Training a Dalmatian to Respect Her Guardians to Stop Her Dog Reactivity

By: David Codr

Published Date: May 31, 2016

Sapphire

Sapphire is a eight-year-old Dalmatian rescue who lives in Omaha. I was called in to help her with her dog aggression, especially to one of the dogs she lives with, an eleven-year-old Schipperke named Siss-e.

When I arrived for the session, Sapphire was in an enclosure outside. Due to her aggressive behavior around Siss-e, the guardian had to keep them separated or a muzzle on Sapphire to make sure that no one got hurt.

Although she was alert, I could sense a little bit of apprehension in Sapphire so I took my time and used some calming signals and soft body posturing to help her feel comfortable during the greeting.

Once Sapphire got a chance to meet through her nose, she relaxed a bit and her body language softened. Whenever possible, its always a good idea to let a dog move at their own pace instead of rushing through an introduction.

As I was discussing the situation with Sapphire’s guardian, I noticed that this Dalmatian was not at all subtle when it came to asking for attention. In of itself, this is no big deal. But when I learned that the dogs did not have any rules either, I started to get a good sense for where Sapphire’s behavior problems were coming from.

Dog’s will naturally try to identify a social hierarchy when they live with other animals. If they live in a home where there are not a lot of rules or structure from the guardians, it’s very common for dogs to start competing with one another for resources. These resources can include food, toys and even attention from the guardians.

Most problematic in Sapphire’s case is that if a dog considers itself to have the same authority as a human, then listening to a human or following their commands and corrections becomes optional.

I knew I needed to change the leader follower dynamic in this home in order to stop Sapphire from reacting negatively towards Siss-e. One of the dog behavior training methods I prefer to use in this type of situation is a technique I like to call Petting with a purpose.

I recommended that the guardians practice this technique with all of the dogs in the home. It will take them a couple of days to a week or so for this to become a habit. But once it does, they will engage in a mini dog training exercise every time that they pet their dogs.

I suggested a number of simple rules for the dogs guardians to incorporate as well. Even though it may seem overly simple to ask a dog to sit before letting it in or out of the door, making them wait for permission to eat and not being allowing it on the furniture, these limits can help a dog to start to identify as being in a follower position.

Sapphire was in a nice calm mood and energy level so I decided it was time to bring out Siss-e. I wanted to get a first-hand view of how the dogs interact with one another.

Anytime that you are going to introduce a dog to another animal or situation that it may respond negatively to, it’s very important to make sure that you wait for both dogs to be in a calm and balanced frame of mind first.

Because Sapphire was a little bit unpredictable around Siss-e, we attached her in basket muzzle to make sure that everything stayed safe.

It’s always important that we recognize our dogs communication cues. Many of my clients tell me that their dogs behavior came out of nowhere, but that is very rarely with the case. Dogs give a number of warning signs before they react, its just that most people don’t know what to look for.

I spent a few minutes going over the warning communications that Sapphire is likely to give before reacting more intensely; staring, lowered head, ears forward, stiff body posture, dilated pupils, licking lips, fast breathing or holding of breath, tail wagging high and in small circles

Watching the dog’s body posture, breathing, ear position, etc give valuable insights as to your dog’s state of mind confidence level. If her guardian can learn to read these signs and disagree or correct Sapphire as soon as the first one is given, she will be able to put a stop to most fights and confrontations before they really get started.

But recognizing a warning is not going to solve this conflict between Siss-e and Sapphire. In order to do that I spent a few minutes going over a counterconditioning exercise that will change Sapphire’s perception of Siss-e into a positive one.

It will be important that the guardian repeat this counterconditioning exercise often but always with both dogs in a calm frame of mind and always stopping before Sapphire approaches her limit. The idea is to help the dogs practice being together while in a calm and balanced state. If we can achieve calm interactions without any fights for long enough while changing the leader follower dynamic in the home, the dogs basically forget to get into conflict with one another.

Another great way to help these dogs learn to live and be together is to practice some structured walking. Dogs get over things by literally moving forward. And because dogs enjoy walks, going out together with both dogs in a follower position can go a long ways towards helping dogs practice being together.

Now if you let the dogs walk all over, they will often start competing to be in the leader position (out in front) which will cause the dogs to compete in an unhealthy way. Thats why we need to make sure the handler is the leader and communicates the rules and expectations for the walk in a way the dogs understand clearly.

With the rules out of the way, we were ready to start our group walk. Because the other Dalmatian Jerry didn’t have any issues with either dog, we left him at home.

I recommended that the guardians take Sapphire and Siss-e out for walks this way every day. Even if the guardian only has time for a short walk, this bonding experience in an enjoyable activity will go a long ways towards the dogs learning to relax around one another.

By the end of the session, Sapphire was looking pretty relaxed around Siss-e. So much so that we were able to sit together for a group shot.

Siss-e, Jerry and Sapphire Post Session

Its going to take the humans assuming the leadership role in the dog’s eyes before the real transformation takes place. This will take some time and plenty of effort by their guardians. But based on how well Sapphire responded to the techniques we introduced in the session and how dedicated her guardian is to making things work, Im optimistic.

I asked the dog’s guardian to follow up with me in a month (sooner if there are problems or questions) as we may be able to modify the techniques and exercises once the dogs get comfortable with them.

Now that the guardians know what the dogs need and how to communicate with them in a way they understand and respect, Im betting Sapphire and Siss-e’s fights will soon be a distant memory.

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