Teaching Roxy and Adi to Calm Down, Listen to and Respect Their Owners

By: David Codr

Published Date: January 16, 2015

Roxy and Adi

Allow me to introduce Roxy, a six-year-old Manchester Terrier mix pictured her on the left with her room mate Adi a four-year-old Pomeranian German Shepherd mix.

Their owners contacted me for help with the dogs excitement and reaction to guests who arrive or are visiting. In addition to barking at guests when they knock at the door, the dogs often bark when a guest moves about inside the room after their arrival. There was also a concern about Roxy’s licking and possessiveness of the family’s young toddler.

When I arrived for the session, both dogs barked in alarm, but Roxy’s bark had more bite to it. Additionally she continued to bark in a territorial way for several minutes after I arrived. I usually wait it out, but after a few minutes I had her owner put her on a leash and hand it to me. The second we added the leash, the barking stopped.

I suggested that they place Roxy on the leash when she starts one of these barking episodes and continues on past 3-4 barks. While Adi was barking as well, it seemed more reactive and did not continue as Roxy’s did so I told them to ignore his outbursts for now.

After observing the dogs for a few minutes it was clear that while Adi was the higher energy dog, the main issues were Roxy’s territorial reaction coupled with a a bit of insecurity. Both dogs were operating under the impression that they were equal to or superior to their owners. A classic example of this was their disregard for their owners corrections when the barking kicked in. A second would be Roxy’s possessiveness of the toddler. Her owner mentioned that she would snap and even growl when Adi got too close to them as she had picked out a spot near them that she was claiming as her own.

While many humans think its cute when a dog starts to look after a child, this is a serious matter. Dogs treat puppies far differently than humans so infants. If Roxy see’s herself as the mother or “owner” of the toddler, she may feel its her place to correct or disagree with the child if it does something she disapproves of. Additionally dogs sample things with their mouths, including a number of things like scat that are not desired to be in contact with the toddler.

I offered a few ways to disagree with the licking as well as how to establish a boundary around the child. Its great for dogs and children to have a close relationship, but there should be appropriate boundaries and limits in place to keep the child safe and communicate to the dog what is expected and not allowed.

Because both dogs are higher energy, I stressed how important regular walks are and how much of an impact they will have on the dog’s behavior and responsiveness to their commands and corrections. Its not as much fun to walk a dog in Jan as it is at other times of the year, but unless their owners regularly drain their unused energy in a constructive way or provide an outlet to release that energy, the rehabilitation process will take more effort and time.

Next we went over some new communication methods that had an instant impact on both dogs. By communicating in a way the dogs understand, it is much easier to get them to behave or stop engaging in unwanted behaviors. I also suggested some escalating consequences to apply when the dog’s disregarded any order or correction.

Because the dogs did not recognize or respect their owners as being in a position to correct or disagree with unwanted behavior, I went over an exercise to help change this perception. The exercise involves the human placing a high value treat on the floor and communicating to the dog that it need to keep a respectful distance until given permission to get it by their owner. In addition to helping the dogs see the owners as being authority figures, this exercise will help the dogs learn to respect boundaries, restrain themselves and lam themselves down.

Because the dog’s territory and aggression was most intense when guests arrived, I went over a technique that will allow their owners to claim the space around the front door. We practiced a guest arriving with each dog separately and then with both dogs together. While their owners were able to easily claim the door and control the dogs one at a time, it was a bit of a challenge when they were together.

We kept at it and after some dry runs, their owners invited a neighbor to come over and knock as an actual guest. It took their owner about two minutes after the first knock before they had the dogs away from the door and calm enough to open the door. Once the guest was inside, the dog’s energy level and barking escalated again, but their owners stuck with it and within another minute had calmed the dogs down and stopped the barking.

The neighbor came inside and sat down to finish this practice greeting. The dogs didn’t show as much respect for her personal space and tried to jump up on her for more attention. This time, their owners made a sound to disagree with the jumping up and the dogs responded right away. Once they were calm and sitting politely in front of the neighbor she started to pet them and mentioned how nice it was to be inside the home without all the excitement and barking that was the case for previous visits. That’s always great to hear in a session.

I suggested that their owners text each other when they return home and knock on the door as if they are a guest to practice claiming the door. The more we practiced a guest at the door, the less reactive and intense the dogs were to the knocking. The  more exposure and practice the dogs have at staying away from the door when guests knock or enter, the less reactive they will be. In time they will go to the boundary we established and sit and wait for the guests to arrive, knowing their owners have the situation under control.

While both dogs have some things to work on, Roxy will likely be the more challenging dog. Her owners had to repeatedly disagree with her and move to the escalating consequences repeatedly with her where Adi responded to their verbal warning the first time consistently.

By consistently disagreeing with unwanted behavior or energy as soon as it starts, their owners will be able to communicate what behavior is and is not wanted. As the dog’s respect for their owner’s authority increases, they will find it easier to disagree and redirect the dog’s attention when there is a knock at the door. This will also affect the dog’s responsiveness and persistence at defiantly engaging in unwanted behaviors like licking the baby or attempting to claim space or items in the home.

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