A Trio of Excited Dogs Learn to Respect the Leadership of their Guardians

By: David Codr

Published Date: June 13, 2015

Molly, Lucy and Jeeters 1

For this session I worked with a boxer pup named Molly (left), Lucy a four-year-old Rat Terrier mix (center) and Jeeters, a eight-year-old Rat Terrier. Their guardians called me in to help stop their over excitement, barking, jumping up and occasional delusion that they are in charge.

Boy was this one energetic pack of dogs. As soon as I arrived, their energy level went up and it took some concerted effort to get the dogs to settle back down. Lucy was the most territorial at first so I placed her on a leash to stop her backing and help her understood I was not under her authority or control.

As soon as I placed Lucy on the leash, she stopped barking, but took a good 20 minutes before she relaxed. I spent that time discussing the dogs day to day with their guardians while making no effort to pet, speak to or otherwise interact with her. When you try to prove that you are a good person to a dog, it usually only reinforces the dog’s believe that you are a threat or not to be trusted. Its always better to lay back and wait for the dog to come to you.

As I discussed the situation with their guardians, I felt a little overwhelmed so I can only imaging how the members of the family felt. Because the dogs had no rules, they were competing with one another and sometimes attempting to correct or lead the other dogs. When a dog doenst think it has any rules in place, this can often lead it to believe it is the one setting the rules. Because humans and dogs act differently, this can cause a lot of stress for the dogs and also sets the wrong example as dogs should never feel in charge of human beings. This perception that they are in charge or the leadership role is open can become a vicious cycle that can lead to real behavior problems or actual fighting.

The best way to stop this dog rivalry is for the humans in the home to assume the leadership roles themselves Once the dogs see that the top spot is no longer available, they usually settle into a follower mindset and that was my goal for this session.

After going over some new ways of communicating and disagreeing with unwanted behaviors, I suggested a number of rules to incorporate. By enforcing these rules and correcting the dogs when they break them, we can help to redefine the leader follower dynamic in the house.

Next I went over an exercise where the dogs are instructed to leave a high value item alone. I placed a piece of meat on the floor in the middle of the room, claimed it as a dog would, then walked away. When the dog attempted to get the treat, I disagreed by moving at it in a sudden forward motion.

It only took a few repetitions before the dogs understood the rules of the exercise and what I was asking form them. Once I knew this was the case, I started walking the members of the family through the exercise until they got the same results.

Molly, Lucy and Jeeters 2

In addition to helping change the leadership follower dynamic, the exercise also allows the human practice at communicating that the dog needs to respect a boundary that is established by the human. This will help the dogs learn to stop jumping up on or pawing at humans for attention. When a dog engages in that sir tot activity, and the human responds to it, we are telling the dog its ok to give us commands or orders.

Instead I suggested that the humans give the dog a counter command of sit or lay down, then only provide attention or affection after the dog follows the command. This simple technique is extremely effective at helping the dog understand that it is in a follower role.

Another great way to help the dog look to the humans as being the authority figure is to control the feeding ritual. To dogs, eating is a very primally important activity. When in a group, dogs eat in order of their rank. Because the guardians were feeding the dogs before they ate themselves, they were sending the dogs a message that was counter to what they were trying to accomplish.

Instead I showed the family a more structured way to feed the dogs. After placing the food in the bowls, I communicate that the dogs are to stay away on their own. The more a dog practices self restraint, the better equipped they are to do so in other situations like reacting to another dog, houseguest, etc

I had their guardians place all three bowls of food on the floor of the kitchen then move the dogs away using body language and no words. This is a much more effective and powerful means of communicating with dogs. It only took a few corrections before all three dogs moved away and watched as their guardians ate a light snack.

Molly, Lucy and Jeeters 3

Once the humans finished their snack they called the dogs over to eat, one at a time in the order of the calmest dog first. By rewarding the behavior and energy we want, we can help the dogs learn that calm behavior comes with benefits and excitement means a wait.

By the end of the session, the dogs were far calmer than before. They still need some work and their guardians will need to continue to assume the leadership roles so that the dogs resign themselves to a follower position. Once that is the case, their newfound respect and responsiveness to commands and corrections will grow.

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