Reagan Learns to Calm Down and Listen to Her Owners

By: David Codr

Published Date: December 17, 2014

ReaganReagan is a one year old Mini Goldendoodle who doesnt listen to her owners, constantly pesters them for attention and pulls on the leash.

Usually my client’s dogs jump up on people or the furniture. Reagan is the first one Ive worked with who jumped up on top of a table. Don’t get me wrong, she jumped up on the couch, chair and ottoman too. In fact Reagan moved in a sort of loop. Jump up on the couch, jump up on one of his owners on the couch, jump off, jump on the table, jump off, jump on me, back to the table. The photo in this post isn’t blurry cause I’m a bad photographer … You get my point.

I started off by showing her owners how to claim their personal space. While love is never a bad thing, petting a dog that jumps up on you and basically demands you pet it actually reinforces and likely escalates the behavior. But because she is such a cute dog, her owner didnt even consider that it wasn’t appropriate. After showing her how to claim her personal space and the couch, I suggested that they adopt the “No Free Lunch” method. This involves only giving the dog attention and affection when it engages in actions or behaviors you want to encourage.

Instead of petting Reagan when she scratched her owner’s leg for attention, her owner told her to sit. Once she did, they started petting her while repeating the command word of sit. By consistently dismissing her attempts to control her owners, and redirecting their dog into a sitting position before providing attention and affection, they can help Reagan start to see and identify herself as a follower.

Next I showed them an exercise to help Reagan learn to focus while giving the dog direction and corrections. It only took Reagan two repetitions before she got it for me, but she was showing some insecure body language; hunched over, stiff, lowered head, avoidance and slow movement.

I noticed that her owners had also been petting her any time she was in a fearful or insecure state. They did this in an attempt to sooth and calm the dog as many humans do. But when you pet a dog in an insecure state, you are actually reinforcing that state of mind. Its possible that this constant petting, stroking and affection overlapped into some insecure moments and inadvertently reinforced the fears they were trying to soothe away.

Because the focus exercise can be a bit of a challenge, especially for dogs with lower self esteem, I changed things up and we worked on a basic recall exercise. At first Reagan was slow to react and maintained her stiffness and slow movements in a cautious sort of way. We kept at it and after about 10 reinforced recall commands, you could start to see a little pep in her step. Once that started, it was awesome watching the confidence return. Head gradually tilted up, reaction was faster and eventually, a completely confident trot over to claim each treat.

I suggested that they repeat this exercise periodically and especially any time she felt insecure. Its important for a dog to literally move forward when dealing with fears as it helps the dog get over them.

Next I coached her owners through the focus exercise. It took a little longer for them as they started off with slower, gentler movements. To a dog, clear, confident leadership is the most respected. This is best communicated with crisp, well timed movements, but her owner was a little slow and almost passive in her movements at first. But she stuck with it and a few minutes later successfully completed the exercise. I watched as her other owner practiced the exercise with equal success. I suggested that they continue the exercise for the next week or two while gradually increasing the level of difficulty.

By the end of the session, Reagan was contently sitting and sleeping on the floor instead of on the couch. She tried several times to get up, but her owners now knew what to look for and were correcting her before she attempted to jump up on the couch. Now that they know what to look for and how to communicate what they want, Reagan’s days of pawing and jumping up for attention are over.

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