Spring Training for Summer
Summer is a three-year-old black lab mix who barks at passers by in a territorial way. She had also started to bark at and try to control children and friends if they are running or acting too excited while in the family home.
When I arrived for the session I knocked loudly to see what kind of reaction I would get from Summer. I observed her through the screen door and noticed some slight territorial aggression as she barked at me.
Once inside the door she gave me a good sniff and stopped barking. Her owner said she had noticed that she usually stopped barking and acting that way to people who didn’t act afraid. While this is not entirely uncommon, it can lead to problems for obvious reasons.
When discussing the situation with her owners I discovered that Summer didn’t have many rules she was expected to follow. Whenever you have a dog that starts acting out, especially aggressively, adding clear rules and boundaries is a great way to help the dog understand that they are not in a leadership position.
After helping the family come up with some simple rules to adopt, I went over a few leadership exercises to help Summer learn to look to her human’s for guidance and leadership. These exercises will also help the dog learn to restrain herself. This is a skill that is particularly helpful for dogs as they are naturally reactive creatures.
The primary exercise involved leaving a high value meat treat on the floor and communicating through body language that the treat was off limits. When I asked my client if they thought I could get the dog to ignore the treat without saying anything, they laughed and said no way that could happen. I love it when clients respond that way.
I dropped the treat on the floor and only had to correct Summer a few times before she laid down to communicate she had given up. As soon as she did I turned to the side and tapped near the treat to communicate that she could have it.
After practicing the exercise a few times I coached the members of the family through it with equal success. By practicing this exercise daily for the next few weeks, Summer will learn to defer to her human’s when in doubt as well as to see and identify them as being in an authoritative or leadership position.
Next we went out into the back yard as Summer had developed a habit of running up and down the fence line barking territorially when the neighbors dogs were outside. It only took one correction for me to get Summer to stop this activity and stay away from the fence line.
When the neighbor let out their second dog, Summer started to tense up, lowered her head and started in the direction of the other dogs. As these are communication cues that can be a precursor to barking or other territorial behaviors I pointed them out to her owners and offered a few ways to get Summer to snap out of it. Its always easier to get a dog to stop a behavior at the start. If you wait until the dog gets all worked up, getting the dog to stop or back down is much more difficult.
When the family said that they never saw Summer ignore barking neighbor dogs like she was now, I knew that this was a successful session.