A Nervous Rat Terrier Learns to Respect the Authority of His Guardians

By: David Codr

Published Date: November 19, 2015

Tucker and Sophie

Tucker (left) is a nine-year-old Rat Terrier who has growled and nipped at the family’s two-year-old daughter. He lives with Sophie, an eleven year old Yorkie who tends to get over excited a lot.

When I arrived for the session, Tucker showed a little bit of insecurity, staying away from where his guardian and I were sitting in the living room. Rat Terriers are usually pretty high strung and Tucker was no exception.

I noticed that whenever the families two-year-old daughter walked near Tucker, he got up and walked away. This is outstanding behavior and something you want to encourage. Id always prefer a dog walk away when its uncomfortable.

My goal for the session was to help change Tuckers outlook so that he identified as being a follower who has less authority than even the two-year-old daughter.

I started out by suggesting a few rules and boundaries that will help the dogs see the humans as having more status or rank than they do.

While we hope that each dog is going to listen and immediately follow any command or correction, any experienced dog guardian knows that’s not always the case.

I went over a few nonverbal communication methods as well as different ways to help the guardians communicate rules, boundaries and limits to their dogs. I call these escalating consequences and it will be important that the guardians apply them consistently and with good timing. Its key to disagree with unwanted behavior right away.

As many of my clients do, Tucker and Sophie is guardians had gotten into the habit of petting the dogs simply for looking cute, being near or even worse; petting them when the dogs demanded it.

When a dog jumps up, nudges or pause at a human for attention and the human complies, the human is inadvertently telling the dog that they can tell them what to do. Overtime this can really screw with the dogs head and give them the impression that they have more rank or authority than they actually do.

I consider petting a dog our way of paying them. To help the guardians start paying the dogs for the things that they want, I showed them how to put their dogs with a purpose.

Because the family has a new toddler brother now, I suggested that the guardians condition the dogs to use kennels. This way the dogs have their own room so to speak. It’s important that the dog has a safe place to go as a refuge when children are too touchy or the dog simply needs a break.

I used a dog bed as a kennel substitute so that I could show the guardian how to condition the dog to go into the kennel on command.

It will be important that the dogs guardian keep the children from going near the kennels or into them. A simple buffer of 2 to 3 feet would be sufficient. This way the dog feels comfortable going into the kennel and doesn’t have to worry about growling or disagreeing with any of the children’s behavior. If the dog feels stressed out or needs to get away if practice is avoidance is Tucker already is and simply moves into their kennel; their safe space.

Over the course of the session I had noticed that Tucker would withdraw or move away anytime anyone reached over to pet him. This is a pretty common behavior in smaller breed dogs as they are often interpreted as pray for larger animals. Their defense mechanism is to be on high alert.

I wanted Tucker to learn that being touched by human in the home was no cause for alarm. I showed his guardian how to use a treat to keep him in place so that she could start touching him while also providing him with a positive reinforcer.

Earlier in the session I had the mother and the two-year-old sit on the floor and practice giving Tucker treats from the child’s hand. I suggested that she continue this process and practice thi earlier in the session I had the mother and the two-year-old sit on the floor and practice giving Tucker treats from the child’s hand. I suggested that practice this exercise a few times a day for the next week or two.  Asking the dog to come to the child and sit politely in front of her to receive a high-value treats, we can help the dog create a positive association with the two-year-old.

By the end of the session both dogs were interacting more respectfully with the members of the family. The more the guardians practice the techniques and exercises we went over, the more the dogs will identify as being in a follower position. As this mindset takes hold the dogs will learn to defer and move away from the children anytime that they are uncomfortable with their behavior.

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