Sharing Some Tips to Stop a Cocker Spaniel From Growling at Dad

By: David Codr

Published Date: May 1, 2020

For this Omaha dog training session we worked with a pair of Cocker Spaniels; Peeta and Phillip, sharing tips to stop Peeta from growling at or acting aggressive with the family’s father at times.

Unfortunately after the session, my phone crashed and I lost the videos we shot so in this write up you are going to see videos I shot with other client dogs.

The first thing I noticed was Phillip was not very confident. For the first part of the session he stayed out of the room and only occasionally would peek in to see what we were up doing.

I learned that Peeta often stole his things and sometimes bullied him. This is problematic for multiple reasons including anything a dog does in our presence that we dont disagree with is seen as approval to the dogs. So each time Peeta took the less confident dog’s bone, and the humans didnt interrupt or disagree, Peeta and Phillip both associate that behavior as being ok. The humans didn’t know to disagree, thinking its just dogs being dogs which many people think. This is an extremely common mistake many dog guardians make.

Disagreeing with Peeta when he starts to approach Phillip when he has an item will be important. The key is to do this right away. Peeta will try to work his way closer to Phillip when he has an item, likely ring multiple times and from different angles. So when the dogs get a bully sticks, new toys or bones, the guardians need to monitor things closely and disagree when Peeta first starts to move towards Phillip instead of waiting for Peeta to be right next to Phillip.

As the family has three young and energetic boys, the dogs aren’t getting as much exercise as they or the humans would like. I took both dogs out separately for a walk to see how they behaved out of the house. It took Phillip a little longer to start relaxing and sniffing the ground. I kind of let him take the lead as all I wanted him to do was have an experience outside the house away from Peeta where he got to call the shots.

I told the guardians it will be important for both dogs, but especially Philip to get a solo walk at least once a day every day. Not only does this get him some exercise, he gets to “find himself” a bit away from Peeta and it also gives him some stimulation. If the guardians meet any humans on the walk, they can give them treats to give to Phillip or toss to him if he is too fearful to take them (Note: if a dog won’t take a treat you know it likes, its often a sin the dog is uncomfortable. When this happens, try to move away from whatever the dog doesn’t like until the dog’s body looks relaxed or it can sit).

I went over some creative forms of exercise including the doggy stair master, scent games as well as feeding out of a snuffle matt or treat dispensing toys like an Omega Paw Treat Ball.

I made sure to go over how dogs learn, the importance of rules, how to pet with a purpose to increase the dog’s respect for the humans and that petting the dogs when they do the things the humans like will teach the dogs to do those things to ask for attention. I call this Passive Training.

I went over force free ways to teach the dogs to do what the humans want. So instead of using or pulling a dog off the couch, the guardians can teach it to get off furniture on command.

The dogs responded to the guardians differently. The mom told me she was too “soft” or what I would refer to as passive, letting the dogs do what they pleased unless it conflicted with something she was doing. The dad was more confrontational when the dogs didnt do as he wanted as he would sometimes get frustrated. This is another common thing many people do. But in most cases, its a result of the dog now knowing what the humans want from them.

An example of this was the dogs like getting into the trash. Many of us look at the trash as something not at all desirable, but if something stinky is in there, its almost irresistible to dogs. From a human perspective, no one should want to get into the trash. But dogs dont see it that way.

A better approach is to first teach the dogs to drop things on command. This is best done with low value items the dogs dont think the humans want like a dog toy. Once the dog understands dropping doesn’t always mean they loose the item AND that dropping guarantees them a treat or attention as a reward, they are happy to comply.

The next step is to teach the dogs the leave it command. This is a very under appreciated command that comes in quite handy. The free positive dog training video below covers how to train a dog to leave it.

It will take a week of practicing the leave it (5+ times a day with 10 treats each time, practicing in different rooms) and drop exercise (when the dogs have a toy or item, you have to wait for opportunities to practice drop) before the dogs came perform both actions. Once this is the case, the guardians can create situations where they can teach the dogs to leave the trash alone and practice that behavior.

Teaching a dog to stop it just takes some time, practice and patience. You dont have to be a professional Cocker Spaniel dog trainer to teach a dog to leave it.

An example of this would be to pull out a trash can the dogs like to get into (like the bathroom’s) and put something that smells inside it, then place the can between the couch and the TV. This would be best accomplished when the bus are asleep.

As soon as the dog starts to move towards the trash can, the guardian can give the leave it command. The key is to start this early, don’t say “leave it” when the dog is in the trash or very close, instead give the command when the dog takes its first step towards the trash. This allows the human to train the dog while relaxing watching TV or other activities.

When the human is done practicing or has to move away, it will be important for the humans to put the trash can away or the dogs will learn to wait the humans out then get into the trash.

While teaching and training the dogs is super important, so is the dog’s perception of the humans. I have found that when a human teaches a dog new tricks or commands, it increases the dogs respect for the human. It also helps boost a dog’s confidence which will help with both dogs in different ways.

Id love to see the humans doing some clicker training. After first priming the clicker, they can use that tool to make it easier to teach the dogs some new tricks and commands. Id love to see the family’s dad try to teach the dogs a new trick or command each week for a month or two. This will help the dogs practice listening to him and help deepen their bond.

Of course the clicker is not required, it just makes some things easier. There are other commands like hand targeting that dont need a clicker, but for others, the clicker makes things such easier.

Another issue the dogs have was barking at sounds outside the house. Some of this comes from a lack of rules (causes the dogs to think they are in charge), some of this is from anxiety (cortisol in the dog’s blood) and some is they are in the habit of baring at things they disagree with (common for Cockers).

This video covers how to use counterconditioning to stop a dog from reacting to sounds that they disagree with or are frightened of. Just like the leave it, it will take some practice, but eventually they should associate the sounds as a positive and stop barking at them.

Id like to do a follow up session with these dogs but the family is moving out of state so I added more links and content to this write up to give them more things to work on than my normal write ups.

To help the guardians remember all the things we covered in today’s in home Bellevue dog training session, we filmed a roadmap to success video that you can check out below.

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This post was written by: David Codr

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