Teaching Rambunctious Rufus to Calm Down and Listen

By: David Codr

Published Date: January 26, 2016

Rufus and Burton

Rufus (left) is a one-and-a-half year old German Shepherd who lives in Encinitas with Burton, an eight-year-old German Shepherd. Their guardian asked me to help correct Rufus’s occasional protective behavior around the family’s new baby, stop his pulling on the leash, get him to listen better and not get so excited.

One of the first things I addressed in the session was Rufus’s pulling behavior while on the leash. With a newborn baby joining the family, obviously Rufus needs to learn to walk on the loose leash and heel position so that his guardian can focus her attention on her new baby.

I always like to start my walking segment by going over some rules and structure. Communicating exactly where you want the dog to be and correcting with good timing is of paramount importance when teaching your dog to walk next to you in the heel position.

I took the leash and walked around a bit to demonstrate how to position and correct the dog while using a martingale.

By adding the special twist of the leash, we can tap into the science and feeling of comfort that is provided when a dog feels a constriction around his chest. This is the same principle that works on newborn babies with their mothers swaddle them.

Now that I demonstrated the proper position and technique, Rufus’s guardian was ready to take the leash and lead her dog.

It only took a couple hundred feet before the dog got comfortable with the new leash position and the guardian started to correct him with the proper timing. When using the Martingale collar with this twist of the leash, it’s crucial that you disagree with the dog before it gets out of position.

Within a couple minutes, Rufus was walking next to his guardian in a heel and paying attention to her, so I decided to take it to the next level and hand the guardian Burton’s leash too.

Anytime I have a client tell me that they’re able to do something for the first time due to my help, it puts a big smile on my face and this was no exception.

When we returned from the walk, I noticed that each time that Rufus got close to his guardian, she instinctively reached over and started to pet him. While petting a dog is not a bad thing, it’s important to take in the context what the dog is doing at the time we provide attention and affection.

I spent the next few minutes going over a technique that I like to call Petting with a purpose.

It will take their guardian a couple of days to a week before it becomes habit to pet her dog after he does something for her. But once this become second nature, the guardian will be reinforcing a healthy leader follower dynamic every time she pets her dogs.

Because the family just welcomed a new born into the home recently, I wanted to show the guardian how she can communicate with her dog nonverbally.

Just like Petting with a purpose, it will take the guardian a couple days to a week or so before she starts using these escalating consequences without even thinking about them.

To help the guardian practice using these nonverbal communication cues, I walked Rufus through a leadership exercise that I developed a few years ago.

Rufus picked up on it pretty quickly. As soon as he seem to get it, I coached his guardian through the exercise as it will be important for her to practice this on her own after the session.

I recommended that the guardian practice this exercise separately with each dog daily until she’s able to get them to leave the treat alone for 10 minutes. By gradually asking the dogs to restrain themselves for progressively longer periods of time, we help them develop the ability to self control. This will be an important skill set especially for Rufus.

Because newborns sleep is such a precious commodity, I wanted to show the dogs guardian how to claim the area around the front door which will lessen the quantity and volume of barking.

By claiming the space around the front door before opening it, the dogs guardian will be able to communicate that she is handling door security and does not need the dog’s help. By asking the dog to stay several feet away from the door but within visual site of it, we give it the ability to assist the guardian on an as-needed basis.

After demonstrating the exercise myself, we reset it so that I could coach the guardian through it on her own.

It will be important for the guardian to pay attention to the direction that her hips and shoulders are pointing when she practices this exercise (and the escalating consequences) for the next week or two. Once the dog has practiced enough, they generally stay behind the boundary you’ve communicated to them on their own. Thats why It will be important that the guardian pay close attention to all the details of the exercise for the first 10 to 20 times. This way the dog learns to practice good technique.

One of the added benefits of this door answering ritual is it usually stops the dogs from over barking. This will obviously be a quality that will be very much appreciated for the dogs guardian so that they don’t wake the new baby.

By the end of the session Rufus was listening to his guardian and showing more respect for her personal space.

Rufus is not a bad or aggressive dog, he is simply youthful and full of energy. Now that his guardian has the tools to walk the dog under control, she will be able to take him out for a walk anytime he shows that he has too much unused energy. Combined with regular visits from a new dog walker, Rufus should be able to start better control himself.

The more his guardian practices the techniques and exercises, The faster the transformation in her dog will occur. I’m guessing within a week or two most of Rufus’s nuisance behaviors are a thing of the past.


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This post was written by: David Codr

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