A Dog’s Guardian Learns to Lead Her Puppy and Let Her Grow Up

By: David Codr

Published Date: July 14, 2015

Remi 5

This is Remi, a one-year-old Boxer Pointer mix who has been nervous and anxious in the car ever since a live turkey hit the windshield when out for a ride as a pup.

While I was discussing Remi with her guardians, I noticed that whenever she got near them, they automatically started petting her. While this dog was better trained and behaved than 75% of my past clients, it quickly became apparent that one of their guardians was treating her as a puppy instead of a dog. She was almost too gentle and accommodating.

While you don’t want to ram into your dog, exclusively coming to or walking around your dog can give it the wrong impression. Dog’s give and take territory as a healthy part of their communication. But since her guardian was always giving up space or coming to the dog rather than asking the dog to come to her, the dog’s self perception wasn’t lining up with what her guardians wanted.

Over the course of the session I pointed out a number of ways to help produce the leader follower dynamic that the guardians wanted. While it may seem like a small thing to make sure the dog doesn’t walk in front of you when you move to the door, this puts the dog in a leadership position literally. By making the dog move away, then going through the door, Remi’s guardians can help her start to self identify as a follower.

To help her guardian project more of a leadership energy, I walked her through an exercise I developed a few years ago. Because the human conducts the exercise and corrects the dog when it makes the wrong move, it helps change the leader follower dynamic. It took four repetitions before Remi’s guardian was able to complete the exercise.

Obviously we needed to go out for a ride so I could see Remi’s anxiety. Her guardians told me it usually took a few moments to kick in and only in one of the guardian’s cars, so we took that one.

I had them show me how they put the dog into the car and ran across another example of the guardians doing it for the dog. Despite the fact that the dog was far more athletic that their guardians (and me), they always picked the dog up and carried her into the SUV.

I asked them to call her out so I could teach Remi to do it on her own and learned that not only did they pick her up, you guessed it, they picked her up and carried her out too! I stopped them from picking her up and tossed a high value treat onto the ground outside the open door instead. Remi started at it for at least a minute waiting for someone to carry her to the treat. Once she realized that wasn’t happening, she jumped out on her own to get it.

Once the dog was standing on the ground next to the open door, I tossed a high value treat onto the drivers seat. Remi jumped up to get it right away. I suggested that they start having the dog get in and out of the SUV on her own from now on.

Once we headed out on the drive, Remi seemed pretty calm to me. But in retrospect she was probably most … observant is the best word for it. She stood up and even propped one leg against the back of the seat for balance. While she was up and alert, there were no signs of anxiety; her energy was normal, pupils fixed, breathing and movement were smooth and steady.

Remi 6

She did almost pace in the front seat, but it was more standing and somewhat invading the driver’s personal space due to not being corrected.

Remi 7

One of her guardians was most concerned that she wasn’t sitting curled up in a ball like she used to. But that dog was a pup and much smaller. Its possible she was even a little drowsy due to motion sickness. But strictly speaking, standing lets a dog use all four legs to balance themselves.

After a few miles, Remi seemed tone getting calmer so I suggested we open the window to see if that provoked a different behavior. It did not.

Remi 8

In fact, the longer we drove, the calmer and more settled in Remi got.

Remi 3

Its quite possible that multiple factors are involved here. Number one, one of Remi’s guardians (the one who brought things to the dog) may have been a little anxious herself out of concern for her dog due to the turkey hitting the car. Dogs have a well earned reputation for being hyper in-tune to their guardians, and I suspect that played a big factor.

But while on the drive, Remi’s guardian told me that she used to pet the dog and feed it treats when she was anxious or scared after the accident. Providing a dog with affection while in an unbalanced state of mind can actually reinforce the exact behavior you are trying to stop. While the impact of the turkey had a negative impact on the dog’s perception of the car, this reinforcement likely made things last longer.

As we headed back Remi’s other guardian mentioned the dog wasn’t anxious when he drove her, although he chalked it up to the car being a sort of convertible. While it could be a contributing factor, it most likely a case of the other guardian’s energy and the petting and treating in the car after the incident.

Because she was so calm on this ride, I offered a few suggestions for future rides, primarily the guardian letting the dog have some slack, standing, sitting is fine as long as it stays calm. But once the guardian realized that petting and treating the dog may be actually contributing she stopped doing so. Today’s result may have simply been a case where my presence distracted the guardians and dog enough to forget about the previous behaviors.

Once back home I decided to work on the leash pulling problem. While they were ahead of the game by setting a lot of solid rules, Remi’s guardians also went the extra yard to make sure their dog got plenty of exercise. Despite the fact that she pulled like crazy.

I pulled out a Martingale and showed her guardians how to use it with my special twist to the leash. The change was both dramatic and effective, stopping Remi’s pulling completely. Her guardian kept repeating how wonderful it was to have the dog walking in a perfect heel the first time she used the Martingale.

After our walk we went back inside to discuss some changes to her feeding ritual that will also help to redefine the leader follower relationship they want.

By the end of the sessional Remi was following commands even better than before (although that was pretty darn good), but what I was most pleased to see was her guardian being more assertive when communicating and leading the dog. Now that she realizes that she was treating Remi as a puppy / baby rather than a dog / young adult, she can change her interactions so that the dog sees and respects her as an authority figure rather than a peer or maid.

If her guardians can adopt these small subtle changes to how they pet, communicate with, walk, lead and feed their dog, Remi will grow more confident in knowing what they want from her and how she can please them. Based on her gentle energy and how quickly her guardians adopted these changes, that shouldn’t take long.

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This post was written by: David Codr

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