Teaching a Doberman to Calm Down and Respect Her Owner

Valkyrie

Valkyrie is a one year old female Doberman. Her owner called me for help with her dog aggression and lack of responsiveness to her commands and corrections.

Whenever I have a client with a higher energy dog, I find that its important to examine the dog’s day to day routine, especially when it comes to exercise. Because of her reactive nature to other dogs, Valkyrie’s owner had cut back on her walks. It didn’t take long to see that she had an abundance of pent up energy. She was very clingy to her owner; jumping up on the couch, leaning her head or paw on her owner’s body to remain in tactile contact with her.  When corrected, she would only temporarily stop an unwanted action or behavior before returning to it or moving over to be physically touching her owner again.

I went over some different methods to disagree with unwanted behavior, i call them escalating consequences. Its important to consistently follow through when correcting a dog or disagreeing with an unwanted behavior. By adding a set of escalating consequences and communicating in a way the dog understands, its easy for the dog to understand what you do and don’t want.

While these consequences and communication will have a big impact, regular exercise will be equally important. Because there will be far fewer dogs outside due to the cold weather, Valkyrie’s reaction to other dogs won’t be such a factor.

I tell clients that a normal puppy needs a 30-45 minute walk every day. But when you have a higher energy dog, that number is even higher. By taking her out on a structured walk where she is at a heel, her owner will be able to practice being a good leader while burning unwanted energy.

I also suggested some rules, boundaries and limits for her owner to enforce from now on. Repeatedly enforcing them in a dispassionate but consistent basis will go a long way toward the dog’s respect for her owner and her authority. This is different that dominating a dog, a practice I do not believe in. I want my clients to be clear, confident leaders to their dogs; looking out for their best interest. Dogs respect and respond confident leadership and thats something you can’t fake.

Next I went through a leadership exercise that helps a dog practice learning to self destain and focus. Valkyrie figured out the exercise immediately, almost too quick. I repeated it a few times then started to coach her owner through it. Unfortunately it quickly became apparent that while she understood the rules and the exercise, the reaction it is designed to elicit from the dog wasn’t there. She would walk away to avoid the exercise or ignore her owner when she gave commands or corrections.

I changed tactics and moved to another exercise that I use to help a dog learn boundaries by using  kennel. We tossed in a high value treat and then followed behind Valkyrie so that I was blocking her from exiting the kennel. I gradually backed away while communicating that she needed to stay inside. It only took a few moments before she relaxes, calmed down and laid down inside the kennel. As soon as she did, I called her to come to me and rewarded her richly.

Her owner took over from there and got much better results that the previous exercise. I suggested that she practice this exercise daily, preferably following a long walk. By repeating the exercise and gradually increasing the length of time we ask the dog to stay calm and laying down inside the kennel, her owner can effectively practice calming her dog down. Being able to get her do to sit or lay down on command before she starts to react to another dog will be one of the more important steps in her rehabilitation of dog aggression.

I went over the warning signs or communication signs that Valkyrie will engage as she starts to react to another dog. By identifying these “tells” and immediately correcting the dog or getting it to calm down before it gets all revved up, Valkyrie’s owner will be able to help the dog learn to not react to other dogs. It will be important to practice the sit and calming techniques at the right distance. The idea is to get the dog so it can see the thing it reacts to, but be far enough away so that it can deal with the situation rather than freaking out.

This way the owner can practice getting the dog to sit and practice being calm with another dog around. As she gets more comfortable, her owner can start to get closer to these other dogs in segmented advances. By only moving a few steps closer each time and stopping before the dog starts to react, we can use repeated exposure with a good outcome to help change her default reaction to other dogs.

By the end of the session, Valkyrie was calmer, was more responsive to her owner’s commands and corrections and was following the new rules we only introduced a few hours before. It will be extremely important for Valkyrie’s owner to take her for regular walks while also practicing these exercises, calming techniques and constant execution of basic obedience commands. As her respect for her owner increases and she masters the ability to calm down, her days of dog aggression will decrease then stop completely.

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