Riley the “Disturbed” Wheaten Terrier learns to Relax and Stay Calm

Layla and RileyLayla the Bulldog on the left lives with Riley, a 3 year old wheaten terrier. Riley’s owner called me in to help put an end to his over excitement, help him relax as well as listen better to the members of the family. She had titled her email to me, “Deeply loved but deeply disturbed wheaten terrier,” and her message ended with, “he is crazy and he’s taking me with him! Please help.

I got a first hand look at Riley’s craziness as soon as I walked in the door. He was spinning in circles, breathing heavily and repeatedly jumping up on me. Usually I like to start my sessions by discussing the situation with the owners while I observe the dog, but I was forced to jump right in. I showed them a technique to stop Riley’s jumping up while I explained that Riley was attempting to “claim me” and any other guests as his own.

Riley protested when I corrected him, but that way the last time he jumped up on me during the session. Now he did jump up, but each time he did he would catch himself mid air and by the end of the session, you saw he was stopping himself before he event jumped up.

If everyone in the family uses the technique the next few times Riley jumps up, they should be able to stop that habit completely within a few days.

Next, I demonstrated a leadership exercise that will help Riley learn to focus while also elevating the members of his pack to leadership status. It only took me a few repetitions to get Riley to lay down on the floor and stop challenging my position of authority. As soon as he understood what I was asking from him, I coached the members of the family through the exercise with varying results.

Although everyone was eventually successful, the youngest daughter needed quite a few more repetitions than the other members of the family. She was giggling and hesitant in her movements which to a dog conveys a lack of confidence or seriousness. Most dogs only respect confident leadership and when they sense someone isn’t serious or doesn’t “truly “mean it,” they usually do not respond.

I spent a few minutes explaining this to the youngest member of the family as she was the member of the family the dog respected the least. I later learned that she would sometimes allow the dog to mount or hump her during playtime. While wrestling with a dog is a fun activity, its important we incorporate limits and boundaries and stop the play when the dog gets over excited or engages in any unwanted behaviors.

Next we discussed incorporating a series of escalating consequences whenever the dog violated any rules or boundaries. By utilizing consistent and well timed corrections whenever the dog gets out of line, we can help remind it of its follower position while disagreeing with the unwanted behavior.

But for Riley, the consequences will only be beneficial if he is in a balanced frame of mind. Dogs can only concentrate on one thing at a time to begin with. But if the dog is all wound up, its hard to get it to focus on anything. I suggested that his family incorporate a time out by placing Riley on a leash as soon as he crosses the line of acceptable energy.

By consistently stoping the dog before it gets out of control, we can communicate that behavior is unwanted and results in a lack of freedom. As soon as the dog returns to a calm balanced state of mind, we drop the leash and let the dog do as it pleases while dragging the leash. If the dog remains calm, we can remove the leash completely in 10-20 minutes. If not, the leash is in place to repeat the procedure (Note: never leave a dog’s leash attached this way unless under constant supervision).

Next I demonstrated how to claim the doorway to the home when guests arrived. As soon as Riley hear a knocking at the door, he bounded down the stairs, barking and spinning in circles. I walked down the stairs and turned so my back was to the door, then i marched towards Riley – backing him up the stairs. He attempted to get by me, but once he realized I would continue to block him, his energy level dropped a bit, as did his barking.

I suggested the members of the family call or text whoever is home anytime they are about to arrive so that they can knock on the door pretending to be a guest so the other members of the family can practice claiming the doorway.

The next time we practiced the exercise, Riley’s energy level went up again so I placed him on the leash. As soon as I did, his energy level dropped again. Not all the way calm mind you, but enough that i only had to correct him with the leash two or three times.

By practicing the door claiming and leadership exercise, Riley will start to identify himself as a follower in this pack. Combined with his being given a time out any time his energy level gets too high, he will learns to stay in a calmer frame of mind while relieving him of the stress of his perceived leadership position.

The next time we practiced the guest knocking at the door, Riley hardly barked and needed very little correction to keep him from running around like he used to. The father of the family turned to me and told me that he wanted to apologize for not believing I could help them with their dog. It turns out he wasn’t the only member of the family to have reservations.

Its always great to make difference with a dog who needs help, but knowing I converted a room full of doubters had me feeling as satisfied as my clients this time.

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