An Excitable Pair of Dogs Learn to Control Themselves and Respect Their Guardians

By: David Codr

Published Date: July 16, 2015

Rusty and Patches 1

For this session, I worked with Red Heeler Rusty (left) and her Corgi room mate Patches. Their guardian called me in to help with some inter pack dynamics, both dog’s barking and over excitement when guests arrive and their pulling on the leash. This was a special case as one of their guardians utilizes a wheelchair and their pulling and excited behavior on walks was pretty hard to control.

When I first arrived, both dogs were excited, but Rusty was in a hyper alert state. Usually a dog only enters a this state when hunting, in a life or death situation or when a working class dog is on duty. Because a dog is extra focused and “on” in this state, its something that should only happen for shorter durations. But as I discussed the situation with her guardians, I learned that Rusty was in this state almost all of the time.

Its not healthy for any creature to be in that sort of state for too long. Additionally it is exceedingly difficult for a human to get a dog in that state to pay attention to them. To help Rusty start to relax, I claimed all the toys in the room as she was fixated on them as if they were prey. I also disagreed with her when she started to get too focused or intense on anything going on in the room. Most of this was subtle, using body positioning and movement to block the dog and help it “turn off.” It took about 15 minutes, but eventually the dogs laid down and entered a completely calm state.

When multiple dogs live together, its common for them to attempt to raise their energy level to match the highest dog in the group. Now in nature this is usually with balanced dogs so the highest energy isn’t out of control. But in this case, these dogs had little to no self control so I separated them so that I could teach their guardians a few exercise that will help them develop this skill.

Next I asked their guardian to show me how he got them ready for a walk. Many dogs start to get over ectied the instant that they realize they are going for a walk. They realize the walk is eminent due to small movements or gestures that the humans go through each time. We call these “triggers” and they are the markers that get a dog’s attention. For a walk, these can be something like opening the cabinet with a dog’s leash, putting on a specific pair of shoes, the giggle of the leash clips, the sound of house keys, etc.

By recognizing these triggers, we can break an a captivity down into multiple parts. When you have a dog that has a real psychological issue or gets over excited, practicing each step or trigger one at a time is a very effective method to helping a dog learn to relax and stay calm.

It didn’t take long to spot the first trigger, the dog’s guardian exalted in a loud and excited voice “you ready to go for a walk?’ as he wheeled towards the door to the garage. As soon as the dogs heard him, their energy level doubled and they rushed to the same door, racing to squeeze out in front of him. By the time he got to his electric wheelchair in the garage, the dogs were barking and nipping at one another in a highly excited state. Once he transferred to the electric wheel chair and tried to put them on the leash, the dogs were going bananas; Patches nipping at Rusty and Rusty biting the leash.

I called him back into the house to start over. The first change was to remove Rusty from the equation. The dogs were clearly feeding off one another’s energy and it was just too much for anyone to deal with. I have to give their guardian a lot of credit. He has been walking these dogs in a frenzied state like this for years!. This would be an extremely difficult task for anyone, but when you consider he was doing this from a wheelchair… I was extremely impressed.

This time I had him simply move silently to the garage without announcing his intent. Once he got to the door, I showed how to claim the space to keep Patches behind him. This is a position I recommended her guardians try to adopt at all times. It literally puts the dog in a follower position which will help to redefine the leadership structure in the house.

We went through a number of methods, but eventually worked up to asking the dog to stay inside the house as her guardian went into the garage and got into his electric chair. By making the dog wait, she was calmer and much easier to manage, although her ability to stay will need some work.

We broke things down into small steps and practiced each one. While it may seem simple to pull down an armrest, this was a trigger that caused Patches to bark and get excited so we had to repeat it and correct her over and over until she stopped reacting and stayed calm.

Once we made it all the way to leashing her up and opening the garage door, we were ready to venture out. It had taken us a good 45 minutes, but the time was a wise investment as she was finally able to stay calm as they headed out of the garage for a walk.

As we headed out, Patches tried to pull out in front so I fitted her up with a Martingale collar and added my special twist to the leash. I showed her guardian how to use it to keep her in position without pulling the whole time. It took a number of timely corrections, starts and stops, but eventual we were able to get to the street without the dog pulling.

We changed up dogs and brought in Rusty. In retrospect, Rusty really needs a separate session with me for her issues with the walk alone. I could instantly see that she was not at all comfortable walking next to the electric chair. This was not the case with the manual chair, so working with her fear or nervousness in another session will be an important part of her rehabilitation process.

Just as with Patches, we broke the process of getting ready for a walk into small manageable pieces to help Rusty deal with them. By stopping each time she started to get over excited, we were able to help Rusty calm down and process what was going on, step by step.

Once we returned from the walk, I sat down with their guardians to discuss what we went over and how best to move forward. Because there were so many issues related to the walk for both and electric wheelchair for Rusty, I suggested that they focus their attention on the exercises we went over inside. These will help the dogs learn to relax and start seeing themselves in a follower position. Only after this foundation of calmness and respect is in place will the dogs be ready to work on their excitement and anxiety of the electric wheelchair and walk itself.

Their guardians were impressed with how much progress the dogs made in the course of this five hour session. The dogs were much calmer but I was especially proud of how far Rusty had come. She had stopped engaging in her hyper alert mode and had adopted a looser body posture and calm energy. Seeing her laying on the floor relaxing and just chilling out was a great way to end the session.

Rusty and Patches 3

I look forward to getting back to work with this pair of dogs in a month or so once their guardians have helped them master staying calm and in control inside the house. This will bring balance to the house and for Rusty, a well earned reprieve from being “at work” for the last six years.

Soak it up Rusty, your new life has just begun.

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