Teaching a Welsh Terrier to Follow and Behave Better

WalterWalter is a two-year-old Welsh Terrier who is reactive to dogs and people sometimes nipping or lunging at people running, riding or skating by. He also gets upset with anyone who dares to leave the elevator before he gets off, rushes the door to his home when guests arrive and doesn’t always listen to his guardians.

At first he was more subdued than normal for a visitor, but after I disagreed with his attempt to claim me by jumping up on me, he started to bark in a territorial / protesting sort of way.

I noticed right away that Walter showed absolutely zero respect for anyone’s personal space. He jumped up on the people and furniture and table as if they were nothing.

For dogs, the higher they sit or stand, the more rank or status they have amongst their peers. It appeared to me that a lack of rules and structure had resulted in a dog that considered himself equal to or possibly superior in authority to the humans he lives with.

After chatting with his guardians for a few moments I was able to confirm that that was indeed the case. I suggested a few simple rules and boundaries that the guardians can incorporate to help the dog start to change his perception of authority and status.

When a dog disagrees by nipping or lunging at other dogs or people, I often consider how the dog sees himself in relation to the guardians he lives with.

Many people mistakenly think that rules and structure are being mean. But dogs basically go through life waiting to be corrected or rewarded for their actions. When we don’t have any rules or limits in a dogs life, we don’t spend a lot of time correcting them. This prevents us from shaping their development and behavior into something that we want. It can also very easily confuse the dog into thinking that he or she needs to take over the leadership role.

I went over a few new ways for his guardians to communicate with Walter nonverbally. I also included a number of escalating consequences that they can apply any time that Walter does not listen or respond to their corrections.

Another issue that I noticed was that anytime the dog got near any of the humans he lived with, they instinctively reached over and started petting him profusely. On the few occasions that they failed to do so, Walter nudged or placed his chin on their thigh as his way of asking them to pay attention to him.

Most humans don’t ever stop to contemplate what’s going on when a dog does this. Basically the dog is telling the guardian what to do; pet him. If the guardian complies, they’re essentially telling the dog that they will follow its orders. When this is repeated over and over it leads the dog to believe that it is in an authority position over the humans. This is the cause for many unwanted dog behavior problems.

I suggested that the guardians start practicing something that I call Petting with a Purpose. This involves asking the dog to sit, come or lay down before providing him with attention or affection.

I attempted to demonstrate this with Walter, but as soon as I started to use the hand motion that I reward the dog with (involves scratching the dogs under his chin), his guardian mentioned that Walter had a problem with that.

While Walter enjoyed having his guardians pet him or provide him with affection, he only accepted it when it was done on his terms. Whenever they attempted to pet him for following a command, the dog withdrew; getting up and walking away.

After testing this myself a few times I had to agree with his guardian’s assessment. Essentially, the dog didn’t want to be rewarded for following one of their commands. This is most likely the case because the dog identifies as being in the leadership position. It’s almost as if he feels that being petted for doing something was condescending.

I went through a couple of different techniques and finally found one that allowed me to keep the dog in place while I was able to provide him with this rewarding style of affection.

I suggested that Walter’s guardians practice this technique a few times a day, every day until they are able to pet him for compliance without any resistance from the dog. This is actually a serious sociological issue for the dog as it doesn’t represent the dog simply not liking something, it involves the dog almost trying to define the leader follower relationship himself.

The sooner that Walter identifies getting rewarded for compliance as a good thing, the quicker his adjustment from a leader to follower position will take place.

To help accelerate the process, I walked the dog through a leadership exercise that I developed a few years ago. This exercise involves the human claiming ownership of a high-value item that is left in a vulnerable position on the floor.

When a dog learns to master this exercise they are practicing obedience, observation of the guardians and respect for their authority as well as the developing the ability to self-restrain. These are all skills that will help Walter stop himself from getting into trouble or reacting in a way his guardians don’t like when out and about.

After a couple of practice runs, it seemed that Walter understood what the exercise involved, so I coached his guardians through it until they got the same results.

I advised the guardians to practice this exercise with the dog daily for the next week to 10 days while gradually increasing the amount of time he was asked to wait before giving him permission to get his reward. Just like developing any other skill, small measured steps is the best way to move forward and develop a skill set.

If his guardians practice this exercise with the dog daily for the next week or two, they will see a big payoff in many different areas of the dogs life.

Next, I had one of the guardians go outside and pretend to play the part of an arriving guest so that I could show them how to claim the area around the door.

Walter was pretty determined, so it took me a little bit longer to claim the doorway than normal. But by staying consistent, the dog eventually got the message and moved beyond the boundary that I was asking him to respect so that I could answer the door myself.

After demonstrating the technique for his guardian, I had her fiancé go back outside so we could run through the exercise again, this time with his future wife answering the door herself.

Walter did more barking during the exercise than I would like, but that should diminish as the dog’s perception of his authority changes.

By the end of the session, Walter was paying more attention to his guardians, showing respect for their personal space and respecting the new rules and boundaries we had just put in place. He was also starting to allow them to touch him in a rewarding sort of way.

For the majority of my clients, a dogs’ reactivity and pseudo-aggressive behavior outside of the home stops once the dog learns to act as a follower inside. As we were wrapping up the session I mentioned this to Walter’s guardians and asked them to let me know if that was the case here. If not we will need to schedule a follow-up session to directly address Walter’s behavior around other dogs or people on the elevator.

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