. If she didn’t, I continued to discuss dog behavior tips with the family, paying her no mind. This hard to get approach is a wonderful way to create motivation from a dog.

The father seemed to warm up to the positive reward based approach as we progressed and Maggie responded to them. I wanted to get the boys back to interacting with Maggie in a way that caused her to want to do what they wanted. I had the boys using the marker word and some simple cues as they walked around the room. Maggie did awesome with this, sitting faster each time and her attention was clearly held by the boy. Not only did the dog enjoy it, the boys seemed to enjoy the interactions as well.

One thing that was concerning was a reluctance from Maggie to go near the father when the boys tried to get her to move to a specific section of the room. The exit to the room was at the end of the couch where the father was sitting and Maggie refused to go near that location while the father was sitting there. But when he got up to leave the room, the dog easily went to the same area.

I could tell the father was concerned for the safety of his children and had lost trust in the dog. That combined with his firmer approach had created some tension that on both sides. The good thing is as we continued, it seemed like Maggie was starting on the road to regaining his trust. If the father can practice some of these exercises and walk Maggie, do some training, I think it will be a helpful and healthy thing for them both. Reducing the stress and tension was on the the top goals I set for this session.

Since Maggie had previously been wonderful around children for years, it’s obvious that something had caused her to feel stressed, frustrated or threatened. Just like humans, a dog is going to act differently when it is under pressure or not feeling comfortable.

Combining the negative experience with separation from the children and the obvious tension the family members felt from wanting to keep the children safe had most likely created a stressful situation for the dog which manifested in a few nipping incidents.

I would love to see all of the family members teaching maggie a new trick or command cue once a week for the next two months. The more positive experiences the dog has with the children while being supervised by the parents, the less stress and anxiety will be felt by everyone involved.

I recommended that we have one of our level one trainers come back and show them how to practice something called the relaxation protocol. It’s a simple exercise that teaches the dog to stay on a dog bed while various things go on around them (kids playing, doorbell ringing, people, eating, etc) and the dog stays on the bed. I think it would be highly beneficial for both the dog as well as the children. The expercise has no confrontation or correction elements to it and it involves the dog getting a lot of treats for doing what the humans want while developing more self control.

Next I went over an exercise on how to keep a dog out of the kitchen when people are preparing food using similar methods. Many people fail to teach their dogs rules or boundaries, but expect them to follow them. This is incredibly common with my dog behavior clients, but it’s an inappropriate expectation. A parent cannot expect their children to do something that they have not taught them to do first, yet people do this with dogs all the time.

I pulled out a handful of high-value training treats and recruited one of the kids to videotape me going over a easy way to keep a dog out of the kitchen using positive reinforcement only. If you want to learn how to teach your dog to stay out of the kitchen, check out the free positive dog training video below

It was great to see how quickly Maggie caught on to this stay out of a room exercise for dogs. She is clearly one smart dog and desperately wants to do the right thing. I think in this case, she was confused as to what that was which could also lead to some anxiety and stress. This could absolutely be related to her recent nipping incidents with the kids.

The more the humans practice teaching the dog to stay out of the room, the easier it will be. And the more the dog stays out of the kitchen on her own, the more self control she will develop and the easier the behavior will be to achieve. Usually within a week of practicing this dog respect invisible boundary exercise at every meal, the dog starts staying out on its own. It will be inportant that the family members keep giving Maggie treats for this. At first, fairly frequently, but as she gets better, fewer treats with more time betwen giving them. If she reverts, it may be too exciting at the table or the treat tapering off may bee too quick.

One thing that I think will really help is if her guardians increase her daily exercise and mental stimulation. The expression a tired dog is a good one is old but very apropos. Going for a sniff walk or two a day, doing some scent games, feeding out of a snuffle mat, time with a lick mat, Omega Paw treat ball snacking, or Kong filled with peanut butter, some tug toy play and trick or command cue training – sprinkled throughout the day in short sessions – will burn energy, increase her confidence and help her have more relaxed energy.

We covered a ton of dog behavior tips in this in-home dog training session. To make it easy for the family members to remember them all, we recorded a roadmap to success video that you can check out below

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This post was written by: David Codr

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