That’s what my last client of the day had to say, “I’m tired of apologizing for my dog’s bad behavior.” She also added that her dog’s behavior was, in her conservative view, embarrassing as well.
She had tried puppy class but had taken Sophie out of training because Sophie, as a puppy, was too afraid of the other dogs. It would soon be apparent to me that there had been very little formal dog obedience training in Sophie’s life.
Sophie, is a 12 month old lab/Catahoula mix and full of energy. My client – we’ll call her Ann – says she barks at people on walks – especially men and she becomes highly reactive to dogs on walk.
The barking part was confirmed as I knocked on the door to begin our first lesson. I could see the frustration in Ann’s eyes as she apologized by saying, “Sorry, but you see what I mean?” Lots – and I mean lots of barking.
Upon entering, I used my “silver bullet” approach by promptly stuffing her mouth with a loaded Kong toy (lamb loaf.) My quick action immediately accomplished 3 things: It shut her up, prevented jumping and most importantly, I became her BFF. Ha! LOL!
Ann’s frustration melted into smiles as she gave me an ecstatic, “Wow! She’s never stopped barking and warmed up so quickly! This is amazing!” Now typically most dogs go off to another room – Kong in mouth – never to be seen again – or at least for 15 minutes. Nope. Not Sophie.
This is when I learned of her athletic abilities as she broad-jumped the coffee table and landed on the sofa right next to me – almost before I could seat myself. Ann quickly noted out loud, “Oh yes, could you fix that too?”
As it turned out Sophie is not aggressive towards people – she’s just a little (or a lot depending on the person) scared and misguided – like a teenager needing a lot of direction and structure.
Now, if you feel as if you are on the outside of a window looking through and watching your own life with your dog, read on.
I got Sophie under control by putting a leash on her and settling her down next to my foot on the floor – with the Kong. It was time to get the lowdown on the rest of the behavior problems. Sophie’s fear of people and dogs was the main reason I was called but it was clear that there was a good laundry list of adolescent behavior that needed to be curbed quickly.
The honest truth is most of the adolescent behaviors are easy fixes. The main solution for most of Sophie’s dog behavior problems involved pairing high value food treats and stuffed Kongs with people thereby changing the way Sophie thought about strangers. Now, strangers meant “manna from heaven? Her fear of dogs will take a little longer to work on.
I could see Ann liked my Kong solution. It did seem easy. And just to make sure she could replicate my “silver Bullet” approach with others, her mom had agreed to come over halfway through our first lesson. In the past her mom was hesitant to visit very frequently because of Sophie’s jumping and improper behaviors. But if a stuffed Kong was placed outside on Ann’s door mat her mom would have a silver bullet too! We stuffed our Kong and put it in a small zip lock bag on the front porch. We settled in, continued our lesson where we were working on Ann’s personal space and Sophie.
The doorbell rang and Ann greeted her mom. The order was: Silver bullet to Sophie, hug the mom, settle the dog and then settle mom. Done. I also told Ann that she could use this technique when she had gentlemen callers. A girl’s got to have a life, right?
Things to Remember
- Always greet visitors with your dog on leash while in training.
- Always be prepared with food treats and a stuffed Kong.
- Always settle your dog by your side.
- Always praise your dog for good behavior.
We all want calm dogs for which we don’t have to apologize. In fact, we’d really like to get compliments like, “What a nice dog!” It’s not impossible and it’s probably easier than you think.
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“Together, We Can Raise a Happy and Obedient Dog”
Jim Burwell, professional dog trainer for 25+ years, has a profound understanding of dog behavior and the many things, we as humans, do that influence that behavior – good or bad. Jim has the ability to not only steer dogs and puppies down the right path but to also train the owners to understand their part in having a great dog.