A Chihuahua Mix in Malibu Learns to Listen to Her Guardians

By: David Codr

Published Date: November 6, 2015


Matilda is a two-year-old mini pincher / chihuahua / terrier mix in Los Angeles who doesnt recall on command and is nervous around other dogs and small children. Her guardians were staying at a friend’s place in Malibu so I headed up the PCH to do the session there.

Matilda barked in a normal alarming way when I arrived but warmed up to me quickly so I sat down with her guardians to discuss what they wanted to get out of the session.

One of the minor issues was Matilda’s stubborn nature at times. I got to see this first hand when I asked her to jump up on the bench next to me.

While its natural for a human to want to pick the dog up and lift it on the bench, this actually can cause the dog to adopt a feeling of entitlement. After doing it often enough, the dog expects it. While that wasn’t the case with Matilda, I wanted her to learn that she needed to do for herself.

I gave her some nibbled and tried a few different techniques before I remembered to use the Jackpot reward. This involves offering multiple treats as the reward to make it super enticing. It took a little coaxing, but after a few additional calls, we got her to give in.

I suggested that the guardians start making Matilda earn her rewards and attention from her guardians (petting, etc). By asking the dog to sit or lay down first, then only petting the dog after it complies, her guardians will be able to define and develop the proper leader / follower dynamic.

I also noticed that Matilda liked to jump up on, nudge or scratch her guardians for attention. Each time she did this, she was essentially telling them what to do. And each time that the guardians followed her instructions and petted her or gave her their attention, they were validating that she could tell them what to do.

To address this issue I suggested that the guardians stop petting her on demand and instead give her a counter order of sit or lay down and then only pet her when she complied in the same manner i detailed above. It will take some time and practice, but eventually this new method of interacting will be come second nature to them. Once that the case, they will continuously reinforce the leader follower dynamic they want each time they pet Matilda.

Another great way to develop a good leader follower dynamic is to walk the dog in a structured way; with the dog walking next to the human instead of in front. I pulled out and Martingale collar and showed the guardians how to add the special twist to the leash to stop her from pulling then walked Matilda around the courtyard so they could see how to do it.

The first guardian to try the new leash setup put a little too much tension on the leash pulling back with her hand rather than pulling up when she wanted to correct the dog. Dogs will almost always pull against a tense leash which is why its important to pull up in a quick motion then let the leash go slack immediately after.

But with a few pointers, she was walking Matilda at a heel with few additional corrections needed.

I had the other guardian take the leash so I could coach him through the new leash setup as well.

It only took a few moments before Matilda started to show that she was enjoying herself and from the smile on her guardian’s face, the feeling was mutual.

By taking the dog for a short (or longer) walk every day they can help her start to see and self identify herself as bing in a follower position.

To help them adopt a more effective way of disagreeing with unwanted actions or behaviors, I went through the sound I use to disagree with unwanted behaviors and the escalating consequences I apply when a dog fails to respond.

One other issue Matilda had was her over excited behavior when anyone came to the door. This is likely related to the dog’s perception of being in an authority position. Security of the group is usually handled by the leader which is why Matilda reacted when people knocked at the door.

We went inside so that I could show them how to disagree with this behavior.

Claiming the doorway is one of my favorite exercises because most dogs get it so quickly. Matilda was no exception. But just like anything else, practice makes perfect. To that end I suggested that the guardians call or text each other when they are on the way home so that they can play the part of an arriving guest. It shouldn’t take more than 6-12 repetitions before Matilda stops getting over excited and instead lets her guardian handle the door greeting and security for the group.

This was a fun session and it was great to see how quickly Matilda and her guardians adopted the new techniques and communication methods. With a little practice and dedication it won’t be long before Matilda’s unwanted behaviors are gone for good.

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This post was written by: David Codr