Teaching a Pit Bull Mix to Listen and Respect Her Guardians

By: David Codr

Published Date: April 17, 2016

Sweet Pea

Sweet Pea is a six-year-old Pit Bull mix who is showing some signs of dominance at daycare that was concerning for the facilities manager. She also barks territorially when people knock and or walk by the house and occasionally growls at one of her guardians.

Knowing that Sweet Pea is sometimes reactive to guests, I wore the pants that I had worn to a session the previous day and made sure to have a lot of contact with my dogs before the session so that I could offer some interesting scents to capture her nose’s attention.

I also grabbed a small handful of high value meat-based treats that had a strong aroma and kept them in my hand so that I could offer them to the dog at the appropriate moment.

Because of the steps that I had taken prior to arriving for the session, Sweet Pea did not show any real signs of aggression or territoriality.

However, her energy level was high and it quickly became clear that she did not understand the concept of respecting personal space.

It’s going to be very important for Sweet Pea’s guardians to abstain from providing her with attention or affection when she is in an excited state. Many people mistakenly interpret excitement as happiness when it comes to their dogs. But a dog can be happy and calm or excited and not happy. The fact of the matter is most dogs get into trouble when they are in an excited state of mind.

After my initial consultation with the clients and observing the dog I noticed a few things that made me believe that Sweet Pea was a little bit anxious and possibly even slightly insecure.

The insecurity is most likely a result of the guardians accidentally communicating to the dog that she was their peer rather than in a follower position. I spent a few minutes going over some simple rules and boundaries to incorporate that will help the dog start to see and identify as being a follower and the humans as being in an authority position.

Many people think of rules and structure as a hindrance or something that we only need if necessary. But when it comes to dogs, communicating and enforcing rules and boundaries can go a long ways towards developing a healthy leader follower dynamic.

Another great way to help a dog start to identify as being a follower is to practice a technique that I have developed called Petting with a purpose.

By simply asking the dog to change its state prior to her guardians providing her with attention or affection, they will help Sweet Pea transition from a leader mindset to that of a follower.

Using positive reinforcement is a powerful tool that can motivate a dog to do many things if provided with the right timing and context. But just like any other creature on the planet, sometimes what is required is a way to effectively communicate the concept of “no.” I spent a couple of minutes going over a few new ways that the guardians can disagree with Sweet Pea nonverbally.

It will be important that Sweet Pea’s guardians implement these escalating consequences with good timing; preferably within one or two seconds of the dog breaking the rule or even better – by using them before the dog starts to break the rule.

At first, the guardians will likely have to use the full set of escalating consequences; going from on to another. But if they are consistent in their application, they will notice that they gradually need to use fewer and fewer of them.

To help the guardians practice using these escalating consequences, I went over a Leadership Exercise that I developed a few years ago.

I recommended that the guardians practice the Leadership Exercise several times a day over the course of the next week or so. As the dog starts to understand the rules of the exercise, they will be able to start increasing its level of difficulty by gradually increasing the amount of time the dog has to wait before given permission to take the treat.

Earlier in the session, I had noticed Sweet Pea’s guardians occasionally shoving her away when she got to close or jumped up and they did not want her there.

Unfortunately for them, a shove is often interpreted as a play move rather than a correction to dogs. A better way to disagree with this action is to utilize a few of the escalating consequences that I introduced earlier.

I spent a couple of minutes explaining how the guardians can apply those consequences to this particular problem.

Giving and taking territory is a pretty big part of dog communication so it will be important for the guardians to ask the dog to respect their personal space unless invited to get right in their business.

Because she is a high energy dog, I suggested her guardians increase the amount of exercise that she got, the earlier int he day the better. We came up with with a few creative methods that will be both fun and time savers.

One of the major problems they had when taking Sweet Pea out for walks was her reaction to the guardian’s picking up her leash. As soon as she saw the human grab the leash, Sweet Pea’s excitement and energy level skyrocketed. Obviously this is not the appropriate state of mind for a dog to be in to start a relaxed walk.

I spent the next 15 minutes or so going through an exercise that will help the dog learn to remain calm throughout the leashing process. If her guardians consistently apply this technique for the next 5 to 10 walks, she should stop getting so over excited as soon as they pick up the leash.

I also recommended that they practiced leashing her up a few times a day without taking her for a walk. This process is called desensitization and will help eliminate Sweet Pea’s overexcited reaction to her guardians picking up the leash as it no longer always represents a walk.

To help the guardians have more control on walks, I suggested that they switch from a harness to a Martingale collar. After showing them how to add the special twist of the leash to make the collar even more effective, we headed out for a walk.

While the Martingale collar certainly helped, Sweet Pea was still pulling quite a bit more for the wife that I liked.

I recommended that the guardian’s contact me if the dog continues to pull after they have mastered all of the things we went over inside the house. That way I can have my apprentice Tara stop by for a couple of short sessions to teach her to walk loosely on the leash without any pulling.

By the end of the session, Sweet Pea’s energy and demeanor were much more subdued. She already adapting to the new techniques and exercises, was showing respect for personal space, had stopped nudging for attention and seem to be monitoring her guardians for leadership or direction rather than pestering or jumping up on them for attention.

I would estimate that a third to half of Sweat Pea’s problem is a result of having too much pent-up energy. By taking her out for exercise early in the day, her guardian’s should notice much improved behavior throughout the day.

The remaining behavioral issues were caused by a lack of rules and structure and the dog perceiving itself as being equal in authority to the humans. By consistently enforcing these new rules and boundaries and utilizing the escalating consequences and other techniques we introduced during the session, Sweet Pea should quickly adapt to a followers mindset. Once that is the case, her attempt at dominance at doggy daycare and growling at the wife should stop completely.

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This post was written by: David Codr