Teaching a Pair of Dogs to Settle Down, Listen to and Respect their Guardian

Wendell and Bo 1

Wendell (left) is a one-year-old Springer Spaniel mix who jumps up on people, doesnt always listen to commands, snaps and mouths at arms when playing, digs in the yard and plays rough with other dogs. His room mate Bo is a four-year-old Beagle who barks and digs.

Their guardian has some limited mobility issues so getting these dogs to listen to and respect him was my number one priority. Once that respect is in place, the dog’s number on priority is to make the guardian happy.

I started out by working the dogs through a leadership exercise that helps the guardian introduce boundaries while giving the dog the ability to practice restraining itself. I started out with Bo and had their guardian hold Wendell’s leash on the far side of the room.

I placed a piece of meat on the floor in the middle of the room and claimed it as a dog would. At first Bo circled the treat probing to see how close he could get until I disagreed or corrected him. I only had to correct him a couple of times before he moved away from the treat and sat down. This position is more subordinate and told me that Bo was starting to get it.

Once Bo communicated to me with his body language that he understood the treat was to be left alone, I let him have it. I did this immediately after he gave up as I wanted to teach the dog that listening to his guardian comes with a reward.

Once it was clear that Bo understood the rules and goal of the exercise, I coached his guardian through it. Because of his limited movement, I was concerned that the dog would simply rush through him to snatch up the treat. But once his guardian took over, a beautiful thing happened. Bo started to look to him for guidance and took direction and corrections extremely well. It only took him 90 seconds before he moved away and sat down at a respectable distance to wait for his guardian to give him the green light to get the treat.

Wendell and Bo 2

Next up was Wendell who was a little more challenging due to his age and higher energy level. While he was more persistent and determined to get the treat, it didn’t take that much longer to get him to settle down and eventually give up on challenging for the treat.

After we wrapped up the exercise with Wendell, his guardian’s mother came into the room to join us. As soon as she came in, both dogs rushed over to her with Wendell jumping up on her. Due to her age and Wendell’s size and energy level, this habit was a ticking time bomb.

Because she wasn’t physically able to disagree with the jumping up with the more common techniques, I decide the best approach would be to condition the dog to sit in front of her as a way of greeting or asking for attention.

I took out some high value meat treats and passed them out to the dog’s guardian and his mother. I started the exercise off by showing them how to use a hand movement to call the dog over and another one to get the dog into a sitting position. The later proved a bit more challenging as their guardian had taught the dogs to shake.

Once I had Wendell in a sitting position, I started to move my hand towards his mouth to reward him. But each time I started to move my hand towards the dog, Wendell tried to reach out with his paw. To communicate this was not what I wanted, I immediately bent my arm at the elbow moving the treat up and back towards my body.

Once Wendell put his paw back down, I tried again. Wendell gave the same movement, but was a little slower in starting to lift his paw and didn’t raise it up as high as he did the first time. I responded the same by bending my arm backwards at the elbow the second that Wendell reached up.

It took a few movements and several attempts, but eventually I was able to get the dog to stay sitting with all paws on the ground as I offered the treat. The next step was to generate the same behavior with the other members of his family. I had them repeat the same technique I had used until they got the same result.

The entire exercise took about 12 minutes, but by the time we finished, Wendell was trotting over to whomever called him and sitting in a polite position in front of them patiently waiting for his reward without jumping up or raising his paw.

Wendell and Bo 3

By the end of the session, both dogs were calm, listening intently to their guardian and respecting his personal space and corrections. It will take some practice before these new habits and behaviors become second nature, but due to the dog’s intelligence and obvious desire to please, it shouldn’t take too long.

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