Adding Structure to Help Romeo Respect the Authority of His Guardians

By: David Codr

Published Date: October 11, 2015

Romeo

Romeo is a seven-year-old Laso Alpso who is a door dasher, nipper, marks, jumps up on people and likes to sleep next to one of his guardian’s head which causes problems due to her Sleep Apnea.

This was an interesting connection as I met his guardian on a flight out to California to work with dogs there about a month ago. I meet dog guardians in need of help in all kinds of places.

When I first arrived Romeo tried to jump up on me to let me know this was his house. I blocked him and after a few attempts, he gave up and walked over to jump up on one of his guardians. They mentioned he didn’t jump up on them as much as he did on guests so I explained why dogs jump up on people who arrive; to claim them or let them know the dog is the boss.

Romeo’s primary issue is his belief that he has equal or greater authority than the humans in the home. Almost every problem that his guardians told me about are directly related to this perception.  After asking what rules he had and finding none and watching him jump into his guardian’s laps any time he wanted attention, I knew I needed to fundamentally change how the dog perceived his rank in conjunction to everyone else’s.

Often a dog’s guardian thinks that they have a good dog because it behaves for the most part in the house. Romeo was no exception. That is unless you asked him to do something he didn’t feel like doing. Whenever this was the case his guardians kept repeating the command word over and over until the dog complied or they gave up.

Its important that a guardian who has a dog that has authority issues always follows through. While it may seem like no big deal for a dog to walk away when given a simple command, its indicative of a dog who doesn’t feel the need to be obedient. If you had a child and asked it to go clean its room and it went into another room and played a game on an iPad, would you simply shrug your shoulders?

After going over how to react when this happens by following through until the dog complies, I ran over some non verbal communication cues and ways to disagree with the dog in a way it understands and respects.

I also suggested that the guardians start to define their personal space and disagree when the dog gets too close or jumps up on them without permission.

To dogs, humans are in the “I mean business” position when they stand up and face the dog. If you are sitting down while correcting or disagreeing with your dog and you don’t stand up, they don’t think you really mean it.

I usually suggest the client hiss at their dog when it is approaching when they know it going to invade their space or jump up on them. I prefer doing this at a distance of about four feet. Usually a dog’s momentum will carry them an extra foot or two so four feet allows this cushion.

If the dog doesn’t stop with the hiss, then standing up abruptly is a clear message to the dog that you want it to keep a little distance.

Now if the human decided they want the dog closer, then they can invite the dog at their discretion. In Romeo’s case, the dog was the one doing the inviting; especially at night, parking himself right next to his guardian’s head.

I always look for ways the make daily activities into exercises that help promote the right leader follower dynamic. This is best accomplished in activities that the dog really enjoys doing like a walk. To see how excited Romeo got, I asked his guardian to leash him up for a walk.

While he wasn’t super excited, he jumped up on his guardian with a “hurry up” and / or “I agree” communication which I would block or disagree with. Also, once near the mudroom where his leash is kept, the dog moved ahead of his guardian.

For dogs, in a very literal sense, whoever is in the lead is in charge and whoever follows is a leader. When Im working with a dog with authority issues, I immediately stop and walk off in the opposite direction once the dog moves in front of me.

Additionally Romeo was too excited to hear his guardian’s “sit” command. It didn’t help that she repeated the command so many times. When we repeat a command over and over, it has a tendency to water down a dog’s respect for the person giving the command.

We repeated the exercise a few times until Romeo was calm throughout. At that point he remained in the follower position the whole way through, didn’t jump up on the guardian and only needed to hear the command twice. He likely would have sat on the first command had the guardian turned and kept him in front of her when he circled her.

To help the guardian improve her timing I went through a leadership exercise I developed a few years ago. It helps the humans practice the escalating consequences I use to disagree as well as practice better body language and the timing.

After only three repetitions, Romeo understood so I walked the guardian through the exercise herself.

She was a little clumsy in her movements and was way too slow in turning to face Romeo when he moved around her. Trust me when I tell you that this exercise is not as easy as it looks. There are a lot of social cues and body language to  read and react to.

By practicing this exercise a few times a day for the next two weeks, while making it more challenging by adding time, Romeo’s guardian will help herself become more fluent in the dog’s native language and help the dog practice watching, following and reacting to the humans in the house.

Because he didn’t have the best recall, I showed his guardians a hand movement that will help entice him to respond to them as well as condition the dog to react right away.

I wanted to do one last thing to help redefine the leader follower dynamic, teach Romeo to hang back and let his guardians answer the door.

When dogs live in a group, its usually the top dog who is in charge of security. Romeo had decided that it was his job to do this for this pack. So when anyone came to the door or walked in front of what he saw as his domain (his front yard), he would sit at the window and bark or race ahead of the humans to the door.

When we answer a door and the dog beat us there and didn’t move away before we opened it, they see it as the human assisting them. This is why Romeo barked and jumped up on anyone as soon as they came through the door. He wanted them to know he was in charge.

I had one of my client’s head outside and play the part an arriving guest so I could show the other how to claim the area around the door. By communicating to the dog that the human has the situation under control and disagreeing with it if it tries to take over, we can help Romeo know he is no longer needed in that position.

After showing the guardian how to claim the space, we reset the exercise so that she could do it on her own.

By claiming this space first and making the dog move away before opening it, we can help Romeo understand its no longer his job. The guardians will need to pay close attention to the dog and keep their hips pointed at him for the next week or two while they practice this so that he completely changes his behavior at the door. If they start turning their back early or fail to disagree with him if he crosses the boundary he will revert back to thinking he needs to do the job.

By the time we practiced correcting Romeo from getting on to the bed, his guardian only needed to use a few minor corrections. But because she disagreed with him the instant he got up, he quickly got down and soon understood he wasn’t allowed up without permission anymore.

Usually when Im asked to fix a dog problem, its because its a nuisance. But in this case, the dog’s behavior were really causing an issue. Sleep Apnea is a really crappy thing to doe with on its own. I considered it a privilege to be able to give the guardian the gift of removing the dog’s presence from making it even more challenging.

If the dog refuses to get off the bed, then the next consequence is to put it on a leash tethered to something across the room. By limiting its access this way if the dog gets up in the night or refuses to get down, the dog will quickly stop breaking the no bed rule.

It will be important that both guardians disagree with Romeo any time he gets onto the bed on his own. When one person enforces a boundary and the other does not, it causes the dog to continuously test the enforcer by violating the new boundary. But when both guardians are on the same page, the dog falls into the new behavior much faster.

In addition to the dog’s sleeping location making it difficult for the guardian to sleep, Romeo’s perch above his guardian’s head gave him the idea he has more authority than she does. This perception is the cause of many of the dog’s issues. When you have a dog that is nipping to correct a human, then you have a glaring issue that needs to be addressed. This is not normal or appropriate dog behavior.

When I corrected Romeo for getting up on the couch, he growled, nipped and even bit my feet a few times. These are not acceptable behaviors and are usually warning signs of worse behavior to come. But by gradually disagreeing with the things that caused the dog to think its ok to disagree with humans, we can help it adopt more of a passive, follower behavior.

Its entirely within the dog. By the end of the session Romeo was interacting with his guardians much more respectfully, respecting their personal space and heeding their corrections right away. If both guardians are consistent in enforcing simple rules, boundaries and limits and support each other, Romeo will quickly realize that his behaviors are inappropriate and stop.

There is a good dog inside Romeo. If his guardians are vigilant and strict about enforcing the new structured, he can become a truly great dog.

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This post was written by: David Codr

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