Teaching Shadow to Listen to and Respect His Guardian

Shadow (mix)

Shadow is a two-year-old Pomeranian mix who lives in downtown Omaha. His guardian set up a dog obedience training session with me to stop dog barking, help with some separation anxiety, fear of loud noises and bicycle / skateboard reactiveness.

Shadow splits time between two residences so we met at the one that he is more familiar with. I sat down with his guardian to discuss the situation and what she wanted to accomplish in our session. During the conversation I found out that she often used Shadow’s name when disagreeing or correcting him from doing things that she didn’t approve of.

If you repeatedly call your dog’s name when he’s engaged in an activity he would rather be doing, you are essentially training your dog to ignore listening to its name. To help Shadow start to be more responsive to his name, I showed his guardian a exercise that will help her play with him while restoring the positive element of his name.

This exercise will help Shadow start to become more responsive to his name. However, the guardian also needs to practice a recall exercise separately so that she can use a different command word to call the dog to her rather then risk re-training him to ignore his name.

An easy way to do this is to simply pet your dog and say the word “come” anytime it comes over to you. If you can give it a treat and say the word “come” simultaneously, even better. This sort of positive dog training works wonders because the dog starts to associate coming to you with something good happening.

I also recommended that the guardian start to incorporate some simple boundaries and rules. If a dog does not have any rules and gets to tell it’s guardian when it is time to pet them, this can cause the dog to believe that it has the same or more authority than the humans. Whenever that is the case, then listening to the humans becomes optional. This is a big part of why Shadow does not listen to his guardian as well as she would like him to.

Next I addressed shadows dog reactivity win on a leash. This is often referred to as leash aggression.

When you have a dog that thinks it has the same authority as the humans, and is also not the most balanced dog to begin with, it’s a recipe for problems.

The Watch is a great exercise because it teaches dogs to redirect their attention away from a dog it would normally bark at, and instead look up ad it’s guardian to receive a positive reinforcement.

I spent a couple of minutes demonstrating the watch exercise with Shadow’s guardian.

It took a couple of minutes, but eventually Shadow started looking up at me more frequently to receive the reward. It’s important that we are patient when we first start this exercise as we need the dog to look up at us voluntarily, not try to call them or use a treat to get their attention. We use the treat to reward them AFTER they look at us.

Now that Shadow understood the basics, it was time for his guardian to practice the watch exercise with him herself.

I recommended that Shadow’s guardian practice the Watch exercise several times a day, every day. Because this exercise only takes a minute or two, it’s very easy. Most people forget to practice because it’s such a short and easy exercise. That’s why I usually recommend that people incorporate the Watch exercise into their smart phone’s daily calendar and set up a recurring reminder. By scheduling to do 3-4, one minute watch exercises throughout the day, it’s easy for both the dog and the human. Best of all, this sort of repetition helps the dog pick it up much faster.

While Shadow’s guardian is teaching him to look up at her with the watch, she’s going to need a Plan B to use anytime they run into a dog when she has unprepared. I spent the next few minutes explaining how to implement Plan B.

Shadows rehabilitation strategy needs to be twofold; The first step is to incorporate rules and structure in the house to help the dog start to see and identify as being in the follower position. This will eliminate pressure since the dog won’t feel responsible to guard and protect the human. This will greatly reduce Shadow’s stress which will help in many areas.

At the same time, the guardian needs to practice the Watch exercise multiple times a day until Shadow immediately looks up at her anytime he hears the command. Once that is the case, Shadow’s guardian can start to expose him to other dogs at a great distance while utilizing the Watch until he starts looking up at his guardian anytime he sees another dog without prompting

By the end of the session, Shadow was noticeably calmer, was already starting to sit in order and ask for a treat or attention and was responding quicker when we practiced the Watch exercise.

Because Shadow responded so quickly, I’m guessing it won’t take long for his guardian to get him to adopt a new behavior around other dogs via the Watch. The real challenge is going to be for the guardian to consistently enforce the new rules and boundaries on a timely basis. If she can be consistent on both fronts, I don’t see any reason why Shadow stops being so dog reactive by this fall.

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