Helping a Pair of Little Rescues in Their Forever Home

By: David Codr

Published Date: December 13, 2015

Peanut and Chico

Peanut (left) is a rescue dog who has welcomed a new companion into her West Hollywood home. This new dog Chico (right), was adopted through MaeDay Rescue in Los Angeles. I previously worked with Chico (Formerly Winston) while he was being fostered.

While I was discussing Chico’s behavior and his new guardians expectations, I noticed that she very enthusiastically petted any dog that came near her.

Insert Chico and peanut greeting

While petting dogs has been proven to be therapeutic and beneficial to humans, sometimes too much of a good thing can lead to problems. In my experience when you have dogs that engage in unwanted behaviors or actions, one common denominator is theyr guardians provide them with attention and affection so often that the dogs almost to begin to expect it. Because of the subndance, its also possible for a guardian to pet the dog when its in an unbalanced state. Doing this actually reinforces the unbalanced state’s behavior.

To help in this regard I suggested that the guardian start practicing what I call Petting with a purpose.

Petting with a purpose is usually something that becomes second nature to guardians after they practice the technique for a week or two. Once that is the case, every time they pet their dog, they are subtly reinforcing a healthy leader follower dynamic.

To help the dog’s guardian better communicate what she does and does not want from them, I went over some nonverbal communication cues I like to use.

These new nonverbal communication methods are based on how dogs interact with each other socially, therefore they are much easier for dogs to pick up, recognize and respond to.

During our discussion of these nonverbal cues, I learned that the dogs didn’t really have many rules or boundaries they were expected to follow.

Dogs go through life probing; waiting to be corrected or rewarded. If we don’t have many rules or limits in place, it can very easily give the dog the impression that they are the rule maker, or that they are in a leadership position over the humans.

To help change this perception, I suggested a number of simple rules and limits that the guardian can incorporate such as asking the dogs to sit before they provide it attention, having to wait for permission to eat and not being allowed on the furniture for 30 days.

For dogs, the higher they sit has a correlation to the rank or authority that they have amongst the members of their pack. Now if you have a balanced dog that listens well, there’s no problem with it being on the furniture when it pleases. But in this situation, both dogs had a number of unwanted behaviors who also jumped up on most of the furniture in the home whenever they felt like it. This was most apparent when I was disagreeing with the dogs early on in the session. Every time I did so, they went and jumped up on some furniture to regain some authority.

I suggested that the guardian make the furniture off-limits for the next 30 days and then after that, only allow the dogs up on the furniture with permission on a case-by-case basis. Additionally, being on the furniture should be a privilege that is only extended to dogs with permission and as long as they exhibit good behavior. So, if a dog starts to engaging in an unwanted action like barking at the window, they would immediately have to get down off of the couch.

Anytime that you make the furniture off-limits, it’s always a good time to introduce a dog bed. Their guardian had dog beds in the home, but the dogs didnt use them often or on command.  Being able to direct dogs to a location is an extremely helpful skill with managing multiple dogs so I showed her how to condition the dogs to use the dog bed on command.

It didn’t take long before both dogs started to gravitate to the dog bed that was in front of the chase lounge they had previously sat on to look outside the window. They will almost certainly attempt to jump back up on this chase lounge and other furniture for the next few days to test the resolve of their guardian. Being consistent in disagreeing and correcting the dogs with good timing will be most important for the next 2-3 weeks.

I wanted to show their guardian how she could utilize the new communication cues that we introduced earlier in the session in a practical way. I decided to do this through a The Leadership Exercise that I developed a few years ago.

I started out with Peanut and ran through the exercise three or four times until she seemed to understand what I was asking for her. At that point I walked her guardian through the exercise herself.

The Leadership Exercise has many benefits; it teaches the dog how to self restraint and look to the guardian for direction while also helping the dog guardian practice using the new Escalade and consequences. It also helps redefined the leader follower dynamic in a really great way.

The The Leadership Exercise is most effective when the guardian practices it a few times a day every day while gradually increasing the amount of time that each dog has to wait before getting permission to claim it’s reward. At first the goal is to run through the exercise until the dog starts laying down within 30 seconds of the guardian claiming the treat.

The next step is to start asking the dog to wait for longer and longer periods of time. I usually advise my clients to add one minute each time the dog completes the exercise until they are able to get the dog to wait for a solid 15 minutes. Most of my clients are able to achieve this 15 minute wait period within 10 days to two weeks. Once the dog is able to restrain itself for this period of time, usually most of their unwanted behaviors stop on their own and residuals are more easily corrected.

Because the leadership exercise can be a little bit heavy for dogs who are just starting to learn it, I brought the fun and energy back up by practicing a simple Recall Exercise.

Conditioning your dogs to come when called is a very underrated but incredibly helpful skill to master. Not only is it helpful to be able to better communicate direction to your dog, every time that you ask the dog to come and then reward it for doing so, you are reinforcing the leader follower dynamic you want.

But just like anything that we do a lot, sometimes repetition can get a little boring. To that end I showed their guardian another way of calling the dog over that I call the Bump.

The Bump should only be used in very specific situations, almost a for emergency basis. It still needs to be practiced in the house quite in a fun way for a week or two for the dog to recognize and want to respond to it. Be sure to keep it upbeat and happy. You want the dog to have a happy, playful response later when you really need to use the command, so keep its use somewhat selective and always positive.

Once this is the case, you have a different way of calling the dog over when it is normally not inclined to listen.

Midway through the session I learned there’s a third dog in the house that was not able to be there due to a visit to the vet. The dog’s guardian and the dog walkers were both concerned that the addition of this higher energy dog may complicate things, specifically practicing the Leadership Exercise.

To better enable the guardian to control the situation when the third dog returns, I showed her how she can incorporate temporary boundaries so that she can have better control over her dogs when working with them individually.

Hopefully practicing this exercise with only two of the dogs will make it easier when the third dog returns to the fold. If she can master it, it will be a powerful training tool that will deepen the dog’s control and respect for their guardian.

One last thing I wanted to address was the dogs behavior when people came in the door. Both dogs got overexcited and and barked quite a bit any time there was a knock at the door.

I had one of the dog walkers go outside and play the part of an arriving guest so that I could show their guardian how to claim the space around front door.

After having the guardian watch me claim the door space and set a boundary, I wanted her to run through the exercise so that I could coach her through it.

I had the dog walker go outside and wait for a couple of minutes to try to make it as realistic as possible before we practiced again.

Both Peanut and Chico really responded well. This new structure will help both dogs respect the authority of their guardian. Practice at the new commands and exercises for the next week or two should really transform the dogs behavior.

The wild card it the third dog who was not at the session. If he is as excitable and determined as described, he is going to challenge all the things we introduced at the session. His guardian will need to be almost proactive in disagreeing with him before get gets started to nip it in the bud.

By by the time we wrapped up the session, the dogs were already following he new rules, their guardian timing and use of the new techniques was getting better too. I look forward from hearing how their guardian does in the next few days when the third dog in the mix.

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This post was written by: David Codr