Teaching Toby to Behave Inside and Stop Chewing Holes in his Kennel

By: David Codr

Published Date: July 12, 2013


Toby is a Pit Bull mix currently being fostered by a couple of my former clients.

They had contacted me for help with a few unwanted behaviors that Toby was exhibiting: biting on them when they were playing, not listening or following commands and getting so over excited he was border line out of control.

When I arrived Tobi jumped up on me which is bad behavior but nothing that unusual for me when meeting a client. However his energy level started to rise and continued to escalate until he was literally out of control running around the room, jumping on the couch and literally bouncing off the walls.

It got so bad that I had to physically restrain him and hold him down until he was able to calm down. Usually i avoid holding a dog or getting physical, but at this point Toby was probably one of the most out of control dogs I’ve ever worked with, and thats saying something.

Each time I let him go, he would remain calm for a short period time (20-45 seconds) before reverting back to his overexcited behavior; jumping up on us and the couch, biting and just spazzing out.

I attempted a leadership exercise with Toby to see if I could get him to focus on object and wait for permission to retrieve the object. I was successful, but it was clear that the exercise was going to be too advanced for his current state of mind.

Since his foster parents kenneled him i asked them to go grab it and bring it into the living room. I chuckled when I saw the kennel because Toby had literally chewed a hole in it big enough to stick his head out, see pic below.

His foster parents told me that the only way that I would be able to get Toby in the kennel was to pick him up and physically place him inside. I never do this unless absolutely necessary as anytime we physically manipulate a dog, we do not give it the ability to learn from the experience. Additionally, the dog will resist which changes it from a learning experience to more of a challenge or negative experience.

Standing a few feet away from the open kennel I tossed in a tasty treat and Toby walked right into the kennel to get it. I repeated this a few times just to make sure the Toby didn’t have any negative stigma or feelings towards the kennel.

Once I was satisfied to Toby was comfortable going into the kennel on his own, I tossed in another treat then followed behind him so that i could block him with my legs from exiting the kennel. I gradually stepped back away, one step at a time, and only let Toby exit the kennel after he settled down and laid down inside of it.

Toby laid down so quickly the first time that I was concerned that he was simply laying down due to being tired as opposed to communicating to me he was not disagreeing with my request for him to stay in the kennel. After a few repetitions, one of his foster parents asked if she could try repeating exercise with him. However when she took her position in front of the open kennel door, Toby would either try to rush out of the door or started barking at her.

During an exercise like this you never want to step away from a dog when it’s barking because it gives the dog the impression that you are moving away from it because of the barking.

After coaching his foster parent through the exercise it became obvious that Toby simply had too much pent-up energy inside of him. We decided to take him outside for a walk along with one of the foster parents dogs, a pitbull named Debo.

The foster parents had kept Toby’s separated from Debo and their other dog Roscoe – out of fear that there may be a fight based on the overexcitement, jumping up and out of control behavior shown by Toby.

Based on the behavior that I saw Toby exhibit, it’s clear that these foster parents made a wise decision in that regard. In a pack environment, unbalanced behavior is not accepted. Usually when a dog starts display unwanted behavior like what Toby was displaying, the pack would attack him, not savagely, but to tell him that that behavior was unacceptable.

Normally the pack would do it as soon as the behavior started to occur, but iI this case Toby had been getting worse and worse over a few weeks because which made for a potentially dangerous situation as the unwanted behaviors and overexcitement had not been addressed.

By taking their pitbull out with Toby on a walk, and making all the dogs walk side-by-side with neither in front and neither behind, the dogs were able to introduce and meet each other in a controlled, safe and noncompetitive environment.

I incorporated a walking technique that I use called “the long walk” because both dogs were pulling on the leash, probably due to some form of competition, as both were trying to walk in front of the other.

For the long walk, I walk the dog at a close heel and stop every 1, 2, 3 or four steps (Randomly) and I do this over and over again for the duration of the walk. Every single time that I stop, I command the dog to sit down next to me. As soon as it does, we start to walk again.

The lesson? Pulling on the leash = stop and sit. No pulling on the leash = continual movement forward.

At first the dogs had a really difficult time sitting at each stop. Most likely because neither wanted to look subordinate to the other. However we required both dogs sit every time that we stopped and after about a dozen or so times the dogs started to sit faster and with less protest.

On the way away from their home I positioned the humans next to each other with the dogs on their outside hip. On the way back, I had us switch positions so the dogs were walking side-by-side. Because it was a hot humid day, the dogs were clearly becoming fatigued with our short jaunt.

At first we walked the dogs about two or 3 feet away from each other, but gradually closed the gap between them until they were walking inches from each other. Because we were in control of the situation and walking them in a structured way there were no dustups, fights or aggression shown.

When we returned to their home we placed the dogs out in the back fenced in area and supervise them for the first interaction off leash. Well, they were still leashed, but we werent holding them allowing the dogs to just dragging them aroundI wanted to leave the leashes attached in the off chance that a fight or incident occurred so that it would be easy to separate them.

Both dogs displayed nice nonaggressive body language and behavior, sniffing each others rears and crotches and eventually engaging in some light play activity. After a few minutes, the play activity started to get a little bit more enthusiastic. It was not aggressive, but because he is a foster dog and because we wanted to make sure that the experience was positive only, we separated the dogs and gave them a few minutes to calm down. Once they calmed back down, we let them play with each other again which they did In a nice calm way.

I suggested to their foster parents that they spend a week walking the dogs in a similar fashion and then letting them interact with each other at the end of the walk in a controlled supervised environment when they are both tired. This is a great way for the dogs to get to know each other and ensure everyone safety.

By the end of the session, Toby was laying on the living room floor quietly and no longer challenging us to get up on our laps on the furniture or anything else. Both foster parents commented that that this was the demeanor and behavior they were looking for.

To ensure that Toby stays in a calm, balanced frame of mind it will be important for his Foster parents to take Toby out for regular walks in a constructive manner as well as work on leadership exercises like staying in the kennel until they give him permission to exit.

In addition to lowering Toby’s energy, i advised them to start incorporating consequences such as restraining him on a leash or putting him in his kennel when he starts to get too excited or shows other behaviors we dont want.

On the other side of the coin it’s equally important that we reward and encourage Toby whenever he displays behaviors that they do want, such as laying down at their feet, allowing them to pet him without his trying to chew on them, sitting on command etc.

Powerful breeds need clear rules and boundaries in place combined with regular structured exercise to help them stay in a calm balanced state of mind. It took nearly 5 hours, but by the end of the session we achieved that goal. With additional practice over the next week or so, Toby’s out of control behavior will become a thing of the past.

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This post was written by: David Codr