Teaching Guardians of a Very Determined Golden Retriever How to Regain the Dog’s Respect

By: David Codr

Published Date: April 15, 2015


This good looking guy is Olaf, a one-year-old golden retriever who counter surfs, jumps up on guests, is excited and tries to dominate or be the master of the family’s 9 and 6 year olds.

When I met him at the door, he was clearly excited, but because his owners were holding him back, the intensity of his excitement was likely exasperated. Any time you have an excited dog and you hold or pull it back, the dog increases its efforts to break free. This usually results in a transfer of the energy to the reaction it is giving, in this case, amplifying his excitement to meet the new guest.

I asked his owners to let him go and once they did I projected a calm assertive energy to mitigate his attempts to jump up on me. When he did, I showed his owners the technique I have developed to stop a dog from jumping up. It took two applications of the technique, but after that, he stopped making contact with me when he jumped up. By the end of the session Olaf was starting to stop himself from jumping up.

Ive worked with around 1,000 dogs at this point and Olaf may be one of the most determined dogs I have ever worked with. Often I suggest guardians of out of control dogs not allow their pets on the furniture. I started to offer this suggestion when I witnessed Olaf climbing up on the coffee table in the living room. He showed no respect for the personal space of anyone in the family, attempted to grab the sleeve of the family’s son, and literally climbed up on top of one of his owners as we talked.

I showed the members of his family how to claim their personal space. While the technique was initially effective, Olaf had been conditioned by his family to keep hammering away. This happens when a dog tries to get his way and its persistence finally wears the guardian down so they give in. This essentially teaches the dog to keep at it in an almost defiant action until it gets its way.

Ive dealt with this situation many times before, but never to this extent. Evidence of this history was right in front of my eyes. I found a plastic measuring cup on the floor and a children’s toy dented with a thousand teeth marks as well as a few other items. If you let a dog chew inappropriate objects, it often leads to confusion by the dog and frustration for the guardians. Dogs have an impeccable sense of smell and are able to discern between objects with their scent and that of their guardians. This distinction helps the dog understand what is to be chewed on and what should be left alone. But when we let things transfer from human only to dog accessible, it sends the message that everything is fair game and boy did Olaf take that lesson to heart.

Its clear that a HUGE factor in Olaf’s situation is a failure to deplete his excess energy in a constructive way. I offered a number of activity and exercise suggestions and later found out that the dog had been trained to use a treadmill. I strongly suggested that they get him a solid 30-45 minutes on the treadmill or other form of constructive exercise every day. A normal puppy needs a good 45 minutes of exercise a day. But higher energy dogs or those who are defiantly determined need even more. By depleting his excess energy each morning and prior to any training or behavior work, his guardians will be able to make quicker and more impacting progress.

I wish I had learned about the treadmill earlier in the session as I spent over half of the session conducting a leadership exercise that is almost always successful in calming a dog down. The exercise also helps a dog see and adhere to boundaries and builds up the respect of the dog’s guardians. The exercise involved placing a high value treat on the floor then  While I was able to run through the exercise fine, Olaf disregarded his owners attempts to set the boundaries or correct him. He simply rushed or bulled his way past or around them.

There are multiple reasons for this difference. First off, I started out my relationship with the dog by assuming a confident assertive leadership role. Also as a behaviorist I have gone through the exercise thousands of times resulting in excellent timing and technique. While Olaf’s guardians didn’t have the best technique due to inexperience, it was the delayed response to his actions and movements, combined with their past history of giving in to him that caused Olaf to ignore or disregard them when attempting to lead or correct him.

I made some changes to the exercise to help negate the athletic advantage Olaf was using the defeat the exercise and while it helped, he continued his bull rush. Finally I moved the exercise to a hallway and was able to increase the success rate considerably. By limiting the open space, Olaf’s superior athletic attributes were no longer a factor. As a result, all the members of the family made it through the exercise successfully.

I suggested that they practice this exercise in the hallway daily (after the treadmill or other exercise) for the next week to really help change his perception of the humans as leaders.

I also made a number of suggested changes in how they interact with Olaf. Number on being following through. The last year has done a number on this dog, specifically teaching him to keep hammering away when corrected until he gets what he wants. It will take time, effort and his guardian’s being as determined as the dog to break this cycle. But once the dog realizes that they have changes and no longer back down, it will learn to look for other ways to get what it wants.

To help the dog understand that following commands comes with benefits, I took the family outside to practice a recall exercise. This was by far the most effective activity we ran through in the session.  At first he jumped up on the family’s nine-year-old son to get a treat. But after a few repetitions, Olaf started to adopt a more respectful body language and behavior. When he started to run over then sit in front of the guardian who called him, I finally felt the family was making some good progress. I suggested that they continue to practice this exercise daily and showed them how to make it more challenging for the dog.

Usually I finish the write up of my session notes saying the dog was calm, respectful and responsive to its guardians. While we made a difference and improved on his interaction and behavior with the members of the family, Olaf still needs a lot of work to undo the bad habits that he has learned. If his family stays committed and practices the new rules, boundaries and exercises I showed them, they should see improvements in his behavior and respect for them.

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This post was written by: David Codr

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