Following Through Helps a Pair of Dogs Learn to Listen to and Respect Their Guardians

By: David Codr

Published Date: April 12, 2015

Riley and Jordie 2

Riley (left) is five-year-old Black lab mix who gets over excited, jumps up on guests and shows no respect for personal space. Jordie (Right) is a one-year-old German Shepherd Mix who gets overexcited, gets into trash and jump on guests.

When I arrived for the session, both dogs started barking but for different reasons. While Jordie’s bark carried more of an excited “someone is here” message, Riley’s was more of a territorial warning. His body was stiffer and when he barked, he stayed in place. Jordie was bounding around the entryway and consistently retreating away each time she barked.

When their owner invited me inside I kept my hips and shoulders facing the dogs knowing they had a habit of jumping up. One of my tricks of the trade allowed me to introduce myself to them in a very dog-centric way. I waited just inside the door for a good three minutes as they met / investigated me. I wanted to make sure they didn’t jump up so I kept them in front of me and distracted them when it appeared that they were considering it.

Once they walked away, I followed their guardian into the living room and sat down with the rest of the family so that we could discuss what they wanted to get out of the session. Normally I like to chat with the guardians while I observe the dogs for a few moments before getting started.  But because Riley and Jordie kept trying to claim me or invade my personal space, I jumped right into communicating to the dogs I wanted them to keep a respectful distance.

I was sitting down at a L shaped couch that had a coffee table in front of it. Both dogs kept trying to get in-between the coffee table and the couch where there wasn’t a lot of free space. I started out by using a hissing sound to disagree when one of the dogs started to walk towards that area. I always like to disagree with unwanted actions or behaviors, but when the auditory warning didn’t work, I followed it up by standing upright and turning so my hips and shoulders were facing the offending dog.

Standing up with your shoulders back and chin up facing the dog is the most authoritative posture a human can adopt. Each time I stood up and faced the dog this way, they stopped advancing and turned to walk away. I had to correct the dogs 3-4 times this way before they walked a few feet away to lay down. It took about three minutes of consistently disagreeing with their attempts before they gave up and laid down.

This is a great example of being patient and following through when dealing with an unwanted dog behavior. Most people stop correcting the dog the second, third or fourth time and this conditions the dog to keep pushing and trying when its guardian disagrees with something. Guardians failing to stay with it or follow through is probably the cause of half of all the dog behavior problems I deal with. But because I stayed consistent, the dogs determined that I was not going to back down and decided to give up themselves.

Later in the session one of the dog’s guardians told me how impressed she was that I got the dogs to stop invading my personal space so I made sure to point out how important it will be for her to repeat the technique after I leave. When a dog climbs up or leans against a person, it usually means there is a deficiency of respect and it can also lead to insecurity. This was clearly the case with Jordie who spent most of the session leaning on or trying to lean on her owner.

Next we put Jordie into her kennel so I could work with Riley one-on-one. He clearly considered himself in a position of authority. Over the course of the session I observed a number of dominant behaviors from him including baring teeth and nipping when corrected. Seeing a dog bare its teeth can be unnerving and while it is a warning, it is not necessarily a sign of aggression.

I went through a leadership exercise I like to use that helps a dog learn to focus, introduces the concept of boundaries while placing the human in a leadership position. The exercise also helps the dog learn how to restrain itself which is a great skill to develop in any dog. I place a high value treat on the floor then claim it in a way a dog would, then walk away in a very measured way while communicating to the dog that its to leave the treat alone.

I went through the exercise a few times with Riley myself and he seemed to get it immediately so I asked one of his owners to give it a try. While it started out ok, Riley quickly disregarded the rules and started to use his quickness and athletic advantage to simply go around his owner to get the treat. I had his guardian try again but we ended up with the same result.

The layout of the home included an indented section where the living and dining rooms met so I positioned Riley’s guardian to use the confines of the floor plan to reduce the available space for the dog to get around him. Bingo. Once we made this change, all the members of the family were easily able to block Riley from getting around them. Each time Riley laid down to say he gave up, we turned to the side and tapped the floor by the treat to let him know he could have it.

After going through the exercise with Jordie with equal success, I suggested that their guardians practice this exercise with the dogs daily for the next two weeks. By working with the dogs one-on-one every day, they will be able to develop stronger self restraint ability while also seeing their owners in a leadership position.

While she isn’t a troubled dog by any means, it was clear that Jordie was a little anxious and insecure. From my conversation with her family and observance of the dog it was clear that Riley dominated Jordie in many ways. While dogs need to work some things out on their own, its a guardians responsibility to step in if one dog is trying o assert itself over another dog in a damaging way. Working with the dogs individually and together, I could see a difference in Jordie so I showed their bowers how to interrupt and disagree with any play or behavior that becomes confrontational or dominating. This will help with Jordie’s self confidence and also provide an opportunity to communicate to Riley that he is not in charge.

We discussed some basic rules and structure for the family to adopt to help the dog’s see their guardians in the leadership position. In addition to defining their personal space, I made a number of other suggestions like feeding or walking the dogs in a structured way, pausing whenever starting an action or activity that gets the dogs excited (like getting out a leash), and how to communicate and disagree with the dogs using body language and movement.

Next I went over a little secret that helps you train your dog while reinforcing the leader follower dynamic without even thinking. Its a simple matter of refraining from petting your dog for no reason. Instead, whenever you want to pet your dog, ask it to come, sit or lay down first. As soon as it does, give it the affection while repeating the command word 2-3 times.

Once you get used to providing affection to your dog this way, you do it without even thinking. Even better, so does you dog. And each time you do, you are using positive reinforcement to condition your dog to follow you. Its like a three second training exercise you will subconsciously do tens of thousands of times over your dog’s life. This is one of the easiest, most bang for your buck way to get your dog to listen to and respect you.

By the end of the session, the dogs were pooped and their owners were impressed with their transformation. I made sure to point out that there will be setbacks and challenges as its natural for a dog to forget and fall back into a previously developed habit or behavior. But by staying constant and working on the little things, their guardians should be able to help Riley stop trying to be a leader and Jordie continue to develop her confidence and self esteem.

Riley and Jordie Crashed

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