A Couple of Big Dogs Learn to Respect Their Human’s Authority

By: David Codr

Published Date: June 29, 2015

Rocky and Chelsea 1

For this session I worked with Rocky (left), a three-year-old great Dane mix and his roommate Chloe, a four-year-old boxer. Their guardian called me into work primarily with Rocky who has recently started marking inside the home after being corrected by the family’s grandmother, not always listening and an obsession with the family’s lizard.

Whenever I have a dog who is marking in the house, I know that there is a leadership dynamic that needs to be changed. When dogs are together in a group it is usually the top dog who does the marking. To put an end to Rocky’s marking activity, we need to make sure that he understands that there is already a leader in place.

In the course of discussing the situation with the dog’s guardians, I learned that they really didn’t have any rules or limits they were expected to follow. Additionally each time that the dog came near one of his guardians, they immediately reached over to pet the dog.

To start to change the leader follower dynamic in the home I suggested a number of simple rules for the family members to adopt. Each time that a member of the family corrects the dog for violating one of the rules, they become more of an authority figure in the dogs eyes.

I also suggested that the members of the family start petting the dogs for a reason and refrain from petting them any time that they nudge or paw at the human for attention. When the dog asks for attention this way, they are essentially given the human an order. If the human complies by petting the dog or giving it attention, essentially they are assuming a follower position in the dog’s eyes.

I suggested that in the future whenever the dog nudges them for attention, they give the dog a counter order to sit or lay down. Once the dog assumes the new position then the guardian can provide attention or affection while repeating the command word for that action (sit or lay down). This positive reinforcement helps redefine the leader / follower relationship while giving the dog the opportunity to practice a desired behavior.

Next I asked one of the dog’s guardians to go and get the dogs leashes so I could judge their reactions. While these dogs did not have the strongest reaction, they did react and started to get excited the instant they realized their guardian was retrieving their collars and leashes.

As soon as the dog started to get excited, I had their guardian replace the collars to the hook in the closet then return to the kitchen table. We sat down and waited for the dogs to settle down completely before he got up and tried again. It took three attempts but eventually the dog’s guardian was able to get their leashes and walk over to where the dogs were while the dogs remained completely calm. In fact, Rocky was so calm he laid down on the floor while his guardian held the leash.

Rocky and Chelsea 2Next I demonstrated a leadership exercise that I have developed to help dogs learn to restrain themselves while also seeing their guardians in a leadership position. This exercise involves the guardian placing a high-value item on the floor, claiming it as a dog would by standing over it, then backing away from it in a measured manner.

After practicing the exercise with Rocky three times, I coached his guardians through it until they got the same result that I did.

I managed to capture one of Chloe’s repetition of this exercise in the video below. Please excuse the slight out of focus quality of this video. I captured other video segments of them completing the exercise but those videos took the dog much longer to complete. I rarely show this exercise in action, so even out of focus, this is a Dog Gone Bonus!

To address Rocky’s obsession with the family’s lizard, we went into the bedroom where the lizard lives. As soon as Rocky was allowed into the room, he immediately rushed over and got up right next to the cabinet the lizard lives in. While he was not in a hyper excited state, he was intently focused – almost in a hunting sort of way.

I showed his guardians how to get the dog to move away from the lizard, then dragged my foot on the carpet to create a boundary line about 5 feet away from the lizard’s cabinet.

Rocky attempted to return to his position in front of the cabinet a moment later ,but was easily moved away with a simple disagreeing sound. After this simple correction the dog moved beyond the five foot boundary and laid down on his own.

Rocky and Chelsea 3I suggested that his guardians repeat this correction and practice the exercise with Rocky frequently over the next week or so. The more the dog practices restraining himself and keeping a respectable distance between himself and with the lizard, the better equipped he will be to observe it without wanting to kill it.

To address the dog’s habit of barking and rushing out the door, I had one of their guardians step outside and play the part of a guest knocking on the door. As soon as the dogs heard the doorbell, they started barking and rushed towards the door. I got up and walked over to the door casually. As soon as I passed the dogs, I turned so that my back was to the door and my front was facing the dogs.

Rocky was the most excited dog so I focused my attention on him. I started walking directly at Rocky which caused him to start backing up. I continued walking towards the dog until he retreated about 10 feet away from the door. This was the boundary line that I wanted the dogs to stay behind in the future.

Once Rocky was behind the line, I walked backwards to the door again and then repeated the process with Chelsea. Once both dogs were behind the boundary I walked backwards to the door again, then stopped and reached over to the side to jiggle the door knob while keeping my chest facing the dogs. As soon as the dogs heard the sound of the doorknob turning, they started to rush towards the door again. As soon as they started to move forward, I made a sound to disagree with their movement and took a sudden deliberate step towards them. As soon as I did this, both dogs stopped in their tracks then moved backwards behind the boundary.

I walked backwards to the door again, paused then reached over to my side to jiggle the doorhandle while keeping my chest facing the dogs. This time the dog stayed in place so I was able to open the door.

I had the guardian go back outside so that we could practice this exercise again with the other guardian answering the door. It took her a little bit longer to get the dogs behind the line but eventually she was successful. Watching her open the door while the dogs remained behind the boundary with a big grin on her face put a smile on mine as well.

Rocky and Chelsea 4

By the time we finished the session, the dogs were responding to their guardian’s commands and corrections without hesitation. They were showing respect for the humans personal space and even starting to mind the new rules on their own. These mental exercises and boundaries clearly took their toll on the dogs. Rocky laid down on the kitchen floor and was ready to crash before I left.

Rocky and Chelsea 5As the family members practice these exercises and new techniques with the dogs, they will be able to further enhance the leader follower dynamic they want to achieve. Once the dogs are self identifying as being in a follower position, this new more respectful behavior will become their new normal.

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This post was written by: David Codr