Teaching a Little Dog with a Big Attitude to Respect His Guardians

Zeus (Mal She)

Zeus is a three-year-old Maltese Shih Tzu mix who gets aggressive when any human corrects or challenges him; barking, lunging and even nipping. His guardians called me in for a dog behavior training session to stop dog barking and these other aggressive behaviors when they correct him.

Zeus was a combination of excited and territorial when I arrived for my session. His excitement changed to frustration when I disagreed with him for trying to jump up on me.

When a dog jumps up on someone who has just arrived, it’s their way of claiming the person or telling them that they are the top dog in the home. This is often the case when a dog is overexcited or considers itself to have the same or more authority than the humans. Both of these issues are related to Zeus’s disagreeing behavior with his guardians.

I sat down with Zeus and his guardians to discuss the situation. Zeus remained over excited and continued to show some antisocial behaviors so I placed him on a leash and stepped on it about a foot away from where it was attached to his collar. I wanted to help hm calm down and block him from hiding behind his guardians while barking at me.

It only took a minute of Zeus being on the leash this way before he calmed down and stopped barking.

The reason that Zeus disagreed with my presence was pretty obvious once I started the evaluation. During my discussion with his guardians I learned that he did not have any real rules and was able to tell them what to do. In the guardians own words, “Zeus is the one who runs the show.”

But if a dog believes that it is in charge, it’s not going to listen to the humans it lives with. I made several suggestions on ways that the guardians can change this leader follower dynamic using positive reinforcement.

I like to use positive dog training because the end result is a dog who understands what you want and helps you in trying to achieve that goal. When you try to correct and punish your dog into compliance, you’re building a fearful animal which is not how I condone living with dogs.

After suggesting some new rules as well as how to incorporate a little bit of structure when they pet Zeus (Petting with a Purpose), I showed them how to teach him to stay on command. Teaching a dog to stay is one of the most underused or under-taught dog commands out there.

You can find the YouTube video on teaching the Stay that I reference in the above video by using this link.

Teaching a dog to Stay is a great exercise as it requires the dog to develop self-control while simultaneously increasing its respect for the guardian as an authority figure.

Next I went over some nonverbal communication methods that the guardians can use to better Guide and correct Zeus whenever he fails to follow any of the new rules or does something to disagree with.

Because Zeus’s worst behavior seem to be when people arrived at the door, I wanted to teach his guardians how they could claim the area around the door and control the door answering ritual.

After explaining why it is important to control the door greeting and how the dog interprets the humans reactions when guests arrive, I broke down the door answering ritual itself into a number of individual steps.

It’s important that we control the situation before we actually open the door. Many people rush through the step but it is one of the more important things to get right in order to help your dog adopt a better behavior at the door.

Next we had a neighbor knock on the door so that I could demonstrate how the guardians could use these nonverbal communication cues and the structure outlined in the earlier videos to control the door answering ritual.

Because I had set the tone of leadership since I stepped into the door, it was relatively easy for me to get Zeus to stand down and keep a respectable distance from the door.

But the real test would be how the guardians were able to utilize what they had learned and clean the door I’m selves so we reset the exercise and this time Zeus’s guardian took a turn.

Zeus’s guardian did not get the same initial response that I did because she was a little bit timid in her movements and a little bit slow in her reaction time. Timing is everything when you were disagreeing with the dog. If you’re too late the dog is already worked up and simply ignores you.

As the guardian practices this exercise her timing and technique will improve. Once that is the case, Zeus’s behavior should also get better.

I didn’t film it, but Zeus his other guardian practiced answering the door after we shot the above video and this time Zeus did not bark a single time.

By the end of the session Zeus was much calmer, was listening to commands and corrections right away and had already started to follow some of the new rules on his own. Its going to take a few weeks of his guardians constantly enforcing the rules and rewarding or correcting him with good timing before this new behavior because Zeus’s new normal. But based on how quickly he adopted a follower’s mindset during the session, Im confident his guardians will be able to get him there soon.

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