Training a Pair of Malibu Dogs to Listen to Their Guardians

By: David Codr

Published Date: June 20, 2016

River and James Brown

River (left) is a two-year-old Mini Australian Shepherd who lives in Malibu with James Brown, a six-month-old Corgi mix who has some potty issues, gets over excited at times and doesn’t always listen.

The dog’s guardian met me outside of their home as she had to let me in through the gate. When we opened the door to the house, the dogs were more excited to see her and somewhat ambiguous about me. Well at least initially. After they circled around and jumped on their guardian a few times, they came over to investigate me. After a few sniffs, River started doing some barking while Brown started jumping up on my shins.

It’s normal for dogs to get excited when we come home, after all we are some of their favorite people. But when they get so excited they jump up and stop listening, its more than communicating that they are happy to see us again. If we pet them while in this excited state, that is what we are agreeing with.

How we pet and interact with them can have a profound impact on the dog for the rest of its life. A good example of this is jumping up. Puppies learn this behavior when their mother stops breast-feeding them as I alluded to in the above video.

We misinterpret this jumping up on our shins as being cute as well as a request for attention, so we start to pet the dog. But in reality, what we are doing is training the dog that jumping up on the human is how you say “pet me” or “pay attention to me.”

I was able to explain this to their guardians as well as offer an alternative way of saluting their dogs when their other guardian arrived for the session.

When you have puppies or little dogs, it is so hard to stop petting them anytime they come over and jump up, scratch at or playfully bark at us for attention. But if we consistently respond to these requests, over time it can give the dog the wrong impression; that we will follow their instructions.

When you combine the dog’s being able to tell the humans what to do with a lack of rules and structure, it can quickly give the dog the impression that it has the same authority as the humans. When a dog thinks it has the same authority, than listening to you becomes optional.

I spent the next few minutes going over an easy  way of providing a dog with positive reinforcement with a little structure. I call this Petting with a purpose.

It will take the guardians a determined effort over the next couple of days to stop petting their dogs when they jump up on them or simply for looking cute. If they can get into the habit of asking the dogs to sit or lay down before they pet them, while simultaneously repeating the command word, they will help the dog start to engage in desired behaviors for attention. Over time, this interaction will help the dogs develop a healthy respect for the humans as authority figures and create a healthy leader follower dynamic in the home.

The dogs lower level of respect for the guardians was apparent when we started to practice asking them to come on command. As long as there was nothing else the dog was interested in, they listened. But whenever the dog felt like there was something better to do, they simply ignored the guardians.

Just like any other skill, the recall exercise takes a little practice. I pulled out some high-value treats and then showed the guardians how they can use body position and movement to entice the dogs to come to them more reliably.

Because the dogs live in the hills outside of Malibu where coyotes are common, mastering the recall exercise would be near the top of my priority list. You want the dogs to come running any time that you give them a recall command. By utilizing positive reinforcement while practicing the recall, the dog’s guardians will train their dogs to come on command every time.

Another valuable skill is to teach the dogs to respect boundaries. Earlier in the session I had gone over a series of escalating consequences that I like to use whenever a dog breaks a rule or violates a boundary.

One of the guardians had to leave the session early for an appointment which gave us an opportunity to go go over a technique that would help the dogs guardian establish a boundary of several feet away from the door to the home.

Both dogs responded very well to the new techniques and will get even better with practice. The more the guardians run through these techniques, the better the dogs will get at them. And the better their timing and technique gets, the more responsive the dogs will be.

By the end of the session, the dogs seemed to be recalling quicker, we’re starting to sit to ask for attention and respecting the new escalating consequences.

Because both dogs are so young, it shouldn’t take them long to change their behaviors, but the guardians will have to lead the way. It’s going to be up to them to be consistent in their application of praise and corrections within three seconds of the dog’s complying or breaking the rules before these new improved behaviors become habit.

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