Teaching Scout to Listen to His Owner Instead of Barking at Her

By: David Codr

Published Date: July 2, 2014

ScoutScout is a two-year-old Golden doodle who had a habit of excessive barking, jumping up on guests and digging in the back yard.

I adopted assertive body language when I arrived for the session which had a noticeable impact on his behavior. His owner seemed disappointed that the dog didn’t exhibit any of his “bad” habits when I arrived, so I explained how to use body language to help dissuade a dog from inappropriate behavior.

Dogs respond to clear confident leadership and authority. When they dont perceive it is in place, its not unusual for a dog to think it should assume a leadership position. The best way to change this perception is to build up the human’s authority in the dog’s eyes.

I started out with a leadership exercise I use quite often. It involves claiming a treat on the floor in a way that communicates to the dog that the treat is mine. Once the dog communicates it understands the treat is not theirs, I reward this by giving them the treat.

Usually a dog persists in trying to get around or through me to get the reward before they “get it.” Not Scout. After a single correction he gave up which is good. But when I told him he could shave the treat, it took an absorbanent amount of coaxing to get the dog to take his reward.

Sometimes it takes a dog a few repetitions before they catch on, but the more we worked at it, the more reluctant Scout got about coming over to get his reward. When I mentioned this to Scouts owner, she mentioned that her 19 year old son often wrestled with the dog and that sometimes the dog got too excited and had problems stopping. When that happened, she said a few times her son got a little upset and chewed Scout out.

Just like people, some dogs are more sensitive than others and after working with him this way, it was clear that Scout was on the sensitive side. I suggested that in the future her son stop the play / wrestling when the dog started to get too excited. Its hard for a dog to stop when it gets too wound up. By stopping whenever the dog starts to get to that point and waiting until the dog calms down before continuing the play, we can help the dog calibrate how excited it can get.

To build up some trust and good will, I changed gears and we worked on a basic “recall” exercise. At first, Scout’s responses were slow and inconsistent, but as we continued, you could see his confidence improve until he was almost bouncing over the moment either of us called him.

Once it was clear that Scout was feeling pretty good about himself, we went back to the leadership exercise, but this time I coached his owner through it. It took a little refining before her technique and timing was good enough to really communicate to Scout. But once that was the case, he responded right away and clearly showed more respect for her commands and authority.

Because he pulled on the lash to such an extent that the frequency of walks had gone down considerably, we went out for a quick walk. I put a Martingale collar on Scout and added my special twist to the leash. As usual, it did the trick and stopped the pulling as soon as it was on Scout.

I gave his owner a few tips on leash position, corrections and keeping him in a heel position. It only took her a few corrections in dozen or so steps before the dog fell into an almost perfect heel.

As we walked down the street we spotted a neighbor out walking her dog. Since the sight of other dogs often triggered Scout’s barking, we changed direction so we could get closer.

Per his usual, Scout let out a string of barks, but his owner corrected him and put him into a sit position which stopped most of the barking. I had her reward him for his response and the sit before we continued down the street.

After a few more houses, we spotted another neighbor out walking their chocolate lab. We changed direction again and headed right toward this dog. Each time Scout barked, his owner corrected him and put him into a sit which stopped the barking. After a short pause, we walked a few steps closer before he barked again.

His owner repeated the correction and put him into a sit, then after pausing, we repeated the process until we were only a foot away. The other dog assumed a play bow so we let the dogs play a bit together. Scout’s owner remarked on how much calmer and easier to control he was. This was a result of the work we did before we headed out on the walk and is a great example of how quickly dogs can change their behavior.

By the end of the session, Scout was much more respectful to his owner, stopped barking when she corrected him and was more responsive to her commands. I explained that by practicing the techniques and exercises over the next week or two, these new behaviors will become the norm for Scout from then on.

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