A Pair of Terrier Mixes in Marina del Rey Learn to Calm Down

By: David Codr

Published Date: June 21, 2016

Porter and Heff

Porter (left) is a five-year-old Beagle / Terrier mix who lives in Marina del Rey with his brother Heff. The dog’s guardian booked a dog behavior training session with me to help put a stop to Porter’s habit of growling and bearing teeth when disturbed while sleeping. They also wanted to get higher-strung Heff to stop nipping at people on walks.

Because the dogs had been known to nip some strangers, the guardian placed them outside on a patio when I arrived for the session. They were both barking alarmingly in a territorial display, but I did not observe any actual aggression from them.

I spent a few minutes using some body positioning and language to try to help the dogs relax. Once they had settled down, I pulled out some high-value treats and continued to introduce myself in a positive and non threatening way before sitting down with their guardians to chat about what they wanted to accomplish in the session.

Because the guardians were concerned about the possibility of a bite, they obviously wanted to ensure that everyone remain safe. Anytime you have a dog that has a history of biting, it’s a wise precaution to introduce the muzzle. However, many people use the wrong muzzle or introduce it in a way that causes the dog to have a negative association with it.

I spent the next few minutes explaining how to properly introduce a muzzle in a positive way.

In the course of my discussion with the dog’s guardians, I learned that they didn’t have a whole lot of structure. I also learned that the dogs would sometimes nudge or paw at them for attention.

While these may both seem to be innocent activities, often they result in what I call the perfect storm. A lack of structure gives the dog the impression it has the same authority as the humans it lives with. If a dog considers you to have the same authority, then listening to you becomes completely optional.

When you combine that with a dog who tells humans went to pet it, and humans who comply, you get a dog that starts to think it has more authority than humans.

So the dog thinks it’s a leader, but the humans treat it like it’s a follower. This causes the dogs to get very confused and frustrated.

I suggested a couple of rules for the family to introduce to help the dogs start to identify as being in the follower position. Enforcing clear rules and boundaries (done the right way, with good timing and technique) can help a dog start to see the human as being an authority figure.

Another great way to help a dog adopt a follower’s mindset is to practice asking it to do something for you before you pet it. I like to call this practice Petting with a purpose.

If the family can get into a habit of only petting the dogs after they sit or lay down, they will help develop a healthy leader follower a dynamic while also reducing much of the stress the dogs feel. Leaders have much more stress than followers.

Because Porter and Heff only listens intermittently, I spent the next few minutes training the dog’s to come on command.

Even though practicing he come this way is overly simple, its surprisingly effective. If the guardians practice this a few times every day for a week while gradually making the dog come farther and farther, they train the dog to come when they call them in more challenging situations.

Because the dogs had a tendency to react to other dogs outside of the home, I wanted to give their guardian some tools that will help the dogs learn to look away when they encounter dogs on walks.

The above video is a ridiculously short sample of the wealth of knowledge provided in Karen London’s (CAAB) book, Feisty Fido. If you’re reading this and have a dog who is reactive to other dogs went on a leash, I highly recommend you pick up this book.

We were able to finish up the session by going out for a short walk in the neighborhood to do some leash training. On our walk we encountered a couple of other dogs and Porter and Heff were able to control themselves. While walking them, one of their guardians told me that this was the best behaved that they had ever been on a walk around other dog’s.

The reason for our success was the timing of our corrections and the techniques that we introduced and practiced in the house. As a dog behavior as I can execute these techniques without even thinking. It’s going to take Porter and Heff’s guardians a little practice, but that will quickly help them develop the timing and technique required to keep their dogs from getting into trouble.

By the end of the session, both dogs were responding to commands much faster, they were sitting in front of their humans rather than nudging them for attention and had a nice calm energy.

Once the dogs and guardians practice the techniques and exercise we introduced in the session enough, they will be able to achieve this common balanced state all of the time.

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This post was written by: David Codr