A Pair of Dogs in Huntington Beach Learn to Calm Down

By: David Codr

Published Date: August 2, 2015

Maurice and Josie

Maurice (left) is a three-year-old Redbone Coonhound mix who was adopted as a companion for Josie a four-year-old Catahoula / Chocolate Lab mix. Their guardians asked me to help stop their aggressive reaction to the sight of other large dogs since moving from Louisiana.

This is quite the pair of dogs. Maurice is very focused and confident dog. He caught on to things quickly and clearly had the higher energy of the two. Josie on the other hand was much lower energy which was good, but with very low self confidence which was not good. She walked in a hunched over way, carrying her head low, keeping distance and avoiding eye contact.

Whenever I work with dogs that are reacting to other dogs, I like to start at home by adding rules, boundaries and structure. When multiple dogs live together, a clear leadership structure goes a long ways in eliminating unwanted behaviors. Often dogs think a more relaxed living arrangement means that the leadership position is open and they think they can take over the job themselves.

I went over some new ways to communicate with their dogs in a non verbal way. This will be especially helpful to Josie who is an overly sensitive dog. One of the dog’s guardians is a large guy with a deep and somewhat booming voice at times. This is usually a verbal delivery that I recommend my clients use, but in Josie’s case, its possible it may be contributing to her cautious interaction with him. By utilizing non verbal body language, not only will Josie better understand what her guardians want from her, the quieter delivery will help her not feel overwhelmed when he leads her.

Next I had the guardians place Maurice outside so I could show them an exercise that will help them practice this new form of communication while leading and correcting Josie. After running through it myself a few times, I had both guardians practice as well.

The more they practice the leadership exercise with Josie, the more confidence she will become. Its entirely possible that some of her dog reactivity is related to the dog’s lack of self esteem. Some dogs lash out in a preventative measure and I think that was partly the case with Josie.

After we wrapped up practicing with Josie, we put her outside and brought in Maurice. The difference win dogs was remarkable. Where Josie needed reassuring and took much longer, Maurice got it right away; almost snapping into each position like he’d been doing it for years.

Because a dog’s energy level and mental state can have a big impact on how it relates to other dogs, I had their guardian show me how she placed the dogs on the leash for a walk.

After having the guardian sit back down, I pointed out how the verbal narration and excited tone of voice influenced the dogs energy level and excitement. Many humans think that excitement and happiness are one and the same for dogs. But a excited dog isn’t necessarily happy and a happy dog doesn’t have to be excited.

I showed the guardian a number of small changes to make that had a dramatic impact on the dog’s energy level. We practiced putting them on the leash a few times until the dogs remained completely calm throughout the whole process.

Now that the dogs knew they had to stay calm while being leashed up, we were finally ready to head out the door. But as soon as the guardian opened the door, both dogs started to go out of it in front of him. This literally put them in a leadership position.

To make sure the walk started out right, we applied the same technique of stopping as soon as the dog started to get excited. By pausing and waiting for the dogs to calm down before continuing, we reminded them that calmness is the only way to go on a walk.

Having your dog in a calm energy level when you leave for a walk is one of the most important things you can do if your dogs are reactive or aggressive to other dogs. An over excited dog can trigger an excited or aggressive reaction from another dog so keeping Maurice and Josie calm at all times will be a crucial part of their rehabilitation.

I was able to get a neighbor to let me individually introduce the dogs to her Yellow Lab. I took Josie over first. When we were half way across the street I stopped and put Josie in a sit as the Lab was pulling and straining on the leash in an excited way; wanting to meet her.

But introducing Josie to an excited dog, even if its a friendly excitement, wouldn’t be the best idea so we sat and waited for the Lab’s guardian to settle him down. Once he was calm, I led her over and supervised a proper introduction.

I was watching Josie carefully to ensure things went smoothly. At one point she did curl her lip a bit when the other dog was sniffing her rear so I offered a soft correction that snapped her out of it. After the introduction, I walked Josie and the lab to the end of the street and back together.

I dropped Josie off with her guardians and brought Maurice over to do the same. He came over and met the other male face to face which is hard, but then he went to sniffing the other dog’s crotch and rear in a respectful way. But when I positioned Maurice to let the lab sniff him, he bore his teeth in a similar way.

After bidding the Lab well, we went off to the small park near their home as other dog guardians in the community sometimes played there. As there were no dogs there, I went over how their guardians can gradually expose their dogs to the dogs at the park in a controlled way that uses positive reinforcement to counter condition their dogs.

This simplified method of counter conditioning will take time, but if done correctly it will help the dogs have a positive association to dogs they see, but don’t know. Combined with the new calm energy level the dogs leave the house with, they will be far better equipped to meet other dogs in the right frame of mind and energy level.

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This post was written by: David Codr