Introducing Some Rules and Structure to Help Rubble the Bulldog Learn to Behave

By: David Codr

Published Date: June 22, 2015

Rubble 1

Rubble is a two-year-old Bulldog who jumps up on people, doesn’t always listen to commands and barks or jumps up on people when they come into the family’s home.

After discussing the situation with his guardians, I learned that Rubble wasn’t expected to respect many rules or boundaries. A good example was the dog’s reaction to people who visited the family. Rubble would rush the door barking and jump all over them. One of his guardians told me that the only way they could deal with the situation was to put Rubble in the basement. She then proceeded to show me how Rubble had chewed on the flooring by the door from the basement when left down there.

In addition to the avoidable chewing of the wood floor, placing a dog into another room doesn’t give the dog the ability to learn a new behavior or way of acting.

To help Rubble learn a new way of interacting with new guests, I suggested some simple rules and structure that will help the dog learn to control himself. Many people mistakenly think that rules, boundaries and limits are mean when applied to a dog. But because dogs don’t actually speak English, it’s the timing of our corrections and enforcement of rules and boundaries that help them understand what is and is not allowed.

I ran through an exercise to help Rubble’s guardians learn how to effectively establish a boundary and correct the dog when it fails to respect it. While I was able to get through the exercise, it took a prohibitive amount of time so I did not coach the members of the family through it as I normally would.

While we didn’t go through the exercise with his guardians individually, I was able to use it as an example of how to enforce and correct the dog when it failed to respect boundaries. The next step was to invite a neighbor to come over so that I could show Rubble’s guardian how to correct him when he tried to rush the door or jump up on her.

When most dogs start barking at the door, their guardian feels embarrassed that their guest is hearing such a ruckus behind the door. As a result most people rush to the door which often leads the dog to believe that it is either moving the human by its bark or that the human is upset with the person knocking at the door.

So once the neighbor started knocking and Rubble started barking, I got up and walked casually to the front door. As soon as I passed the dog, I turned around so that my back was to the door and my front was facing the dog. To dogs, a human standing erect facing them is the most commanding or authoritative position a human can assume.

With the door to my back, I started walking directly towards Rubble. My goal was to take the territory around the door and claim it as my own while making the dog to back away from the area. As soon as I started to move forward, Rubble moved to my left to try to get around me.  I took a sudden and deliberate step to the left and forward at the same time to prevent the dog from getting past me.

This step puzzled Rubble for a moment and he paused to consider his options. I took advantage of this indecision and took another step directly at Rubble. The step caused Rubble to take a step backwards away from the door. I repeated this process until Rubble was standing behind the line I established; between the tile of the doorway and the carpet of the living room.

My goal was to communicate to Rubble that anytime anyone came to the door he was not to proceed past this line. Rubble attempted to get around me and cross the line several times, but each time he did I got behind him and walked towards him until he retreated behind the line and was standing on the carpet.

Once rubble was standing on the carpet and no longer trying to come into the area around the front door, I walked backwards to the door making sure that my shoulders were squarely facing the dog. After I got to the door, I reached over to the side and jiggled the door knob. As soon as I did this Rubble started to move forward, so I took another deliberate step right at him to communicate I disagreed with that movement.

I repeated this process by jiggling the deadbolt, opening the inside front door as well as moving the handle to the screen door. By breaking things down into individual steps, I was able to correct Rubble each time he passed the threshold I was asking him to stay behind. It took a couple of moments, but eventually I was able to get Rubble to stay behind the line while I opened the front door to the home.

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Rubble was a little anxious and stressed about not being able to run up and jump up on the person as he was used to, but he was eventually able to contain himself. Once it was clear that he was calm, I had his guardian invite her guest to come into the living room to sit down.

As soon as the humans sat down, Rubble came over with every intent of getting over excited and jumping up on her. I carefully monitored the situation and each time that Rubble started to get a little excited, I made a sound to disagree with his movements. After a couple of corrections, his guardian started to make the correction sound on her own and got the same result.

Rubble sat down a few feet away from the neighbor and looked up at her while keeping a respectable distance. You could tell it was killing the dog to not jump up, but with the assistance of a few timely corrections from his guardian, he did just that.

Rubble 2

When the neighbor mentioned how nice it was to come over into the home and have Rubble there but not jumping up on her, I couldn’t help but smile. Later on another neighbor came by and we repeated the process, but this time I had Rubble’s guardian supervise the entire encounter. This neighbor also commented on how nice it was to have the dog keep a respectable distance from him and maintain his control over himself.

I wasn’t as satisfied with this session as I normally am as one of Rubble’s guardians was preoccupied with watching their young children. While not the ideal situation, being a parent obviously comes first so I tried to tailor the rest of the session to the needs of this family. It’s going to take supervision and timely corrections of Rubble each time he starts to get overexcited, but with consistent corrections he will eventually learn to control himself on his own.

By the end of the session we had fixed a number of the problems that his guardians wanted to work on and made progress on those we were not able to fix completely. Rubble was responding to commands right away and even adhering corrections from even the smallest members of the family. With some practice and the continued supervision by his family members, Rubble should be able to figure it out.

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