A Pair of Welsh Terrier Pups Learn to Listen to and Respect Their Guardians

By: David Codr

Published Date: November 10, 2015

Oscar and Fern

Oscar and Fern are a pair of four month old Welsh Terriers in Omaha. Their guardians reached out for help with some basic puppy obedience for both pups as well as Oscar’s increasing growling and nipping when corrected or leashed.

I sat down with the guardians to discuss the puppies behavior and how i could help. In the course of the discussion, we went over some small things that they family can do to help the dogs see them as authority figures.

One of the easiest is to pet the dogs when they do something like sit, come or down rather than being nearby and cute. I told the kids to think of petting is a way of saying thank you. It didn’t take long for the pups to get it and they started to sit politely in front of the humans for attention rather than jumping up on them. By consistently asking the dogs to change state then rewarding them for doing so, each pet reinforce the leader follower dynamic they want.

I also went over some non verbal communication methods and a set of escalating consequences to disagree with unwanted actions or behaviors. By using these non verbal cues, the humans can communicate in the dog’s native language which should result in better responses.

While we were wrapping up this discussion, Oscar got a little pushy, invading my personal space and ignoring my corrections. This is pretty normal puppy behavior, but when I went to correct him, he showed some aggressive behaviors nipping and biting him when I placed him on a leash.

After trying a few different techniques to curb the behavior, I realized the Leadership exercise I developed a few years ago would address his issues perfectly. The exercise involves placing a high value item on the floor then claiming it as a dog would.

The purpose of the exercise is to help the dog practice respecting boundaries and the authority of the guardians and the guardians practice communicating with the dog in non verbal ways (the dog’s native language).

Oscar was pretty defiant the first few times we went through the exercise, but I stayed dispassionate and by the fourth repetition, his aggression had petered out and he was interacting much better.

Now that he understood what was expected, I wanted to coach all the members of the family through the exercise individually so that they could achieve the same results. The father of the family went first.

I always want to start out with the hissing sound to disagree but in the video the father steps forward and hisses second. While this worked, eventually this will lead to the humans having to get up and move forward instead of hissing. The goal is to have the humans do as little as possible so it will be important for him to remember to always start with the hiss.

Next up was the family’s mother. Because Oscar had bitten her before, I knew this woudl be one of the more difficult repetitions. But I also knew with her it would likely do the most good.

As expected, the pup made a run at challenging the mother for the treat on the floor. But because she stuck with it and stood her ground, the dog eventually stopped challenging and surrendered to her authority.

It was great to see the pup starting to discover that challenging the humans wasn’t going to work anymore but that listening and following their lead would be rewarded.

The oldest child went next and by this time, Oscar was pretty much on auto pilot.

We repeated the exercise with Ferm who got it much faster as she has more of a natural followers energy and personality.

I suggested that the family practice the exercise with both dogs (individually) for the next week to 10 days while gradually increasing the length of time the dog needed to wait laying down before they give it permission to get the treat. This way the pups can develop the ability to restrain themselves for longer periods of time and in more challenging situations.

I followed up the Leadership exercise by showing the family how to use a hand position and motion to get the dogs motivate to recall on command.

Now that we had added rules, boundaries and structure, I wanted to recreate the scenario that had triggered Oscar to bite the family’s mother. Both dogs had discovered that dishes placed in the dish washer had some tasty bits left on them.

I usually advise my clients to avoid giving puppies people food. Not only is it often too rich for the dogs, it often results in puppies that learn to beg or try to snatch food when given the opportunity.

Dogs are opportunists and they often observe us waiting for a moment to swoop in and take advantage when we are distracted or aren’t paying close attention. For this reason, Im a big proponent of setting them up when the human has the time to focus on the dog. To that end I had the mother get out some peanut butter then open the door to the dishwasher so we could get started.

Both puppies tried to get back into the dishes, but by staying consistent, the mother was able to successfully disagree without any additional bites or bloodshed.

Because the dogs were a handful on walks, I fitted them up with Martingale collars and showed their guardians how to apply the special twist of the leash to stop them from pulling and give the guardians more control.

As usual, the Martingales completely changed the walk for the better.

By walking the dogs in a structured way, the guardians can help Oscar and Fern learn to follow their lead. Once the dogs get into a habit of following this way, then the handler can let them have more leash and time to explore while on walks confident in knowing they can call the dogs back into a heel when needed.

I was really happy that the guardians called me in at this stage. Often people think that aggressive behaviors are something a dog will grow out of. Im no fortune teller, but If I was a gambler bet that Oscar’s aggression would have developed into a real issue as he matured and grew.

By the end of the session, both dogs were acting more respectfully and Oscar wasn’t acting defiant when handled or corrected. By petting with a purpose and communicating with the dogs using the new non verbal communication methods, everyone should be on the same page. Combined with the rules and structure we introduced, the dogs should develop a healthy leader follow dynamic with their guardians.

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This post was written by: David Codr

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