Teaching Oreo to Calm Down to Help Her Learn to Control Her Prey Drive

By: David Codr

Published Date: October 28, 2015

Oreo

Oreo is a two-year-old American Staffordshire Terrier Mix who has killed a few cats and bunnies and is reactive to dogs on walks.

When we arrived for the session, I was quite concerned with Oreo’s behavior. She started off fine, barking a little bit, but after a minute or so he started to show some very unusual behavior; barking and quasi charging my apprentice Tara, then walking in a small circle between her guardians and us while looking or checking in with the family’s mother and father, then barking, charging and circling again.

Often times dogs change their behavior based on the behavior or reaction of their guardians and there was most certainly an odd energy to start out the session.

Usually I like to wait for a dog to walk away before coming into a house, but he longer we stayed in the foyer, the more anxious and nervous Oreo’s behavior became so we headed into the living room.

When we sat down, Oreo calmed down for a second, then started her agitated circling behavior again, but this time she also crawled / squirmed herself up and across her guardian’s body. All of these were signs of a dog in a very unbalanced state and I was starting to think that perhaps there was a chemistry imbalance going on.

But when Oreo’s guardian mentioned that this was the only time they had seen the dog engage in this behavior, I chalked it up to the odd vibe that started out the session. To help settle Oreo down I pulled out a leash and looped the end through the handle to make a lariat that I could lip over the dog’s head.

Because she wasn’t wearing a collar, I asked the guardian for one but they only had a broken harness that was too small and a prong collar which I prefer not to use so I sent Tara to a nearby pet store to get a standard neck collar.

As we waited for Tara to get back, I started to ask questions about the dog’s day to day life. I wanted to see what kind of rules and structure were in place. As it turned out, Oreo had a few but she also had some other behaviors that weren’t ideal; rubbing herself on the furniture and the humans (scent marking), listened when she felt like it and her history of killing smaller animals.

When a dog doesn’t have many rules or structure, this often causes them to have an inflated sense of their own authority. This is likely why Oreo acts so animated when people come to the door.

I suggested a few simple rules to help start to change Oreo’s perception of her status amongst her family as well as some non verbal forms of communication. By using body language, eye movement and positioning, her family can communicate to the dog in way easier for her to understand.

Because she was so unbalanced to start the session, I began by going over a simple recall exercise.

By using a hand position and movement that gained the dog’s attention, we can condition her to respond when she sees or hears a recall command. Conditioning a dog to come when called is a simple exercise that will help the dog develop more respect for the authority of the members of the family.

To further enhance the dog’s respect for the humans in the house, I showed her guardians how to disagree with Oreo when she gets too close. While its ok for a dog to come next to her guardians, having to be leaning on or against a human all the time can lead to insecurities. Practice at establishing boundaries should slow down or stop the dog’s scent marking of the furniture and people while also helping the dog develop more respect for their authority.

It will take regular timely disagreeing with Oreo’s attempts to get too close or scent mark the family members before she understands they want a little personal space and that the items in the home do not belong to her. As she sees the humans in a more authoritative light, she will respond to their commands and corrections much better.

To help the dog with this transition, I suggested that we teach the dog to use a designated area or dog bed on command. I had her guardian get out a blanket to use for now as they didnt have an actual dog bed.

I pulled out some additional high value treats and showed the guardians who to use them to condition the dog to go to a specific location and mark the action with a command word.

Next I had Tara go over the leadership exercise with Oreo. She was successful right off the bat (because Tara is awesome with dogs), but the technique she used was more advanced than what I wanted the humans to start out with.

While Tara and I can use this more advanced version of the exercise, I wanted to make sure that we were putting both the dog and guardians in a position to succeed. So after Tara finished, I gave her the camera so I could run through the long version of the easier version of the Leadership Exercise. If you are someone who is in a market I do not work in, this video is probably the most detailed accounting I have every filmed so please watch it before trying the exercise yourself at home.

I ran Oreo through the Leadership Exercise a few times until he seemed to understand what I was asking him to do (Ignore the treat on the floor). At first he was a little cautious and uncomfortable, moving over to sit next to his guardians for moral support.

But after a few repetitions, Oreo seemed ready to have his guardians practice it on their own. I offered a few additional tips before handing one of his guardian’s a few treats so she could practice it herself.

Oreo challenged his guardian more than I would like in the above video. Some of this is due to the guardian’s not being practiced in the exercise, but some of it is a result of the dog not having a sufficient amount of respect for her as an authority figure.

If she can combine more assertive and confident movements following a hissing sound as her initial form of disagreement, the guardian will get better and faster results down the road.

But a third of the way through the exercise, you could see Oreo looking up at her guardian in a respectful way. I love how quickly dogs can pick new things up!

If all the members of the family practice this leadership exercise daily for the next week or two, then gradually increase the length of time they dog is asked to wait, the dog’s respect for their authority will continue to grow.

Although this session started out with a high level of concern, Oreo’s changes in behavior made me feel much more comfortable in her future. Her guardians will need to diligently practice the exercises and techniques we went over in the session in order for the dog to develop better self control and increased respect for the humans authority. As they get more accustomed to and practiced at leading the dog, they dog’s respect for them will grow.

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This post was written by: David Codr

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