A Vizsla and Poodle Learn to Respect and Follow Their Guardians

By: David Codr

Published Date: December 5, 2015

Pico and Tula

Pico (left) is nine-year-old Toy Poodle who doesnt listen very well, marks in the house and gets over excited and worked up when playing with his new room mate Tula a seven-year-old Vizsla who pulls on the leash, is easily distracted and also listens inconsistently.

When I arrived for the session, I could instantly see that Pico had some insecurities. He tried to jump up on me as I walked through the door and once I rebuffed him from doing so, he started practicing some serious avoidance.

Where Tula was content to walk by, stand or sit next to me, Pico moved behind the couch that his guardians were sitting on and only occasionally peeked his head out

For dogs with lower self-esteem, they can have their confidence easily shaken if someone challenges them or their authority. In this situation my simply disagreeing with the dog when it jumped up to try to claim me confused Pico as he didn’t know how to proceed.

I wanted to give Pico time to come around on his own, so I ignored him and turned my attention to his roommate Tula. The family let both dogs get up on the couch and not only did they take advantage of this, they also climbed on top of the humans as if they were a piece of furniture themselves.

For dogs, the higher they sit translates to the more rank or status they have amongst the peers that they live with. By allowing the dogs to sit at the same level as the humans, or in some cases even higher than them, the guardians were giving the dogs a bit of a confusing message.

Making matters worse, the humans instinctively petted the dogs anytime they came nearby or climbed on top of them. Whenever we pet a dog or show it attention or affection, we are basically agreeing with whatever it is doing at the time. Without even realizing it, the guardians had been conditioning their dogs to jump up on them and challenge their authority.

To help the humans better communicate the proper structure and boundaries that the dogs need, I showed them how to use nonverbal communication cues and body language to disagree with these unwanted behaviors.

By communicating with the dogs using these nonverbal cues (that are derived from the way that canines interact with each other socially) the dogs will be able to more easily understand what it is their guardians want, or don’t want from them.

In the above video you can see the dog respond better when the family’s eldest son moved quicker or with sharp or more precise movements. These are interpreted as communication where as soft or slower movements are often disregarded completely as simply meandering around.

As the humans practice using these escalating consequences, their technique and timing will improve as will the dog’s responsiveness to them.

I also strongly recommend that all of the members of the family start practicing what I call Petting with a Purpose. I consider petting a dog as paying a dog. In this situation, the guardians were petting the dogs for doing whatever the dog wanted. Over time, this results in a dog that does what it wants and does not consider doing things for the members the family unless their request matches what the dog is already inclined to do.

Petting with a Purpose involves asking the dog to sit, come or lay down before providing it with a attention or affection.

Sitting or laying down are more subordinate body positions for dogs to be in. When we ask a dog to sit or lay down before we provided attention, we are helping it adopt more of a follower body mechanic. Additionally only rewarding the dog for listening to us is a great way to condition the dog to be more obedient.

If all the members of the family diligently practice Petting with a Purpose for the next week or two, it will quickly become a habit for them. Once this is the case, they will do it without even thinking and each time they do, they will reinforce the leader follower dynamic that they are looking for.

We swapped out dogs and moved into another room so that I could help them condition Pico to listen to commands better and build up his respect for the humans as authority figures. By this point in the session Pico had continued to stay in the background so I asked his guardians to place Tula live outside so that we could work on Pico individually.

Frustratingly, Pico shut down completely and absolutely refused to engage with me as well as the members of his family. My options were to confront him and force him to adopt a new behavior, or to teach the members the family how they could use a simple recall exercise to condition the dog to come on command after I had left.

Because the dog was already showing signs of insecurity I elected to go with the second option.

I showed all of the members of the family how to hold the treat in the palm of their hand with the palm facing the ceiling to get the dog’s attention. I also went over how to hold their arm. I like to start out with a 45° bend my elbow so that my forearm is parallel with the floor.

This is the position I hold the treat in, then when I call the dog with a “come” command.  Pico’s guardians had gotten into the habit of giving him a command over and over until he responded. But when we repeat a command over and over, it essentially waters down our authority and communicates to the dog that they don’t have to listen to us unless they are ready to do so on their own.

I prefer to give the recall command word once and then wait for the dog to respond. If the dog does not come to the person who called it, I instructed that person to make a loud kissing sound and then the second the dog looks in their direction, to start moving their hand down towards the floor.

To a dog, moving your hand downward towards the floor (with a palm up orientation and open hand) is an inviting motion. By using this to entice the dog to come over and claim its reward, we can avoid using the same command word over and over and condition the dog that there is a reward to be had if it listens to its guardian’s instructions.

I recommended that the members of the family practice this simple recall exercise on a daily basis for the next one to two weeks. As the dog starts to realize that he is rewarded for a good response, his timing should improve dramatically. This will have a positive impact on his confidence as well.

Once that’s the case then the members of the family can start moving further and further away from one another to make the dog respond over larger distances inside the home.

Once the dog is recalling consistently inside the home, I suggested the members the family start practicing the exercise again in their backyard. They should start out with all the members the family about 10 feet apart from one another in a circle or triangle. Once the dog starts coming over to them and sitting while outside at this distance, they can start increasing the distance between themselves so the dog has to go from one side of the lawn to the other when called.

Because Tula had developed a negative association with her kennel, I had the guardians take me to the room that housed it so that I could show them how to teach the dog to enjoy being inside the kennel.

Many people mistakenly only put their dog in a kennel when they’re leaving. Over time, this conditions the dog to associate the kennel with the departure of the humans.

By practicing asking the dog to stay inside the kennel with the door open while the human is present, we can remove this negative association from the dog’s memory. Additionally asking the dog to remain inside with the kennel door open is a great way to help the dog develop and practice self-control.

I suggested that all of the members of the family practice this exercise with Tula while gradually increasing the amount of time that they ask her to say inside the kennel after she lays down. Just like training to run a marathon, gradually increasing the level of difficulty each time you practice helps the dog further develop the skill set.

Next I showed the guardians how to use a Martingale collar along with the special twist of the leash to stop the dog from pulling while on walks.

But before we could head out on a walk, I went over how important it is for the guardians to take their time while going through the leashing process. Many dogs start to get overexcited the instant the guardian gets up to place them on a leash.

Most people simply power through this by grabbing the dog and pulling it to them so that they can attach the leash then heading out for the walk. However the energy the dog has inside the home before the start of the walk is the same energy they will maintain for the duration of it.

To stop the dogs from being over excited at the thought of going for a walk, I had their guardians go through the leashing process multiple times. Each time that the dog started show any excitement or walk in front of the human, I had them stop immediately and go and sit down. After we stopped, we waited for the dogs to return to a completely calm state before we started to try again.

It took a good 15 minutes and multiple starts and stops, but eventually both dogs remained behind their guardian and remained calm while the leashes and collars were attached.

Now that we had achieved a calm and balanced state with the dogs, we were ready to go out and practice walking.

I made sure that humans practiced at the door so that the dog did not exit  in front of them. For dogs, whoever is in front is in a very literal sense the leader. By making sure that the dog waits for the human to pass through the portal first, we can ensure that the dog has the right mindset to begin the journey.

I took the leash first and walked about the families front yard so that I could demonstrate the proper leash holding, correction and dog position while on a structured walk. I also offered the rules that I like to maintain when going on a structured walk with my dogs.

Once Tula seemed to feel comfortable walking in a heel position on the Martingale, I turned the leash over to their guardians and coached each one of them through the exercise until they had the dog walking at a nice heel.

At first it was a little uncomfortable for the dogs, but they quickly got used to the new leash set up. But the real difference was in how much more control al the humans had when walking the dogs. Seeing them smile at how well the dog’s responded was quite rewarding.

After we practiced walking the dogs individually, we were ready for the next step. I had the mother of the family walk Pico in a short loop around the front yard and after she completed the circuit, I handed to Tula’s leash to her mid stride so she could walk them together.

The final walking challenge was to have the family’s youngest son walk Tula on the leash on his own. In previous attempts, the dog’s strength and athletic ability had resulted in the boy being literally dragged by the dog.

What a difference the right tool and technique makes.

While the overall walk with the youngest son was a success, there is certainly room for improvement. Instead of using a quick snap or jerking movement upward, the boy stopped to stand in place then pulled up on the leash with a more pulling motion. Because this pull was more of a torque variety it didn’t get the same response as a quick snap or jerk of the leash would. But the little guy had a lot of heart and you could see his technique improve as he completed the circuit around the front yard.

Once the dog and boy practice this technique further, both skill sets should improve to the point where the boy has complete control over the powerful Vizsla and the dog no longer tries to pull.

By the end of the session, it was clear that everyone was pooped and progress had been made.

Tula and Boy Chilling in the Kennel

While we didn’t make as much progress with Pico as I would have liked, I was quite pleased at the transition in Tula. She was already adhering to the new rules on her own, was responding much quicker to commands and corrections and seemed to be interacting with humans in a much more respectful manner.

In time, Petting the dogs with a Purpose, establishing clear rules, boundaries and structure and disagreeing with the dogs with the new nonverbal communication cues should result in better obedience from the dogs. This should also increase the respect for the humans authority in the dog’s eyes.

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This post was written by: David Codr

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