Teaching a Young Giant to Respect Her Owners

BeatrixThis is Beatrix Kiddo aka Black Mamba, a nine-month-old VERY stubborn Great Dane. Her owners called me for help as she had started to escape / break out of kennels then destroy couches. They also said she sometimes played a little too aggressively and frequently gets too wound up.

When I arrived for the session, Beatrix jumped up on me. While this isnt unusual for the dogs I work with, its not a desired behavior. And when a dog is looking you in the eyes when it jumps up on you, that’s a BIG problem (pun intended).

I attempted to use my own technique to communicate that I didn’t want her jumping up on me. Her size made it difficult to implement and when I did, it didn’t have the desired effect. This was my first warning that I was dealing with a very determined dog.

We went into a sitting room where Beatrix’s brand new kennel was to discuss what they wanted to achieve in the session. I sat down on a chase lounge and had an immediate furry companion sitting next to me. I stood up and told her to get off which she did, for about 5 seconds before lumbering back on.

Beatrix’s owners explained to me that this lounge was where she liked to sit. Because dogs perceive rank in a way by how high they sit, I suggested that her owners make all furniture off limits. I had to correct Beatrix several times to keep off, and she would frequently circle me after stepping off to get right back on. Usually a dog will attempt this a few times then give up, but as I mentioned earlier, Beatrix is a very determined dog.

I ended up resorting to an old trick, laying a strip of tin foil across the chase lounge. Most dogs do not like the sight, sound or touch of this material of tin foil and Beatrix was no exception. As soon as I placed it on top of the chase lounge, she stopped trying to get back on it.

While I prefer to avoid using tricks when rehabilitating a dog, Beatrix’s size and determination necessitate using everything in the book.

I went over a few exercises to help redefine Beatrix’s perception of her rank amongst the humans in the home as there is no question that she considers herself an equal. I was able to complete my preferred leadership exercise a few times, but it was one of the most difficult few times I have ever done it. Instead of surrendering, Beatrix kept protesting loudly throughout the exercise.

I decided to have her male owner do the exercise as sometimes dogs can be more confrontational to outsiders. While I was able to guide him through the exercise a few times, Beatrix continued to protest so we stopped. As soon as we did, she returned to her normal behavior, but the intensity of her protest made it clear that we need use more subtle exercises.

I decided to work on conditioning the dog to recall on command. Because this is a non-confrontational, positive reinforcement related exercise it had a calming effect on Beatrix. At first she was only partially responsive, but as we practiced you could see her confidence rise as she realized that recalling on command got her a tasty meat treat. The exercise also teaches the dog that its good to listen to and follow the lead of their owners.

I suggested that they practice the recall exercise a few times a day for the next week inside the home. Once the dog constantly recalls inside, I told them to move the practice outside into the back yard. This is more difficult with all the distractions of being outside, but is a great way to condition the dog to look to and respond to hear owners.

At the end of the exercise, Beatrix was much calmer than before. Her response to some commands had improved, but as I was about to leave, she jumped up on another couch. This time her owner communicated to get off which she did. However it was only to jump up on the couch across the room. When he told her to get off that one, she went back to the first.

Due to her size, I suggested that they place her on a leash when she is defiant like this. Beatrix is a willful dog and its clear that she is not going to go to a follower position easily. Her owners must continue to enforce the new rules of no furniture and follow though each time she gets up. If corrected consistently for a few days, Beatrix will give up on the furniture.

Once the furniture battle is complete, adding additional rules and expectations into her life will help reinforce the follower position. Things like asking her to sit for permission to go through a closed door will be repeated thousands of times over a dog’s life. Each time it sits, its asking permission to go out. Something a follower would do.

I also suggested that her owners stop providing unearned petting or praise. Instead I suggested they ask Beatrix to do something like sit, lie down, etc. By only providing a tactile reward after the dog follows a command, we can help further reinforce the leader follower dynamic.

Its going to be a bit of an uphill battle for her owners over the next week or two. But if they stay consistent, the payoff will be a dog who obeys, knows how to respect boundaries and personal space and most importantly respect her owners.

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