Adding Structure to Help a Picky Eater Stop Reacting to Unknown Dogs

By: David Codr

Published Date: May 30, 2017

Major - Adding Structure to Help a Picky Eater Stop Reacting to Unknown Dogs

Major is a seven-year-old Shetland sheep dog, aka a Sheltie, who lives in Santa Monica. His guardian set up a dog behavior training session to stop dog aggression; lunging or snapping at dogs he sees on walks.

Major’s guardian met me outside her home as she had just gotten off work so we walked inside together. I think this threw Major off a bit as he adopted a slightly tense body posture and alternated by moving behind her and jumping up on her legs.

Major’s barking was expected given that his breed often uses their bark to herd their charges. I was more concerned with another unwanted dog behavior; jumping up on her in an attempt to claim her. Many people are unaware that when a dog jumps up on someone who just arrived they are often saying “you belong to me,” or “Im in charge around here.”

The reason this jumping behavior was a concern is that it is related to Major’s dog aggression on walks. I would explain later in the session how those were connected.

I also made sure to point out that the human was unintentionally training the dog to jump up on her fro attention. You can catch that dog training tip in the video below.

When I discussed Major’s behavior problems with his guardian, I learned that he had gone through a lifestyle change; moving to an apartment in Santa Monica from a house with other dogs and a yard in Florida.

Changing from a house with a yard and other dogs to an apartment without any other dogs can certainly impact a dog’s behavior. But it was something else I learned in our conversation that was even more of a contributing factor; Major didn’t really have any rules or boundaries to follow.

When a dog’s life does not include rules and limits, the humans are inconsistent in correcting and rewarding the dog. Because dogs learn through association, precise timing and a lot of repetition – a lack of structure can give the dog the impression he has the same status as his guardian.

When a dog sees you as a peer, then listening to you becomes optional. But in Major’s case, he was telling his guardian to do things and she frequently complied. Over time, this repetition can confuse the dog into thinking it is actually in charge of the human.

But since the human doesn’t see the dog as being in charge, we don’t listen to them. This can really stress out some dogs as they feel like we are children unable to handle the “dangers” of life. This makes them feel like they need to proactively protect us in the same way we proactively protect a new baby who does know any better.

When you combine a lack of structure with a herding breed, you have a recipe for confusion and or frustration. This can lead to stress and is absolutely related to Major’s leash aggression towards some other dogs on walks. He is basically trying to fend off the other dog before it can be a threat (in Major’s mind) and the more this happens, typically the worse it gets.

To help reduce dog stress and feeling of responsibility, I showed his guardian how to add rules, boundaries and limits and how to enforce them consistently. Over time, this structure will help Major adopt what I call a follower’s mindset. Once Major identifies as a follower, his perception that he needs to protect his guardian will dissipate. As it does, his reactive or dog aggressive behavior should also wane.

Towards the end of the session, Major’s guardian mentioned he was a pretty picky eater. They had gone through various types of food, with only marginal improvements. I spent a couple of minutes going over some dog behavior tips to help get him back to eating his food instead of being a finicky eater. You can learn these dog behavior secrets to feeding a picky eater in the video below.

It will be a bit of a test of wills to see who blinks first. But if Major’s guardian is consistent, always outlasts her dog and sticks to the plan that I outlined in the video below, he should get back to eating his food when its the proper time.

We covered a lot in this three hour session so I had the guardian take my camera and shoot a few minutes of me discussing all the things we went over in the session. I call it the dog’s roadmap to success and you can watch it by clicking the video below.

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This post was written by: David Codr