Helping a Pair of Lhasa Apso’s in Los Angeles

By: David Codr

Published Date: November 4, 2015

Trixie and Gigi

Trixie (Left) is a six-year-old Lhasa Apso who lives in Westwood California with her partner-in-crime Gigi a seven-year-old Lhasa. Their guardian called me in to put a stop to their frequent accidents.

When I arrived for the session, the dogs took turns jumping up on me, their guardian and the furniture. At one point Trixie jumped up on the couch, climbed onto a nearby table, then started pseudo digging on the table top; scattering papers all over the floor.

We sat down so we could discuss the dogs and what their guardian wanted to accomplish in the session. I had been sitting for all of 60 seconds before Trixie decided to pop a squat and pee on the floor right in front of her guardian and myself. Her dog’s guardian was puzzled as to why the dogs eliminated in the house this way, especially when a puppy pad was laying on the floor a foot away.

Before I got into the dog’s potty issue, I wanted to find out a little more about the dog’s behavior and day to day life to get a gauge for what kind of structure we were dealing with. It didn’t take long to learn there was virtually none.

When a dog jumps up on its guardian the way these dogs did, it was a clear indication they did not respect her as an authority figure. While the dogs clearly loved and trusted their guardian, the lack of respect for her authority had led them to believe that they were her equal or that she was subordinate to them.

A big reason for this was a complete lack of rules and structure. Because the guardian had not placed any rules or limits in place, the dogs assumed that they must be the rule makers. And if a dog thinks its the rule maker, then the next step is to think of itself as an authority figure.

Compounding the problem was the fact that the guardian looked at correcting the dogs as being mean or not loving them. But just like a child who gets everything he or she asks for, petulance sets in pretty quickly.

I asked the guardian to stop petting the dogs for the time being so I could show her how to offer petting and attention as a way of rewarding the dog for desired behaviors.

Not only did Trixie get up on her guardian and the couch, she got up on the arm rest and back of the couch too. Because dogs equate their status within the pack by how high they sit compared to others, this perch was a problem.

As I explained this and that the dogs did not respect her as an authority figure, the guardian disagreed telling me the dogs stopped when she told them no. But in the few moments we had been together, she had asked them to get off the table, not to pee on the floor yet the dogs did as they pleased.

I spent a few minutes discussing this with the guardian as no change will be possible until she accepts and realizes that the current leader follower dynamic is broken.

To her credit, their guardian came around to the fact that the dogs were misbehaving. But then she started to lament that she had been “doing it all wrong for six + years.”

I explained to the guardian that dogs live in the now and even though they had developed some bad habits, we were going to change them.

I suggested a few simple rules including that the guardian not allow the dogs on the furniture for at least 30 days (longer if they are still having accidents on the floor). This rule will help the dogs start to really see their guardian as more of an authority figure.

After going over some rules and structure to adopt, I learned that the dogs only knew the most basic of commands; sit. When dogs have such a limited set of skills, its common for them to lack self esteem. Just like humans, dogs feel a sense of pride when they master a new skill.

To start building up some self esteem, I walked Gigi through a simple recall exercise.

When we started the recall exercise, Trixie moved to a position under the table and refused to come out. When I work with multiple dogs, I like to use a little bit of jealousy to get the dogs to get interested. Usually once they see the other dog getting treats, they become more interested and come over to investigate. Not Trixie. You will learn why a little later in this session write up.

While Trixie didn’t participate, Gigi did with gusto. Not only did she pick up the recall right away, she started to add in other polite actions and behaviors on her own like sitting instead in front of her guardian instead of jumping up.

Her guardian was a little confused as to when to say the “come” command so I explained that she should only give the command once, then not repeat it again until the dog sits in front of her and gets the treat. I only repeat the command word as the dog is chewing. This reinforces that its good to follow the command; in this case, come.

Next I turned my attention to the dog’s habit of jumping up on their guardian as they saw fit. I explained how to claim her personal space as well as the escalating consequences I use when a dog gets into trouble or doesn’t listen.

By consistently disagreeing with the dogs when they fail to respect their guardian’s personal space or jump up on the furniture, we can communicate that there are new rules in place.

Each time the guardian corrects the dogs or disagrees using these escalating consequences, their respect for her will grow.

As I was going over these consequences, Trixie decided to come over again. At first she came over to where I was sitting and tried to jump up on me. I blocked her then used a hand motion to put her into a sit. As soon as her butt was on the floor I offered her a treat, but she kept on turning her head away.

I thought that she may have an issue with taking the treat out of my hand due to blocking her so I dropped it on the floor in front of her. After sniffing it first, she picked it up and chewed on it as she walked over to her guardian.

When I asked the guardian to use the same hand motion and then give her a treat, the dog did the same head turn. But what I saw next is something I have never seen before. The guardian went over to open the dog’s mouth with her hand to put the treat into her mouth. Thats right. The dog was so spoiled, the guardian had to literally put the treat into her mouth!

I was so shocked at seeing this I was temporarily at a loss for words. This was probably the best illustration as to why the dogs did not respect the authority of the guardian or her apartment. I made sure to communicate to the guardian how that was completely inappropriate and asked her to promise me that she would never do that again.

Because petting, affection and attention were given to the dogs so freely, I suggested that the guardian stop petting the dogs unless the dogs did something for her first.

I have always called this petting with a purpose, but when I saw how wide the guardian’s eyes got when I said no more petting, I had to back up. I repeated why this was so important but the guardian was coming from the perspective that not petting the dogs was akin to telling them she didn’t love them.

To put this into a more human perspective, I told the guardian to consider petting the dogs as telling them thank you. As such, its only appropriate to pet / thank them when they do something for her. like sitting, coming or laying down.

This small petting change will be easy to adopt for the guardian. If applied consistently (No petting for simply being close or looking cute) this will help the dogs start to try to engage in desired behaviors (sit, come, lay down) to get her attention rather than scratching, jumping up or demand barking.

Knowing that the dogs are going to try to get up on the furniture and that the guardian is a soft touch, I showed the guardian how to condition the dogs to use a dog bed next to the couch.

Its going to take a concerted effort by the dog’s guardian to get them to accept that they are not allowed on the furniture. But by rewarding the dogs for going to Asia, we can provide them with an incentive to do so.

Next I wanted to go over feeding time as adding a little structure to the ritual can go a long way towards changing how a dog perceives the authority of their human.

This turned out to be a bigger project than I initially thought. Their guardian gave the dogs twice as much food as needed and left it in the bowls along with some rice. But when food is this accessible, it lesses then dog’s desire for it.

In the wild, dogs only eat when they find some food by hunting or scavenging. This means there are times when it is hungry but no food is available which motivates the dog. But in a domestic environment when food is always available, the dog has no such motivation.

Because eating is such a primally important activity, in the wild dogs eat in an ordered fashion. The leader eats first, then the other dogs eat in order of their rank.

By leaving food in the bowl all the time, the guardian removed any motivation while also allowing the dogs to eat before she did. This double wammy really did a number on the leader follower dynamic between human and dog.

I suggested that the guardian dump the food from their bowls and wait until the next day to feed them. But when she did, to do so in a very structured way;

  1. Placing food in the dog’s bowls, but not allowing them to eat it until given permission.
  2. The guardian eating a few bites of a solid food while the dogs waited outside of the kitchen where their food bowls are located.
  3. Calling the dogs into the kitchen to eat individually based on whoever is calmer when its time for them to eat.
  4. Each dog has a maximum of three minutes to eat her food. If the dog is still eating after three minutes or it walks away from the bowl before the three minutes is up, the guardian should dump the contents of the bowl into the bag and replace the bowl to the floor. At that point, the dog needs to leave the kitchen completely.
  5. After the first dog leaves the kitchen, only then should the guardian give the second dog permission to enter the kitchen and eat her food with the same three minute time limit as the other dog.

By adding this structure to feeding time, the dogs will quickly adopt a more respectful perception of their guardian as they will see her as providing and having dominion over their food.

The last thing we went over was potty training.

Because of the dog’s near total lack of rules and structure, their guardian was starting to feel a bit overwhelmed so we stopped the session early. I suggested that their guardian start with the more regimented feeding routine and enforcement of the new rules and boundaries (No furniture for 30 days, etc) for now. Once she makes it through these issues, we can do a follow up session to work on their leash manners and other problems.

But by the end of the session we were already seeing an impact. Both dogs had stopped trying to get on the couch, Gigi was sitting in front of her guardian when she wanted attention instead of jumping up or scratching and they were starting to hang out on the dog bed on their own.

Its going to take a concerted effort by the dog’s guardian to stop petting them for no reason and to remember that enforcing rules is not equivalent to “being mean.” But as she does these things, the dogs will start to see and identify her as their authority figure. This will result in more respectful interaction and communication between all parties. Once the new feeding ritual takes hold, their guardian will be able to apply the potty training technique to stop the dogs from eliminating everywhere they please.

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