One Way to a Calm Dog for Bubba

By: David Codr

Published Date: August 15, 2013

Bubba n One Way

Meet Bubba a eight-year-old Boston terrier left, and One Way a two-year-old Chihuahua mix

Their owner had contacted me for help with both dogs but primarily One Way. One Way has been jostling, jumping up upon and trying to play with Bubba since the day he moved in.  Additionally his owner had told me he rarely listens to them and only follows instructions when he wants to.

When I sat down with his owner discuss the situation, I immediately understood what but she meant by jostling. One Way was nonstop. He was relentless in jumping up on, chewing or wrestling with and basically doing anything he could to be in contact with Bubba. Bubba showed remarkable tolerance and only reacted after multiple play attacks by One Way.

Their owner pointed out the behavior to me as the wrestled on the floor and asked if it was appropriate. While it’s not hostile or aggressive, I can see how it would get old for Bubba really quick.

I suggested that she start to give One Way a timeout by placing him on the leash anytime his play activity got too intense or it was clear that Bubba wasn’t interested.

I like to think of dogs as having 10 levels of energy. Level one is a calm, peaceful dog. Level ten is that dog at its most extreme.

The trick is to keep the dog from going past level five energy. If the dog’s owner immediately interrupts play or whatever the activity is each time the dog passes the level five energy threshold, the dog will eventually learn that is the limit.

If the owner’s corrections and timing is good, the dog quickly learns to remain in a more calm state of mind.

When I asked their owners if they baby talked the dogs I got a few nods. I always advise against baby talk or high-energy cartoonlike talk to dogs. Especially dogs that are overstimulated and borderline out-of-control. The extra energy and excitement in a high-pitched baby talk type of voice can often trigger excitement in the dog.

Since One Way was by far the dog that needed the most work, I had their owners place Bubba and their other dog Zoe in the other room so that I could focus on One Way.

As a bundle of energy, One Way was having difficulty moderating or restraining himself. I showed his owners an exercise that they can practice that will help One Way learn to restrain himself and see his owners as his pack leader.

I placed a high-value item on the floor and stood over it in a guarding position. One Way immediately darted towards the item, causing me to step forward to block him. As a quick nimble dog he did his best to try to get around me, but I continued to block him until he eventually laid down.

As soon as he laid down and stopped attempting to defy my wishes, I immediately gave him the high-value item. After repeating the exercise a few times, I coached all the members of his family through it as well.

By practicing this exercise and increasing the amount of time that they ask One Way to wait before being able to get his reward, he will quickly learn both self-restraint and that he needs to look to his owners for permission.

It turns out that the dog’s had not been getting much exercise by walking with their owners due to bad behavior on the leash so I fitted up Bubba with the Martingale collar and added my special twist to the leash.

I had his owners wait on the front porch as I walked up and down the sidewalk with bubba so they could see my body language, positioning and corrections.

But before we started to walk, Bubba needed to know his position in our formation. When a dog isn’t asked  to walk on either the right or left side of its owner, it often will zigzag out in front. Whenever a dog is in front of its owner on a leash, it considers itself in a leadership position. Since dogs can only focus on one thing at a time and usually have their noses often on the ground, this makes it virtually impossible for undisciplined dogs to behave well or pay attention to their owner.

By assigning a permanent position on my left, the dog knows it’s place in our walking formation.

I have three rules when walking with the dog: number one, the dog needs to remain next to me, at my side and matching my pace. Number two I don’t allow the dog to sniff. The dog’s nose controls 60% of its brain, therefore when it’s sniffing it cannot be listening to it’s owner.  The third rule is no urination or marking. When a dog is marking its territory on a walk, it’s in a leadership position.

The goal of a structured walk is to elevate the human to a leadership position as it sets the tone, pace, direction and duration of the walk. When the dog walks next to or slightly behind the human it’s in a natural follower position. By keeping the dog’s nose off the ground and not allowing it to mark territory, the dog is able to focus on its owner.

After demonstrating the walk I handed the leash over to Bubba’s owner and offered a few tips and pointers. Honestly though, once they had the proper position and rules in place, the Martingale collar did the rest. Their owner commented to me that she had never seen her dog behave so well on the leash, jokingly asking me “what did you do with my dog?”

After everyone took a turn walking Bubba with the same results we all went back inside. I finished up the session by explaining how important meal time can be when rehabilitating dogs. Since dogs correlate their position or rank in the pack with the order in which they eat, adding rules and structure to mealtime is an excellent way to correct a dog’s behavioral problems.

I explained how it’s important that the humans always eat first before the dogs do. This helps the dog see the human in the leadership position. But before eating, I had their owner’s fill all three dog bowls and place them on the ground. Each person took a bowl and guarded it to ensure that the dog didn’t sneak in any bites before they had permission. With three dogs it was a bit of a challenge to accomplish this, I suggested that their owner banish all three dogs from the kitchen which is where their food was. I had their owner stand in the doorway to the kitchen and eat a snack in front of the three dogs so they could see who was eating first.

After she finished eating, she called in Bubba to eat first. We selected Bubba because he is the senior dog in the pack and has the best combination of leadership qualities, manners and personality of the three.

Because Bubba has been eating in a free feeding situation he wasn’t really that interested in the food. We gave him about three minutes and he did eat a couple of bites but that was it. I had Bubba’s owner pick up his bowl and dump the food back into the bag then place the empty bowl back on the floor. As soon as she finished, I had her direct Bubba to leave the kitchen. By restricting access to the food area to the dog who has permission to eat at that time, that dog learns to relax and eat it’s food without having to worry about their roommates trying to steal their food.

Next we called in Zoe who probably has the best personality out of the three dogs in terms of being well mannered. But because she has only been with the family a short period of time, placing her in the second position made the most sense.

It turns out that Zoe had not been eating very well. This is likely combination of her being new to the home and free feeding. When a dog has access to food all the time, it can sometimes remove their motivation to actually eat.

Since they have used a number of different types of food with poor results, I suggested that they add a little hot water to her food. For dogs, the taste of food is not nearly as important as it’s temperature. Additionally most dogs enjoy wet food which is more expensive. However since wet food is just dry food with water, we can always mix some up. By adding a quarter inch of hot water to Zoe’s dog bowl, we made a sort of doggy food stew. I’m proud to report that for the first time in her new home, Zoe ate everything in her food bowl.

After Zoe was done eating she left the kitchen and One Way came in for his dinner. One Way ate some of his food, but then walked away from his bowl. I had his owners pick up the bowl and dump it back into the bag then replace the bowl back onto the floor. By removing the food as soon as the dog walks away from their bowl, the dog quickly learns to eat in place whenever food is offered.

When we returned to the living room to wrap up our session One Way was in a much calmer state of mind. He was playing with Bubba some of the time but not nearly as intensely as he was before. Additionally anytime any of his humans disagreed with his behavior, they were easily able to get him to walk away.  That wasn’t the case before our session.

While Bubba and One Way both had some behavioral issues to address, One Way is the key to the situation.  If his owners give him timeouts whenever he gets over excited for the next week or two, the calm demeanor that he had at the end of the session can become permanent.

Since a calm, balanced dog is much easier to work with; the leadership exercises along with the new rules and structure at mealtime will quickly finish the behavior transformation of young One Way which should result in a calmer, quieter pack.

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This post was written by: David Codr