Helping a Pair of English Bulldogs with Very Different Problems

Yogi and Lily

Yogi (Left) is a three-year-old English Bulldog who lives with Lily, a five-year-old rescued through Little White Dog Rescue. This was an unusual case as the dogs had distinctly different problems. Yogi is getting dog aggressive, gets excited when meeting people and challenges his guardians by barking when he disagrees with their correction. Lily is a five-year-old English Bulldog who was adopted through LWDR who is afraid of overhead lights, fans and shuts down when her guardians try to take her out for a walk.

The dog’s guardians had put up a baby gate that prevented the dogs from getting to the sitting room and front door. While this keeps the dogs back, it doesnt give them the ability to learn a new behavior. I asked the guardians to take down the barricades so that I could see how the dogs interacted with me.

Yogi was far more boisterous, but both dogs came over to give me an investigative sniff which is a good sign. Dogs are scent creatures so its best when they meet a new person by sniffing them.

Later in the session I showed the dog’s guardians how they could claim the area around the door and communicate to the dogs that they are to stay 15 feet behind a boundary on their own.

I suggested that the guardians call or text one another when heading home so that they can practice establishing this boundary and controlling the door greeting without the pressure of it being an actual guest. Usually dogs one need to run through this exercise a dozen times before they start keeping back on their own.

During the greeting I noticed the guardians trying to pet Yogi calm him down. When I sat down with the guardians to discuss the session, Yogis energy level skyrocketed and I witnessed both of the guardians attempting to pet him into calmness multiple times.

The problem is, anytime that you are petting a dog when it is in an unbalanced state of mind, you’re actually nurturing the exact thing you are trying to stop.

To help the guardians develop a new healthier way of interacting with their dogs, I went over a technique that I have developed called Petting with a purpose.

Petting with a purpose is a great way to use positive reinforcement to help the dogs learn to adopt desired behaviors rather then jumping up on their humans for attention. It will take the guardians a couple of days to a week before this becomes a habit for them. If they can establish this habit, they will unconsciously perform a little dog behavior training session each time they pet their dogs for the rest of the dog’s life.

One of the problems these dogs had was seeing themselves with the same authority as the humans in the house. This is likely a result of the dog’s having no rules or structure. When a dog considers you on the same status level, then listening to you becomes entirely optional. That was absolutely the case with this pair of Bulldogs.

I suggested that the guardians incorporate a couple of rules to help the dogs see a distinction between humans and their own authority. Asking a dog to sit before it goes in or out of a door, having to wait for permission to eat and not being allowed to sit at the same height as humans can all help a dog adopt a follower mindset.

Whenever I suggest that a client make furniture off-limits, I always recommend that they introduce a dog bed and then communicate to the dogs the command word that is associated with that location. This helps the dogs adopt and follow the no furniture rule.

While positive reinforcement is always a great place to start, sometimes you just have to say no.

But to dogs, “no” is a very easy word to ignore because it is used so often by humans. Many dogs stop listening to it because its usually not for them. A few years ago I developed a set of escalating consequences that I like to apply whenever a dog is breaking a boundary or rule instead of using the word no.

After going over the escalating consequences and how to apply them, I showed the guardians how they can use them to reclaim their personal space from the dogs.

Not only will making the furniture off-limits help the dogs see the humans as having more rank or status than they do, it will also help the family’s mother when they welcome their new child into the home. This way she can spend time with the baby without needing to constantly tell the dogs to back up or give her space. Establishing boundaries is a great way to help dogs develop respect for us as authority figures.

One of Lily’s issues was a fear of moving ceiling fans. I spent a couple of minutes explaining how the guardians can use a counterconditioning technique to help her learn that a ceiling fan is nothing to be fearful about.

Her guardians will need to practice this counterconditioning exercise every day while gradually decreasing the amount of space between Lily and the ceiling fan. The key here is not to push too far too fast. If the dog refuses to sit down or take the treat, then the guardians are reaching her breaking point. When counterconditioning a dog, it is imperative that you stop the exercise prior to the dog having an outburst.

Lily was adopted through the Little White Dog rescue group who I have worked with many times in the past. Because of her rescue background, her guardians had kind of settled into a “let her be” mindset. They wanted to get her moving around, but every time they tried to take her for a walk she would lay down to prevent it. In fact, before the session they said that the farthest they were able to take Lily on a walk was the inside of the front door to the home.

I fitted Lily up with a Martingale collar and then went over a couple of tips that the guardians can use to get her to move forward without shutting down. This will enable them to start walking her on a regular basis which will be HUGE for her confidence and rehabilitation.

Dogs get over things by literally moving forward, so each time Lily’s guardians take her out for a walk, they will be helping her get over her fear and simultaneously building up her self esteem.

By the end of the session, Yogi was no longer jumping up or invading personal space, both dogs seem to be responding quicker and were able to control themselves and keep behind the boundary to the door when we practiced having a guest arrive.

This was an interesting case as both dogs had very different issues. It will be important for the guardians to establish and enforce the new rules and boundaries as this will help Yogi see them as a authority figure while reducing the stress and anxiety in Lily.

I suggested that the guardians walk the dogs separately for the next few weeks so that Yogi can learn to walk in a structured way and to heal while paying attention to his guardians This will allow Lily’s guardians to focus helping her simply enjoy being outside and taking in her surroundings.

If the guardians utilize these techniques and exercises consistently over the next few weeks, they should notice a big improvement in their dog’s behaviors, energy level and obedience. A perfect gift to give their humans as they welcome their first child into the home.

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