A Siberian Husky in Los Angeles Learns to Respect His Guardians

By: David Codr

Published Date: November 5, 2015

Max Husky in LA

Max is a ten month old Siberian Husky who is mouthy, doesn’t listen and likes to steal things and run away when his guardians try to get the item.

When I arrived for the session, I handed off my phone to one of the family’s children so she could film my arrival and Max’s subsequent behavior.

While he was jumpy before I entered the house, his behavior after I came inside wasn’t too bad. Dogs should meet through their nose which is exactly how Max greeted me at the door.

However once I got inside, Max’s energy level went up and he started barking in an excited way. I waited a few moments to see if it would pass and when it did not, I placed him on a leash to give him a doggy time out. Once I put him on the leash it only took him a minute to calm down. I suggested that the family adopt this leash consequence whenever Max got too excited at a new guest’s arrival.

I also noticed that the members of the family petted the dog quite a bit, especially when the dog pawed at or nudged them for attention. While petting a dog is usually a good thing, I think the family was over doing it a tad. I suggested that the members of the family start petting the dog for doing things rather than being nearby.

I usually call this petting with a purpose and tell the clients how I consider petting a dog as paying it. But for the kids, I came up with another way of looking at it. In this case, I told them to consider petting the dog as a way of saying thank you. As such, they should give the dog a command first, then pet the dog for compliance.

Petting the dog to thank it for obedience is a great way to redefine the leader follower dynamic in the house.

One of the other problems the family wanted to solve was Max’s habit of stealing things he wasn’t supposed to have. This is an attention getting activity for dogs and when the human chases the dog to get the item, they are doing exactly what the dog wants.

I spent the next few minutes going over a way to get Max to drop items on command.

After going over the Drop command, I inquired what sort of rules and boundaries Max had. Unlike many of my clients, Max’s guardians had some rules in place. That said, I suggested a few more to help change the leader follower dynamic in the home.

One of the new rules I suggested was to keep Max off the furniture for the next 30 days. When dogs are in groups, the higher they sit, the more rank they have. Max’s guardians had made most of the furniture off limits, but there was a couch he was allowed to get up on.

By making all furniture off limits, we can help the dog see a literal distinction between human and dog. This usually takes a few days for the dog to get used to. But I have found that teaching a dog to use a dog bed at the same time accelerates the process.

After showing the guardians how to get Max to use the dog bed on command, I noticed that the dog had no respect for the personal space of any human; running into or leaning against them. In some cases, leaning heavily on a human is a dog’s way of trying to dominate them. This is often the case with certain breeds and Husky’s are one of them.

By defining our personal space and disagreeing when the dog gets too close, we can head off any attempts to dominate early while also helping the dog learn to keep a small buffer of space between him and a human.

Now there is nothing wrong with a dog being right near or against you if the human invites the dog or its done gently. But that was not how Max was behaving so I showed his guardians how to disagree and correct Max when he invaded their personal space.

By consistently disagreeing with Max when he invades anyone’s personal space (or the personal space of others), we can help him learn that sitting politely in front of a human is the desired action, not rubbing or jumping up on them.

To make sure that we didnt focus exclusively on teaching the dog to keep his distance, I showed the family a way to recall the dog. I also went over how to use a hand position and movement to get the dog to recall when he failed to respond to the first command.

Now that all the members of the family understood how to call the dog over and use a hand movement for this occasions when he didn’t respond, I wanted to practice this new technique right away.

I had all the members of the family sit around the room in a semi circle so that they could all take turns calling the dog over.

We practiced the recall exercise for another five minutes or so until Max was responding right away any time anyone called him over.

While we were making good progress, I knew we could do even better so I asked if the family had a bigger more open room so I could show them the leadership exercise I developed a few years ago. The exercise involves placing a high value item the dog really wants on the floor, then telling the dog it needs to leave it alone using dog language.

I ran through the exercise a few times until Max got it, then I coached the members of the family through it until they got the same results.

I like to have the family practice the exercise in order of age with the dad and mom going first, then the kids in the order they were born.

The father had no issues with the exercise as he is a well built member of the armed forces that the dog clearly respected. I After two repetitions, Max was on point so I had the mother come up to practice it herself.

At first the mother failed to react or disagree when Max tried to get the treat which allowed the dog to come in and take it without permission. We reset and the next time she went through it, her reaction was much better. As a result, Max quickly gave up and signaled he was no longer challenging for the treat.

The real challenge came when the family;s youngest son Josh took his turn. Being the smallest (for now) member of the family, Max had gotten used to nipping and pseudo dominating Josh. I knew that in order to have a successful session, I needed Max to see Josh as just as much of an authority figure as his father.

Max laid down so quickly that I had Josh grab a seat on the couch which is a less authoritative position. About 15 seconds after Josh sat down Max got up and started to go over to get the treat. Josh reaction of motion was spot on, but he hissed after getting up and going over to the treat. The idea is to always hiss first to disagree with the dog’s action and standing up or marching at the dog being the second and third way to disagree.

I suggested that all the members of the family practice the leadership exercise with Max daily for a 10 days to two weeks; gradually asking the dog to wait long and longer after he lays down. This way the family can help Max practice restraining himself and looking to humans for guidance and leadership.

Because of Max’s reactive and excited behavior on walks, I showed his guardian how to apply the special twist of the leash to a Martingale collar to give her more control.

By keeping the dog next to the human rather than out front, we can help him see and identify as being a follower instead of a leader (authority figure). It will take some practice before the leash position and corrections become natural to the mother, but she did pretty darn well for her first time out on a structured walk.

We finished the session up with a structured feeding ritual where the human eats first with the dog waiting 10+ feet away while food is in its bowl. This is another exercise that helps the dog see itself as a follower and helps the humans practice leading the dog.

By the end of the session, Max was showing respect for the family members personal space, listening to their commands and corrections and had settled down quite a bit. It will be important that the members of the family continue to apply the new consequences any time Max gets out of control, over excited  or breaks the rules. In time, he will learn that his excited out of control behavior is no longer acceptable and adopt a more balanced and respectful way of living. Once this is the case, the remaining issues will either stop or be easily disagreed with.

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This post was written by: David Codr