Teaching Sandy to Listen to Her Owner When Outside

By: David Codr

Published Date: July 22, 2013


Sandy is a six-month-old German Shepherd mix. Her owner contacted me because she had a tendency to almost ignore her him whenever she went outside, even while on a leash.

When I arrived, Sandy met me at the door but didn’t bark a single time. In fact she was probably one of the most well mannered dogs that I’ve met on my sessions. Since she was so well mannered, i skipped my normal start of session interview and jumped right in.

I started out with an exercise to test how reactive Sandy was to clear confident authority. It was obvious that Sandy is a very intelligent dog as she got it very quickly. After testing her a few times, I coached her owner through the exercise so that he can repeat it a few times a day while ramping up the degree of difficulty for the next week or so.

There are a few rooms in the house that Sandy’s owner wanted her to stay out of. Because of her persistence, he had been using baby gates to block her access to these rooms. While this is effective way to restrict the dog’s access, it’s hardly convenient. Having to open up, jump over or move baby gates frequently gets really old, really fast.

I prefer to claim areas as my own to communicate to the dog that the room or specified areas is off-limits. Adding boundaries like this to the dog’s day-to-day life can be very beneficial in terms of helping the dog respect it’s human’s authority.

Sandy’s owner directed me to a closet in the hallway that contained her toys but was supposed to be off-limits.  I grabbed all of the toys and tossed them in the hallway up to the edge of where the carpet turned into tile. It’s easier for a dog to recognize boundaries when there are clear markers and there’s nothing more obvious than the floor turning from carpet to tile.

Every time that Sandy crossed the threshold in an attempt to retrieve one of her toys, I immediately marched towards her invading her space until she backed away. As soon as she reached the tile floor, I immediately stopped advancing. We had to repeat this exercise a dozen times or so before Sandy started to respect the boundary that I had put into place.

Her owner will need to keep a watchful eye on this and any other boundary that he wants her to observe. It’s crucially important that he immediately disagree with her and correct her anytime she passes the threshold to this new new boundary. If the corrections are both timely and consistent, Sandy should learn to avoid going into those areas within a few days.

Next we went out for a walk so I could observe how bad Sandy’s pulling problem was as well as why she wasn’t paying attention to her owner out of the house.

Her owner really did just about everything right; he made her sit at the door before he opened it, he made her remain sitting while he opened the door and she stayed in a sitting position even while he walked through the door. It wasn’t until he was standing outside for a full minute that he gave her the command to join him.

However as soon as she was a dozen paces away from the home, she was clearly on the prowl.  Her head was on the swivel and she was actively sniffing the ground looking for prey. He corrected her on the leash a few times, but it didn’t match her intensity level so she ignored it.

I called him back inside and fitted Sandy up with a Martingale collar before adding my special twist to the leash. I had them repeat the process and was happy to see the dog immediately respond by no longer pulling on the leash as she walked away from the front door to the home.

I took her leash and walked a few houses down the street and back to demonstrate the proper position, technique and corrections to use for a structured walk.

While the martingale leash and collar stopped Sandy from pulling, it did not stop her from sniffing the ground. Dogs can only concentrate on one thing at a time. Because the dog’s nose controls 60% of its brain, this makes it virtually impossible for a dog to pay attention to its owner and sniff at the same time.

As I walked Sandy down the street, I corrected or distracted her every time her nose went to the ground. After only a hundred feet or so, she started walking while keeping her nose off the ground. This is called a migration walk.

Once Sandy understood how I wanted her to walk, I turned the leash over to her owner and followed a few paces behind them. Over the course of a block and a half, Sandy’s owner only had to correct her more three or four times.

Because Sandy is an intelligent dog, it will be important for her owner to continually challenge and maintain high expectations in terms of her behavior to help her feel fulfilled. Combined with structured walks and practice at the leadership exercise that I demonstrated, Sandy should be completely rehabilitated in the matter of a week or two.


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This post was written by: David Codr

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