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Posts Tagged ‘Leader of the pack

A Story from Cathie

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Cathie and Maverick were students in a Canine Good Citizen class at McKinney Community Center in 2009.  Cathie has written a delightful account of thier experiences, which I’m happy to share with you!  (I hope we’ll be able to add a photo of Cathie and Maverick to this post later!)

The Situation

I was scared: my neighbor accused my dog, Maverick, of biting him and trying to kill his dog. I hadn’t seen what happened, but my husband’s version of it was:

“Maverick just ran down the driveway. He said Mav bit him and his dog, and he’s calling the police.”

My husband is a big man who’s never been afraid of anything. He could not understand why our neighbor was so upset about our 150lb dog galloping up to him to play with his 18lb dog. And my husband was quite sure Mav didn’t bite anyone.

I understood my neighbor’s fear. And I know Texas state law requires that a dog accused of biting be quarantined for 10 days to observe for rabies. We visited Maverick in quarantine, and some days found him loose in the kennel—the staff hated to keep him kenneled all day and definitely didn’t consider him dangerous.

Maverick isn’t dangerous, but he looks it. A huge Great Dane, his front legs look like fence posts. I wouldn’t want him running up to me if I didn’t know him.

The evening after the incident, I went to my neighbor to express my concern. I told him I was very sorry there had been a problem. I was surprised when he showed me his “bite,” since I was certain he didn’t have one. What he showed me was a tiny red spot on the back of his hand. No big puncture, no stitches, no band-aid. Not surprisingly, his little pooch didn’t have any injuries at all.

I said again how sorry I was about what had happened. My neighbor asked if I would get rid of my dog. I said no. I said, “I’ll take him to obedience school and promise you he will not be loose in the yard again.”

I had to find a way to allay this man’s fear of my dog because if I didn’t, I was sure he’d accuse Maverick of another bad act. I needed to get Maverick under verbal control—no more loping down the driveway to greet passersby.  Maverick needed better manners. I had to find a good obedience instructor to help me get Maverick in line.

The Solution

I have the good fortune to live near the very best boarding facility: Pet Paradise in Melissa. One of Pet Paradise’s owners, Hazel, had been a professional dog handler with top awards to her credit, so I called Pet Paradise for a referral to a trainer. The receptionist said Hazel recommended only one: Jane Davidson.

I contacted Jane and was enrolled in a Canine Good Citizen class that would run for seven weeks.

Maverick was quicker to catch on to commands than I thought he would be. He has an aloof/dopey look on his big mug most of the time. He’s a rescue Dane, purebred but not a particularly fine specimen. He has a pointy head and floppy ears. He just doesn’t look smart. Scary? Yes. Smart? Not so much. But Maverick is smart, and he associated commands to actions quickly. He learned sit, down, come, stay, heel, and off within a couple workouts. When he heard my command, he would do it.

Most of the time…

Slowly…

A foot or ten off the mark.

Sometimes he ignored me altogether, and that’s why I needed the trainer. I know the commands and how to teach them. I’ve done it before, even competed in obedience events with my other dogs. But no one can properly train her dog by herself. I needed Jane to watch and guide us in order to get Mav to obey commands immediately, every time, on the mark. I could not see what I was doing wrong with my commands, body language, and attitude. But Jane could.

By the end of our seven weeks, I had learned to stand tall and state commands in a manner that Maverick hears every time. Jane was able to show me when what I said, how I moved, or my posture or tone confused rather than commanded Maverick. Jane would gently point out that I was using words in casual chatter that had specific meaning for Maverick. She’d tell me when I wasn’t being Maverick’s “pack leader.” Dogs always read your mood and ‘tude, and if it isn’t masterful, they’ll know it. Which is to say, Maverick learned everything he needed to know in the first two weeks. The last five weeks of class were for training me.

The Success and Joy

Maverick and I work out every day. He sits while I get his breakfast, he comes whenever I call him, he stays where he’s told even if his favorite toy is three feet away. Our favorite days are when we go on long walks with other dogs and kids and bikes and big people because that’s when he gets to show me and everyone else what an obedient, gentle dog he is.

He is not perfect. No dog gets his butt on the ground slower than Maverick does when he hears, “Sit!” When I say, “Maverick, come!” he runs right to me and sits… somewhere. Try as I might, I haven’t yet gotten him to sit directly in front of me on recall. Not perfect, but Maverick now has his AKC issued CGC (Canine Good Citizen Certificate). He passed the test on his first try.

That would not have happened without Jane Davidson and Eureka! There were too many things I was doing wrong, inconsistently, and over-anxiously for Maverick to have been successful working with me alone. I simply could not see or hear the words, tone, and movements I was using that were confusing to the dog. Jane’s directions and corrections were always clear and delivered with kindness and good humor. Had she been a domineering trainer, or an apologetic, nervous trainer (I’ve worked with both kinds) Maverick would not have earned his CGC. There is a right way to train dogs, and it’s unique to each dog and owner. Jane knows this, studies it, and acts on it.

I now have a giant dog I am proud to take with me everywhere. I know exactly how he will behave, and he knows exactly what I want him to do whenever I ask him to do it. But we’re not done: I want Maverick to become a therapy dog for struggling readers. Reading to a big goofy dog improves your reading quickly because dogs never criticize. In fact, you become a perfect reader in the only way a human is ever perfect: in the eyes of her dog.

As for my neighbor, he hasn’t come walking with us yet, but he hasn’t accused Mav of any new transgressions, either.

And he won’t.

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Written by eurekapaws

February 21, 2010 at 8:20 pm

Case Study 4 – Fearful Dog

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Coffee was rescued from the streets, and then spent a couple of years in a shelter.  By the time he came to a home, he had developed fears of many things – people, storms, ceiling fans, you name it, he was scared of it! In June of this year, he finally found himself in a home with just two other dogs, and he started to come out of his well-constructed shell.

Coffee

Coffee in 2008

When I first met Coffee, he would not let me come close to him. He would pace about ten to fifteen feet away, watching carefully.  He was actively scared of everyone he met, especially men. He did not have good social skills with other dogs either – he did not play, and he had been attacked by other dogs in the past (and he is missing part of an ear as a result). He was terrified of all the things that frighten many dogs, including thunderstorms, but he also looked with fear at ceiling fans (moving or still). He became very distressed being bathed or having his nails clipped.

Now that he has a home with only two other dogs (both female) he has started to be more comfortable with them.  He continues to be less than friendly with some visiting male dogs. Interestingly, he bonded with Tuffy, the Tough Dog in case study 3. They apparently found they had some things in common. Both of them had lived rough for a while, and both of them are fearful of men.

Coffee and Tuffy

Coffee and Tuffy getting acquainted

We worked on integrating Coffee into the household. In this household, that means siting and waiting for his food bowl to go down and starting to eat only when he is given permission.  It also means participating in the daily “Cookie Time” ritual, where the dogs do a couple of obedience commands and get rewarded with dog cookies. This was a challenge for Coffee on two levels. Firstly, because he still did not like to approach me too closely, and secondly because he did not want to compete with the other dogs for food, or to lie down next to them. Over the weeks he has become comfortable with doing a Sit and a Down beside the other dogs, and he now trots happily to the kitchen when he hears “Cookie Time”. He still hangs back when we play hide and seek; the other dogs run through the house trying to find where I have hidden, but Coffee waits until I come out before coming for his treat.

One of Coffee’s most obvious fears was of thunderstorms.  He would pace, go outside, come inside, could not find anywhere he felt safe. He started to come to my room in the middle of the night to let me know there was a thunderstorm going on. To my amazement, one night he was so scared that he overcame his residual fear of me, and jumped on to the bed beside me, and lay shaking with fear. He is not allowed on the bed, but his distress was so obvious that I did not turn him away. I gave him some drops of Rescue Remedy to calm him, and turned on a light so the lightning would be less dramatic. I resisted the urge to comfort him, and instead spoke in a calm, happy voice, and settled down to sleep. I could feel him shuddering as I drifted off to sleep. At some stage he must have fallen asleep, and in the morning he jumped off the bed as soon as I stirred.

This procedure repeated itself about three more times. I started to keep the Rescue Remedy and a flashlight by my bed, so I was ready for Coffee’s late night visits. If the weather was good, he would spend the night as usual in my office, but as the storm started up, he would come to my bedroom. He would wake me, I would turn on the light (or the flashlight, if the pwoer was out), speak cheerfully to him and give him a few drops of the Rescue Remedy. If the storm continued to get worse, he would jump on the bed and hide from it behind me, shaking with fear. I might pat him briefly on the back or neck, as I would normally, but I would not cuddle him, baby talk him, or stroke him to calm him.  I would tell him he was being foolish, then go back to sleep.

Then the night came when all he needed was the light and the Rescue Remedy. The storms were beginning to lose their power over him. Last time we had a storm, I woke up and realized he was not in my room. I went to the office, and he was lying calmly under the desk. Coffee was officially not afraid of storms any more!

Coffee still has many challenges to overcome, but it is exciting to see him grow. He keeps reaching new milestones – he has stayed calm while his nails were clipped, he has been on walks in the park where there were lots of other dogs and people, he has had his first real bath in a bathtub.  This weekend, he approached a stranger (to him) and took a treat from her.

The key factors in helping Coffee have been a small, stable household where he could develop relationships with each of the other members (human and canine), not indulging his fears but showing leadership in being calm and confident, and having him participate in activities a little outside his comfort zone.

Written by eurekapaws

November 10, 2009 at 10:15 am

Thoughts from Dan – Leadership

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Dan English has been working with Eureka! Canine Behavior Specialists for the last few months.  He has a 2 year old American Bulldog, Tex, and has a long history of training dogs of all sizes.  His skills are particularly impressive with the larger, more assertive breeds.   From time to time, he will be writing blog entries on various aspects of dog training.  Here is his first.

 

I was assisting Jane during a Canine Good Citizen class with my 2 year old American Bulldog, Tex.  Tex had reacted with some tension around an unaltered male so I was closely monitoring their interaction.  At one point I had to walk past the dog on the left so I put Tex on my right side.  I began walking him on my right side instead of my left when he was young while we were at parks to avoid the zooming bicycle riders and joggers and other dogs.  Initially Tex would try to cross over to the left side and I extended the hand with the leash out to the right (no jerking, just a little pressure on the c0llar) and gave the command of “Don’t cross that trail.”
 
So as we walked past the dog Tex showed interest, I moved the leash slightly and gave him the command.  The dog’s owner walked up to me and asked me how I trained him to do that.
 
I really did not have a clear answer for her.  But as I started to ponder how I should have answered that question it all came down to one thing.  I was Tex’s leader.  There had been no “don’t cross the trail” training sessions.  I did not teach him to not cross the trail like I had taught him to sit, down and stay.  Those skills were accomplished in sessions using treats and commands in a repetitive way.  The command for Tex not to cross the trail was on the job training but it became possible because I am his leader.
 
People come to us with a variety of dog behavior issues and they ask our help to bring about the behavior they want to see out of their dog.  Different training techniques are required for different situations but one thing stays constant.  Leadership.
 
How do I stop my dog from barking?  Be their leader.
 
How do I stop my dog from pulling on the leash?  Be their leader.
 
The basic commands of sit, stay and down can be accomplished by formal training and rewards.  They learn pretty quickly that if they perform a certain trick they will be rewarded with a tasty treat.  But in order to change unwanted behavior or to teach a dog more abstract skills you must be unquestionably the dog’s leader.
 
In the dog world there are only two positions.  Leader and follower.  If you are not one, you are the other.  And with almost every dog behavior problem I see the problem is that the dog does not recognize the owner as a leader.  This can be because of the youth and inexperience of the dog or it can just be a learned behavior of not taking the owner seriously.
 
So how do we become our dog’s leader?  It begins when the alarm clock rings in the morning.  Canines in the wild never stop posturing and they never allow a breach of etiquette.  Rules like “No Free Lunch” and the controlling of food and the high ground put us in position to lead.  You can spot a dog with a strong leader pretty easily.  They are a pair that seem to have a vibe going on.  Almost like the dog can read the owner’s mind.  The truth is the dog has learned to pay close attention to their leader and has grown accustomed to their mannerisms.
 
Exercises like “Watch Me” and “Leave It” focus the dog on the owner.  Giving the dog clear physical boundaries that they can understand like the tile in the kitchen or around the entrance way to the front door puts the owner in the leadership position.
 
No matter how domesticated your dog is they still react with instincts.  What we as owners need to learn are the skills to tap in to those canine pack instincts to bring about the behaviors we want.  One of the most important instincts is that the pack must have a leader.  And if we do not take that position and maintain that position every day, the dog will attempt to take it.
 
The good news is that it is not impossible to be a dog’s leader.  In fact most dogs want us to lead; freeing them up to just be a dog and exist in the world in a carefree state.  They will relax knowing that you are there to handle whatever situation comes up.
 
So find the skills you need to become your dog’s pack leader and use them every day.  Do not practice them, use them.  You will see your dog look to you for guidance and reassurance in every situation.

Written by eurekapaws

October 1, 2009 at 9:57 pm

Posted in Articles, General, Training

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Nipping Dogs

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It seems like everyone has the same viewpoint on this – MY dog nips in play, YOUR dog bites and is vicious.  Well-behaved, well-adjusted dogs don’t nip or bite, period.  If they do, it’s because we have decided to tell them it’s OK to do that.  I do not believe that one breed is more inclined to nip or bite than another, it has far more to do with their conditioning than their breeding.  Of course, the problem is far more obvious and more dangerous if the dog is a large animal with strong muscles and jaws.  However, many small dogs have caused serious injuries.

Some dogs nip or bite because they are afraid.  That’s a serious problem, and you need to see a trainer or behaviorist.  (Unless, of course, the dog is being attacked, when it is a sensible move by the dog to defend himself.)  If your dog has serious fears that make him a danger to the public, eventually he will bite someone, and that may result in him being euthanized.  (And of course, you may be sued.)

Some dogs bite because they are aggressive, and they want to do damage.  We saw a dog like that recently, who would attack seriously and without warning.  If there is an obvious trigger, then it may be possible for a professional to work with the dog and modify his behavior.  If the attack comes with no apparent trigger, the dog continues to be very dangerous.

Some dogs nip or bite because they believe that they are the leader of the pack, and they have the right to discipline other members of the pack.  In your home, it is your responsibility to make sure that the humans are leaders, the dogs are followers.  Otherwise, elderly people and children are at risk of injury.  This is a very common situation – trainers see it every day, and can help you to rectify it.

But most dogs nip because people have encouraged them to do so – or have failed to discourage them.  If a puppy plays hard with his litter mates and causes pain, they will soon let him know about it – and dogs have tougher skin than humans.  People often think it’s cute, and do not consider that it will be less cute when he weighs more than 50 pounds, and the person being nipped is their grandmother or their toddler.  Any time your dog or puppy puts teeth on a person (or their clothing), your response should be immediate and consistent.

  1. Make a sharp noise as it happens – the dog needs to understand exactly what caused your response, and that sharp noise will help him pinpoint it.
  2. Immediately stop playing with or petting the dog, stop speaking to him, turn away from him, and if necessary, put a door between yourself and him.  Your dog wants your attention, even if it means being yelled at.  Do not give him any attention for several minutes, and make sure no one else does either.
  3. After a few minutes, return to the dog.  (If he immediately starts to use his teeth again, just say “No” and walk away again, and wait a few more minutes.)  If he is acting normally, then tell him to Sit (or Down, or Shake, or any similar command) – when he does as he is told, you can praise hm for being a good dog, and you can continue as normal.

This is one of the most important things you can teach your dog.  If you know he will not use his teeth on people, you will feel comfortable taking him places, and letting him meet visitors to your house.  And he stands a better chance of a long and happy life in your home.

Written by eurekapaws

May 5, 2009 at 8:18 pm

Adopting a Second Dog

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Wonderful, patient Libby

Wonderful, patient Libby

This comes directly from my own experience.  I had a wonderful dog, Libby, but the two of us were my entire household, and I was at work (bad old corporate days!) a lot of the time.  I felt that I needed to get a second dog for several reasons, mainly:-

  • As company for Libby, especially during the day while I was at work.
  • To take the pressure of what was an increasingly co-dependent releationship between Libby and me.
  • Purely selfishly, I felt that my world would collapse if anything happened to Libby – I needed another family member.

Since this dog would spend more time with Libby than with me, I made sure she was part of the interview process.  My criteria at the time were simply that the dog be a little smaller than Libby (I was worried about getting a dog too large for me to carry in an emergency), and a young dog 6 – 18 months old (not a puppy, I was not at home enough hours in the day to care for a young puppy, but still not yet fully grown up).  Libby was generally a quiet dog, so I thought she might like a lively dog to play with.  The two of us went to the shelter (Operation Kindness in Carrollton, a great place to adopt a dog, and Libby’s own alma mater) and I selected candidates, and the two of us would meet them. 

On our first visit, I picked out a sweet sandy haired spaniel mix who was very timid.  Libby growled at her.  Then I picked out a little male terrier, who Libby loved – he peed on my handbag the moment I took my eyes off him.  The third dog refused to interact with either of us.  At that point Libby was starting to look stressed, and I took her home.

On our second visit, the first dog I pre-selected was a little female terrier about 10 months old.  She was very sweet and lively with me, and she and Libby started to play together.  The adoption counselor and I stepped out of the room and watched them through a window.  It seemed like a great match.  We went ahead and adopted the dog, who was called Bailey.  As we went through the adoption process I learned that she had been adopted out before, but returned due to “allergies”.  She nipped the technician who clipped her nails just before she left the shelter.

As soon as we walked into my house, Bailey stopped and took a dump on the carpet.  The speed of it took my breath away – I had turned my back on her for less than 5 seconds, and when I turned back, she was squatting.  Still, I told myself she was probably very scared, and I should just let her know that was not the right place, and then go on as though nothing had happened.  Over the rest of the day, Libby and Bailey played happily.

For the next few days, Bailey was in a crate while I was at work, and I came home in the middle of the day to make sure she was OK.  For several days, she managed to have explosive diarrhea while she adjusted to her new life and diet, but that gradually faded.  In the evenings, she and Libby and I continued to have fun.  There were quite a few occasions when I found myself locked in power struggles with a 20 pound dog.

About day 4, Libby started to stare pointedly at me.  It was apparent that she felt our guest had outstayed her welcome.  While I had been interviewing for a lively long-term companion, Libby had been focussed on having fun for an hour or so.  She enjoyed her quiet life, and didn’t want an annoying yappy dog constantly trying to play-fight with her and instigating security alerts all the time.  For my part, I had started to realize that Bailey was a very pushy little dog with no interest in my plans for the household – she had moved in, and she planned to take over.  Although a lovable lap dog when she felt like it, any noise outside would put her on full alert; she would leap out of my lap and charge around barking fiercely.  On off-leash walks, she would torment poor Libby, who would run away from her at top speed.  Bailey’s little legs could not keep up with Libby’s speed, but she would run after her at full speed, barking “wait for me” at the top of her lungs.

In the first month that Bailey was with us, Libby and I were engaged in constant struggles with her for control of the house.  I quickly guessed that her previous home had given her up because of her personality, and just said it was allergies so she would stand a better chance of finding another home.  I did not have the heart to return her from another home – we had to make it work.

Terror Bailey (sorry, I mean Terrier Bailey)

Terror Bailey (sorry, I mean Terrier Bailey)

And several years later (and now with many more dogs in the house), she still torments Libby and she still considers herself in charge of Homeland Security.  She has learned that she is not the leader of the pack, and she did very well in obedience training.  People meeting her for the first time often remark on how cute she is (Libby can be heard muttering “take her, she’s yours”).

There is no guaranteed way to make sure the new dog will fit well in your household.  Of course, it is best to make sure that the potential newcomer gets on with your current dog(s), but the fact that they get on for half an hour on first meeting is a long way from proof that they will be prepared to shared a home, and a pack leader.  I know now that Libby was not interested in having a constant companion, and that she enjoys long, comfortable silences.  Having to adjust for a new dog in the house was really tough for her.

If you want to bring in another dog, that is a great idea.  Be aware of the following:-

  • Any increase or decrease in the household (human or animal) upsets the hierarchy, and your current dog(s) will have to work out who is leader of the pack all over again.
  • Some dogs are not prepared to share a home or a pack leader (you) with another dog.
  • Your current dog(s) need to have met and approved the newcomer before you decide to bring him into your home – but since you can’t explain to them what your plans are, they may still complain when he comes to stay.
  • You have to make extra time so you can work with each dog separately on house rules, obedience training, and walking politely on a leash.  If the newcomer does not follow the rules, your current dog(s) may decide they don’t have to either.
  • When you bring a dog home, his full personality will emerge slowly.  The dog you meet in a shelter or in someone else’s home is usually different from the same dog after he has been living with you for a while.  You will see him change over weeks and months, as he gains confidence in his new home.
  • The dogs will decide pecking order amongst themselves.  No matter how much you want a particular dog to be top dog of the house, you may not be able to make it happen.

Written by eurekapaws

April 19, 2009 at 9:59 am

Case Study 2 – Leader of the Pack

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This is a painful story from one of my first clients.  This experience actually drove me to move to a location where I could bring dogs in for training if necessary.

Mike and Laura are a couple close to retirement age.  They had a very smart little Jack Russell terrier called Jack.  Mike called me in, explaining that Jack had become aggressive at times, biting him and just recently trying to bite complete strangers.  He was afraid that he would have to have Jack euthanized, and he was looking for help to avoid that.

When I arrived at the house, Jack was out in the back yard.  I saw that food was left out for Jack in the kitchen, and also outdoors.  When Mike opened the back door, Jack rushed in, and by way of greeting me, he jumped on to every piece of furniture in the living room.  Jack was a smart little dog, and could do many tricks.  Mike explained that he loved the little dog, who had been his companion as Mike battled cancer, but on several occasions, Jack had been lying in his lap, and had suddenly bitten him, drawing blood.  As he told me about this, Mike played a game of tug-of-war with Jack using a soft toy, and allowed Jack to win.  Laura arrived home soon after, and it was clear that she was avoiding contact with Jack because she expected he might attack her.

We went through a lot of Jack’s history, but the situation was pretty clear.  Jack believed he was in charge of the house, and Mike and Laura were his staff.  He may have started out with respect for Mike, but lost it when Mike became weakened.  There was always food available for him, so he did not see that he was dependent upon them for anything.  He had control of the “high ground” – his jumping on all the furniture made that clear.  He consistently won contests of strength (when I asked Mike why he let him win the tug-of-war game, he said “I thought it would break his spirit if he lost”).  His biting was not an act of aggression, he was disciplining members of his pack who did not act appropriately towards him.  It is likely that he would lie in Mike’s lap, relaxing, but when Mike put a hand on top of him to pet him, Jack corrected him with a bite (the bite would not have done any serious damage to another dog, but Mike was weakened by his illness).

The right approach was also evident.  Jack needed to learn that he was not the leader of the pack.  Until he had learned to follow the lead of the people in his family, he could not be trusted.  If I could have taken him away with me that evening, I would have suggested it.  A few days of boot camp would set him up for coming home to a new world order.  However, at that time, I had nowhere to take him, so Mike and Laura would have to make the changes in his life.  Given that Laura was already afraid of him, and Mike was afraid that he could not control him, I was not sure that they would be successful.  The Jack Russell is small, but full of energy and determined to get his own way.

Sadly, the next day, Jack again attacked Mike, and he was euthanized.  I met Mike and Laura again a few months later, when they were adopting another dog – this time, a calmer, quieter dog – and they assured me that they would make the house rules much clearer from the start.

So, Jack, I’m sorry I couldn’t help you.  Now I live out in the country, so that if the situation arises again, I would be able to take the dog away for the first couple of days of the rule change.

For everyone else out there – please take a look at your household from your dog’s perspective.  More than half the time when I go to a new client, the question of who is leader of the pack is behind many of their problems.  If your dog believes he can demand what he wants from you (food, treats, petting, playing, going outdoors, coming indoors, etc.) then he thinks he is in charge of the house.  You don’t have to be mean to him, just make it clear that you are in charge – keep him off the furniture, have him sit before his food goes down, and pick up his food bowl after 20 minutes, have him sit (or down, or high 5, or anything) before giving him the things he wants, make him wait at doors so you go first, then tell him when he can come through.  And if your dog is putting any part of his body on any part of yours (even resting his head on your knee), then make sure that you have your hand on top of him – you are the king of the hill.

Written by eurekapaws

April 13, 2009 at 11:27 pm

Posted in Case Studies

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