A Newly Adopted Pit Mix Learns to Stop Pulling and Barking

By: David Codr

Published Date: June 10, 2015

Sasha 1

For this session, I returned to Omaha to work with Sasha, a one-year-old Lab Pit mix who barks and pulls on the leash.

This is probably one of the best behaved dogs I have ever had as a client. I arrived early and chatted with two of the family’s daughters (so well mannered) while I waited for their parents to get home. As we chatted, I was impressed with how well Sasha respected people’s personal space, responded to corrections and commands and her overall personality.

Her family only adopted her a few weeks ago and its clear that someone spent a lot of time working with this dog. She had a skin condition and the family was guessing her previous owners couldn’t afford to treat her allergies or skin issues so they surrendered her.

With her skin condition issues solved, her new family was ready to work with on the barking and leash pulling.

I started out by having one of the members of the family knock not he door pretending to be a guest so I could gauge the type of barking we are dealing with. As soon as the knocking started, Sasha got up and ran to the door, barking in an alarming sort of way. While there was a little bite to the bark, it didn’t seem aggressive; more alerting and a little territorial.

I got up and walked over to the door casually. Its important to not rush as this can increase the dog’s energy and excitement. Once I got past Sasha, I turned so that my back was to the door and then marched right at the dog. This caught Sasha off guard and she momentarily stopped her barking.

But the lull was short lived. My goal was to communicate that she was to stay on the carpeted floor and not venture out to the wood floor that skirted the room and went to the front door. This would keep her a good 12 feet front he front door way. Often increasing the distance between a dog and whatever it is barking at diminishes its desire to bark. Sasha had stopped barking but was on the wood floor so I took a step towards her to communicate I wanted her to back up. As soon as I took this first step, Sasha started barking again.

I kept marching at her which caused her to back up while continuing her barking. She tried to go around me a few times but I consistently blocked her. All in it took me about three minutes of blocking and correcting her before she got the picture and sat down on the carpeted floor. As we progressed, Sasha’s barking intensity dropped until she was almost barking under her breath.

I suggested that the members of the family text or call each other before coming home so that they can practice this exercise themselves. Usually a dog only needs 6-12 repetitions of the exercise before they start stopping at the requested distance from the door when someone knocks. The idea is the dog is close enough to see the door, but far enough away to stay calm. This way the dog can be there to assist if someone does something at the door, but short of that, the dog lets the humans deal with it.

Next I had their guardian go over to where they kept the leash to see how excited Sasha got. As soon as her guardian was a few feet from the leash, she started to bounce around and her energy level spiked. As soon as the energy went up, I had her guardian replace the leash and return to her seat in the living room. By stopping or pausing as soon as the dog starts to get excited, we can help it understand that it needs to remain calm in order for the human to continue.

Sasha’s guardian had to start and stop four times before the dog was able to remain completely calm as she got the leash. We had to repeat the process when we walked over to the door as she started to get revved up when she saw all the members of the family heading that way.

To help the humans better control the very strong Sasha, I fitted her up with a Martingale collar and added my special twist to the leash. Once we opened the door, Sasha started to get excited again so I had their guardian stop and return her to a sit before we headed out.

While these pauses are not the most convenient, they sure made a big difference. It took less than a minute for Sasha to drop herself into a heel right next to her handlers. At times she did try to dart back and forth so I showed them how to correct this as well as how important it is to reward the dog for walking with a loose leash in the heel position.

Sasha 3

Sasha started out trying to pull as she had before, but because we took our time and paused like we did, her energy level was low enough that she was able to hear and respond to the corrections. The Martingale did most of the rest of the work.

While she did pretty good on the leash, she did start to pull again when she spotted the neighbors coming out of their front door to go to their car. The guardian was able to get her to stop and stop pulling, but it took more effort than I would like to see.

To help further define the walking areas and reduce the dog’s response to these distractions, I pulled out some of the high value treats I use and showed one of the daughters how to use them along with a hand motion to get the dog to sit down.

As soon as the dog sat down next to her, I had her immediately deliver the treat while simultaneously popping the treat in her mouth and repeating the command word. The timing of the delivery of the treat, petting reinforcement and articulation of the command work are vital for the dog’s ability to put everything together.

Sasha 2

The first few times, it took more effort to get the dog to sit than it should so I stressed that they bring out a small handful of the treats and practice asking the dog to sit when out for walks when no one is around. By practicing the sit under those conditions, it will be easier for them to get her to sit when there are a lot of people or activities going on nearby.

After a half dozen treats were delivered, Sasha started to sit faster and with less coaxing needed. It will take practice and patience from her guardians, but because of how great her energy and personality is, I doubt it will take long before the dog gives up these two remaining issues.

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