Introducing Some Rules to Help a Dog Reactive Blue Heeler

By: David Codr

Published Date: August 30, 2016

Jagger and Pistol

Pistol (right) is a three-year-old Blue Heeler who lives with a Boxer mix named Jagger. Pistol’s guardian set up a dog obedience training session with me to stop Pistol from acting aggressively around other dogs.

Pistol’s guardian plans on moving in with her boyfriend who has a black lab, but due to her dog aggression, they knew they needed to address the problem first.

The dog’s primary guardian was unable to get off of work early, so we started the session with her boyfriend. I asked him a number of questions about the dog’s day to day life to get a better feel for the structure Pistol lived with.

Because there wasn’t another dog present, Pistol’s behavior didn’t seem as worrisome as Jagger who seemed very anxious and nervous. Although I was called in specially to work with Pistol to stop dog aggression, I wanted to offer some assistance for Jagger too.

I spent a couple of minutes going over a few different ways that their guardian can help Jagger develop more self-esteem which will improve his confidence.

Dogs feel a sense of pride just like humans. By teaching Jagger 8 to 12 new commands or tricks over the next 2 months or so, his guardians will be able to help him develop a few skill sets that he can feel good about. This will help him feel less anxious. He really is a beautiful dog so I hope they teach him some new tricks which will help him stop being so timid.

As I was wrapping up the discussion on building up Jagger’s confidence, I noticed that Pistol and Jager didn’t have a problem invading anyone’s personal space to let them know that they should be petting the dog. While petting a dog is a positive thing, its important we take into context what is going on when we provide the affection.

In cases where a dog doesn’t have any rules and also thinks it can tell the humans what to do, it can easily result in a dog who does not listen to the humans. That was clearly the case with Pistol. This is why dog obedience training is so important.

To help both dogs see and respect humans as authority figures, I went over a technique that I developed called Petting with a purpose.

Asking the dogs to earn attention or affection from the guardians can quickly help them adopt a follower’s mindset. Once the humans get into a habit of Petting with a purpose, they will do it without even thinking, but each time they do, the pet will come with a mini dog obedience session.

But as any dog guardian knows, sometimes you have to tell the dog no. I spent the next several minutes going over a series of escalating consequences that I have developed after observing how dogs interact and communicate with one another.

We were able to put these escalating consequences to use when Pistol’s primary guardian arrived for the session. We asked he to park not he street and knock on the door like a guest so we could practice a new door answering behavior.

Because I corrected the dogs with good timing and the appropriate intensity, they responded right away. Stopping overexcitement in dogs is all about the correct timing and technique. As the dogs get used to not being allowed on the furniture, their dashes up to the ledge to look out the window will stop and their reaction will mellow out considerably.

A little bit later on in the session, someone else came to the door which gave us another opportunity to practice the exercise. But this time it was Pistol’s primary guardian on door duty.

I recommended that all the members of the household call or text one another when they are on their way home for the next few weeks. This will allow them to practice this new door answering ritual without the pressure of it being an actual guest.

Now that we had incorporated rules and structure, I wanted to give Pistol’s guardian some tools that she could use to redirect her dog. Turning a dog’s focus away from any other dogs she may want to react to is a very effective technique to apply to dogs with reactivity issues.

While the exercise I detailed in the above video is pretty easy, it’s also extraordinarily effective. But only if the guardian practices it enough inside so that the dog looks up at her without even thinking.

Once the dog has the basics of the Watch exercise down, then the guardian is ready to start applying it in more advanced situations. I detailed those in the video below.

It’s going to be important for Pistol’s guardian to spend as much time as needed repeating this exercise while exposed to gradually increasing levels of distraction to stop Pistol’s reaction to other dogs. Many people rush through the Watch exercise and push fourth agendas that are not in line with the dog’s development. You have to practice each step until the dog is comfortable with that distance before moving closer.

Only once a dog is giving us an auto watch every time is it ready for us to take another step towards another dog.

By the end of the session, Jagger and Pistol seemed very relaxed. They had stopped nudging people or invading their personal space to ask for attention. Best of all they already seemed to be minding some of the new rules on their own.

As Pistol becomes more accustomed to a follower position in the home, her reactivity to other dogs should diminish. It will be important that everyone in the home consistently enforce the new rules and structure. If anyone neglects to do so, they will undermine the work put forth by everyone else in the house.

This added structure combined with mastery of the watch exercise should be what allows Pistol to learn that other dogs are not a threat or something to be reactive or aggressive to.

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