A Reunion with One of My Favorite Dalmatians to Help Him Learn to Relax

By: David Codr

Published Date: April 30, 2015

Max Dalmatian SD 1

Those of you who read my posts regularly may recognize this handsome devil. His name is Max and he now lives in San Diego, Ca. Max was adopted in California by a family who later relocated to South Dakota. After the move, the family decided that they needed to rehome Max and I was asked to help find transport. Max ended up staying with me for a week during which time I worked with him on a few issues. You can read that post here.

Max is extremely lucky to have a Dalmatian rescuer named Debi watching out for him. She originally rescued Max from a shelter and placed him with the family that moved. Once they decided to rehome the dog, Debi made arrangements to get him back out to California. While I was watching and working with him in Nebraska, I had a few people who had asked about adopting him, but Debi was adamant that the dog return to Southern California. Im sure glad she did because she found an AMAZING woman to give Max a forever home.

Debi kept me in the loop on Max’s situation and his new guardian and I struck up a friendship with her. During my dog behavior trip to Southern California last month, we arranged to meet for lunch in Laguna Beach for a reunion of sorts. During our lunch, Max tried to sneak a little food off the table and also tried to wander off repeatedly. After a few moments of this, I took the leash and used it to communicate to Max what we wanted. It only took a few corrections before Max laid down at our feet and stopped pulling on the leash.

Max Dalmatian Cliff Lunch

During our lunch conversation, his new guardian mentioned that he pulled on the leash pretty hard. I had experienced this as well when he was staying with me and I had stopped it by using a Martingale collar with my special twist to the leash. After lunch I grabbed a Martingale out of my bag and and showed her how to use it to stop his pulling. After about 3 seconds, Max was walking right next to her while she held the leash loosely.

By the time we returned to the restaurant, she asked me if I could come to San Diego for an in-home session with Max!

When I arrived for the session, it only took Max a moment to remember me. Once he did, he was the same goofy lovable dog he was when he stayed with me last year. After sitting down and discussing things a bit, I jumped right into a leadership exercise I like to use for dogs who don’t always listen to their guardian.

The exercise involves the human placing a high value meat treat on the floor then clamming ownership of it the ways dogs do. The exercise allows the human to introduce and establish an arbitrary boundary to the dog. Whenever Max got too close to the treat, I disagreed with him using a sound and small movement. As soon as Max sat down (which told me he was starting to give up on challenging for the treat), I took a sudden and deliberate step back. When Max laid down on the floor to tell me he understood he couldn’t have the treat, I immediately turned to the side, dipped into a kneel and tapped near the treat to tell him he could have it.

This exercise helps the handler practice leading and correcting the dog while using a conclusion of positive reinforcement to teach the dog that there is a payoff or reward for following the guardian’s lead. It also helps the dog learn to stop or restrain themselves. Self restraint is not a skill that dogs have naturally as they are reactive creatures. But by practicing this exercise, we can help the dog develop this skill.

It only took a few repetitions before Max was running through the exercise like a champion. I spent the next 15 minutes coaching his guardian and her husband though it with equal success. After we finished, I went over ways to make the exercise more difficult to keep challenging the dog and developing his ability to restrain himself all while building up his respect for his guardians.

Next we went over a basic recall exercise. I showed his guardians how I use my hand positioning and movement to communicate what I wanted from the dog as well as how to move him into a sitting position. It only took a few repetitions before Max got it and was trotting over to whomever called him almost instantly.

I suggested that they practice the recall exercise inside while gradually increasing the distance between the humans until they were beyond his line of sight. Because Max did so well inside, we all went out back to practice it outside in their back yard. At first we were in a small triangle about ten feet apart and it was so easy for Max that I had everyone step back to make the exercise more difficult.

One of his guardians was standing near the pump to the pool and it quickly become obvious that Max wasn’t a fan of the noise it was making. When she called him, he would start towards her, then stop, pause then ultimately turn and walk away. I had her come a little closer so the pump was behind her which helped, but Max was still a little hesitant and leery.

Her husband called Max over and since he was standing in the yard closest to the house, the dog ran right over to him. After he properly rewarded Max, I gave the recall command. Max started in my direction then stopped, turned around and went back into the yard. After attempting to call him a few times, I noticed that the position I took in was down a narrow pathway next to the pool. There was only one entrance to this path and it was positioned between a wall and the pool. Based on Max’s behavior, Im pretty sure that my location was causing the dog to feel that he may become trapped if he went down the path too far. I moved to the edge of the path closet to the back yard and was able to get Max to recall successfully from that spot.

We went back inside and as we were discussing something else, I saw that Max was reticent to walk down the narrow hallway to the bedrooms when a human was near the entrance. Because this was similar to Max’s hesitation to come to where I was next to the pool, I showed his guardian how to use a high value treat to overcome this fear.

I tossed a high value treat right in front of the entrance to the hallway from about eight feet away. After I tossed the treat, Max took one step forward then stopped and looked at me. I knew he was telling me I was too close to the entrance for him to not feel trapped, so I turned and faced the other direction giving Max my back. I waited a moment without moving then heard Max’s nails on the floor as he cautiously headed over to get his treat. I made sure to stay still and not move until Max got the treat and moved away again to be sure I didn’t tap into his fear that I was trying to trap him.

Once Max was back to his original position, I turned around and leaded against the wall with a casual posture. Max was sitting upright, leaning forward slightly so I waited. After a moment, Max shifted his stance a tiny bit so he was resting on his laurels. Once he did this, I tossed another treat into the hallway so that it landed just inside the entrance. After I did this, I turned my head to the side and remained completely still.

I could see Max out of the corner of my eye. He looked at me for a moment, then stood up before pausing again. Once he was comfortable and knew I wasn’t going anywhere, he slowly and cautiously walked over to get the treat. As soon as he got it and retreated out of the hallway, I tossed in another treat, this time further down the hall. I kept repeating this process until Max walked in without hesitation heading all the way down the hall to get his reward.

I suggested his guardian’s practice this exercise frequently to help Max get over his fear of the hallway and once he did, practice the exercise by the narrow path to the pool and near the pump. As Max gets over these fears, he will gain additional confidence which will help him relax when facing similar challenges down the road.

By the end of the session, Max was all worn out. While physical exercise is great and something every dog needs, mental challenges can be even more draining. All the work we did in the session clearly had an impact on this long legged Dalmatian.

Practicing the exercises we went over will lead to an increase in confidence for Max and better equip him to deal with unexpected or challenging situations he will encounter in life.

We wrapped up the session by heading out to the back porch for one final photo. After a long (11+ hours) day of dog behavior work, it was great to finish it out with a dog I had a small part in helping find a forever home. I look forward to hearing updates from his guardian and keeping tabs on this lovable Dal.

Max Dalmatian 2

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