Taming an Unruly (dog named) Bear

By: David Codr

Published Date: February 25, 2015

Bear (Malamute : Lab mix)

Bear is a two year old Lab / Malamute mix who has been showing some aggression at times; when asked to get off the bed or when wife grabbed by his collar recently. His owners have some young grandchildren who visit and although the aggression has been minimal, they wanted to make sure to nip it in the bud early.

Bear met me at the door and was very curious about me and my bag once I sat down to discuss the situation with his owners. Because dogs should meet by scent, I gave him a little leeway to get to know me. But after a few moments of Bear showing no respect for my personal space, I made a sound to disagree. As soon as he heard it Bear backed away and made a sound that some people may mistake for a growl. It was, in fact more of a howl to communicate that he disagreed with my disagreeing.

Bear came back in for a second and third pass, but after getting the same auditory disagreement from me he went over and sat, excuse me, LEANED on one of his owners, literally sitting on her feet. The first few times he did this, I didn’t do anything. I completely understood why he did it. Every time he leaned against her, she petted him.

But the third time he leaned on her, I made my sound to disagree with his actions. Bear was a little startled. but moved away right away. Once he got a few feet away he tilted his head up again and made his howling sound. This time he kept at it so after a moment I stood up and turned my torso until it was facing him. As soon as I did this he stopped protesting and moved away.

I explained to his owner that his leaning on her was inappropriate behavior as he was doing it with some weight. There is a difference between a dog lightly leaning on or against you. But when its applying more than light pressure combined with nudging for attention or lack of respect for the owner’s personal space, it had to be disagreed with.

I went through the escalating consequences that I like to use when a dog is not responding or is engaging defiantly in an unwanted action or behavior. Dogs don’t learn through punitive or punishing he same way humans do and such behavior can also influence the dog to adopt a more physical engagement with the humans and animals they interact with.

The first consequence I use is a hissing sound like a cat would make. I use this sound when I want to say “no,” “don’t do that” or “don’t even think about that!” Its much easier to disagree with a dog before it starts to engage in an action or behavior than after.

As we discussed the sound and the reason why it works so well, Bear’s owner mentioned that when he didn’t respond to the sound she used to make, she would stand up. As it happens, standing up is the second of the escalating consequences I like to apply.

But if the sound or standing up doesn’t do the trick, I suggested that she march directly at Bear and not stop until he moved away or sat down. Dogs often communicate and interact by taking or giving up space. By marching directly at the dog until it sits or turns away, we can communicate we are serious and not going to stop until the dog stops the behavior we disagree with.

Next I went through some other non verbal communication methods and how important it is to follow through with the dog. When Bear was corrected by his owners or if they gave him a command he didn’t want to follow, he would simply turn and leave the room. But this is actually the dogs way of non compliance. Rather than take the owners command or correction, the dog is disagreeing by leaving the area. This, combined with a lack of rules or structure is a big reason why Bear considered himself equal to or having more rank than his owners.

I suggested that in the future they get up and methodically follow Bear until he moves to a room or area that blocks him in. Once that is the case, I told them to stop about 10 feet away and repeat the command or put the dog into a sit. By following the dog and not moving away until it complies or follows a command, we can help the dog understand that it needs to follow the lead or his owners.

I showed them a few leadership exercises to help Bear learn to see and respect them as owners before heading out for a walk. Bear’s owners said they weren’t walking him as much as he would not allow it unless they were both walking with him. I had never heard of this before so I fitted him up with a Martingale collar and added my special twist to the leash.

As we headed out the door, things were normal. He was calm and responsive and showed no signs of stress or anxiety. But once we got about 15 feet from the house, Bear started to turn back to look at the house and his body got a little stiff.

I gave him some encouragement and made it a few more feet before he jumped up and started twisting his body around the leash. I stopped, untangled the leash and then started again. This time I only made it one extra step before Bear jumped up again. I repeated the process a few times with the same reaction from Bear. In my mind there was no doubt we were going to make it past this so I took a deep breath, centered myself and continued.

Once we got to the sidewalk, I started to pause a bit after untangling Bear and putting him into a sitting position. Once I sensed he was calmer, I started the walk again. This time Bear stood up on his hind legs and put one of his paws on my shoulder. Now I’m a pretty big guy, standing 6-1 and weighing … well more than Bear, but I could feel his weight and strength.

After untangling things and waiting for him to calm down while sitting, we started back again. But this time when Bear stood up and put his paw on my shoulder, I supported him with my free hand and started to walk with him in a pseudo standing position. I walked him a dozen or so steps this way until he wanted to get down on his own. Once he did, we walked off down the street with no further protesting.

I went back to the front porch and repeated the process. This time Bear only jumped up once and was easy to get back into a heel position. The third and fourth time we practiced, Bear did not react or jump up at all. I brought out one of his owners so he could practice the exercise to ensure he got the same result. We went through it three times with his owner and Bear did not jump up, pull or protest at all.

By the end of the session, Bear was much calmer, was listening to his owners and was showing respect for their personal space on his own. This is not at all an aggressive case. Bear simply thought he was in a position to disagree with his owners and his walking away reinforced this. Now that his owners know how to communicate with him in a way he understands and how important it is for them to follow through, his days of protesting or disagreeing with things he doesn’t like will stop completely.

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