How to Break Your Protective Dog’s Behavior

Protective Dog

Q: My dog is very protective of me, my husband, and my mother. She doesn’t like it when other dogs are around any of us and even got protective when a kid came running at us. How can I break this behavior?

A: Many dogs are protective of their pack members (humans included), not just the “protective” breeds. As pack animals, dogs want someone to be the leader. Most dogs would just assume not fill that role; it’s a lot of work! However, if no one is confidently doing it, every dog will feel the need to step up. What does that mean? If the human members aren’t acting as the leader (confidence is key), the dog will instinctively do it – protecting them from potential “threats.”

One of the best ways to rehabilitate an overprotective dog is socialization. Unfortunately, she can’t just be forced into meeting people and dogs. It’s just as detrimental, though, to keep her locked away. To find the right balance, socialization must be controlled with calm, assertive handling. If, for example, the handler is nervous that she’ll act out when other people or dogs approach, the dog will read that energy and respond accordingly, protecting the handler from the perceived threat. If, however, the handler remains calm and in control, the dog will feel more at ease and will be less likely to respond negatively to the visitor.

The initial interactions must be well-chosen, then. Choose human and canine visitors who will not be nervous or aggressive themselves. The ideal visitors will be aloof to her behavior, helping her understand they aren’t a threat. It’s helpful to have her leashed in the beginning. Calmly praise and reward her for appropriate interactions, and calmly take her out of the situation when her behavior turns.

One great way to practice these socialization exercises is on a walk. The handler should, of course, be the person in control of the dog (remember to utilize that calm, assertive behavior), but the visitor should accompany you. This puts the dog into a great environment doing something they love, and she has to remain focused on the task at hand. If she acts out with dogs, you can also go for walks with another handler and dog. At first, you may have to walk with some distance between you and the other team. As she gets more comfortable, though, you can move closer together until you’re able to walk together.

It’s also important with this question to mention the fearful dog. Fear is commonly mistaken for overprotective. Be sure to read the dog’s body language. If she’s slinking down, tucking her tail, or drawing her ears back when she’s barking and growling, she probably isn’t overprotective at all. It’s more likely that she is simply scared. Dogs have a natural fight or flight mentality. When they get scared, many dogs will run and hide, attempting to avoid the trigger completely. Some dogs, though, will flip their fight switch on and will bark and growl at the trigger to scare it away. Think of the mailman, for example. When he comes to the door, the dog barks and growls at him, and it works – or at least the dog thinks it does! The mailman walks away. A fearful dog also needs socialization, but the methods are quite different.

by Jodi Hoyt, Hoyt Consulting

jodi@hoytconsulting.net

Hoyt Consulting

 

Russell Madness – an Exciting All-New Family Film!

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In celebration of today’s world-renowned pet holiday ‘Dress-Up Your Pet Day,’ Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment and Air Bud Entertainment, announced that the hilarious and heartwarming pet-filled, family adventure RUSSELL MADNESS, will make its Blu-ray, DVD and Digital HD debut, on March 10, 2015.

RUSSELL MADNESS is produced by Air Bud Entertainment, the creative force behind the #1 live-action, direct-to-video movies in the family category.  The exciting, action-packed adventure introduces ‘Russell,’ a talking (and costume-wearing) Jack Russell Terrier who accidentally becomes a professional wrestling superstar, on the way to discovering the true power…of family.

The film stars John Ratzenberger (‘Toy Story,’ ‘Cars,’ TV’s Cheers), Fred Willard (TV’s Modern Family) David Milchard (TV’s Convos with my 2-Year Old), Mason Vale Cotton (TV’s Mad Men), McKenna Grace (TV’s Crash and Burn) and John Hennigan (former WWE star) along with the voices of talking animal stars including Will Sasso (TV’s ‘MadTV’ and ‘The Three Stooges’) and Sean Giambrone (TV’s The Goldbergs).  RUSSELL MADNESS is directed by ‘Air Bud’ and ‘Buddies’ veterans Robert Vince, written and produced by Robert Vince and Anna McRoberts.

RUSSELL MADNESS tells the story of Russell, an undersized but big-hearted terrier who dreams of having a family of his own. After running away from his current pet store residence, Russell gets taken in by The Ferraros, a family desperate to revive their grandfather’s pro wrestling arena. That’s when they discover their new pet pooch has incredible wrestling skills. With help from his coach, Hunk, a savvy and hilarious monkey, Russell rockets to the top of the pro wrestling world and becomes a famous sports superstar. But when a dishonest promoter double-crosses the Ferraros, Russell will face his biggest challenge and discover that the strongest tag team is family.

For more Russell Madness, click here.


 

Visitors at the Door

Greeting Visitors Appropriately

Q: My dog gets really excited when someone comes to the door. How can I get her to greet the visitor appropriately without barking and jumping?

A: This question has two big things to address – the sound of the doorbell or knocking and the actual person coming through the door.

To get Fluffy used to the sound of the doorbell or knocking (whichever is more common for you), we need to desensitize her to the noise. Until now, every time she’s heard that magic sound, a visitor has shortly after come through the door, and Fluffy has responded with abounding excitement. To desensitize her to the sound, we’re going to help Fluffy associate it with her favorite reward and her assigned “spot” (bed, kennel, rug, etc.) to wait. This task will require two people: one person will go outside the door and be the “visitor” ringing the bell or knocking while the other person (the “handler”) will work with Fluffy inside.

  1. The handler should have in hand Fluffy’s most valuable reward – a delicious treat, her favorite toy, a Kong toy with peanut butter – whatever she loves the most.
  2. The visitor is responsible for providing the distraction – ringing the doorbell or knocking on the door.
  3. When the handler hears the distraction, she should get Fluffy’s attention with the reward, lure her to her spot, and give her the reward for ignoring the sound and focusing on the handler. Remember, she only gets the reward when she is quiet, ignoring the sound, and staying on her spot. At first, the visitor doesn’t need to enter the home; we’re just working on the sound.

As Fluffy becomes desensitized to the sound, she’ll start to go to her spot and wait for her reward simply at the sound of the bell or knock. At that point, we knows she’s associating the noise with something other than a visitor, and we can start inviting the visitor into the home.

  1. When the visitor is entering the home, continue to reinforce Fluffy’s staying on her spot with the reward.
  2. As long as she is calm, the handler can release her from her spot to greet the visitor.
  3. If she gets over-excited, the visitor should ignore Fluffy, and the handler should lure her back to her spot with the reward. She only gets to greet the visitor in a polite manner – quietly with her feet on the floor.

It’s important to remember that desensitizing a dog from anything takes times. Consistent and frequent practice is essential for success. I recommend practicing three to four times a day for about ten minutes each time. Longer sessions can frustrate both the dog and the handler, making training more difficult. In addition, remember Fluffy will respond to everyone coming through the door in the same manner. If she’s allowed to jump up on and bark at her human pack members, she’ll assume that’s ok for visitors too. Consistency and structure are key!

by Jodi Hoyt, Hoyt Consulting

jodi@hoytconsulting.net

Hoyt Consulting

Communicating with Dogs

Communicating with Dogs

We’ve all been there. Fluffy is really excited, and you’re frantically pleading, “Fluffy, sit!” While Fluffy may (or may not!) hear you, she certainly isn’t responding to that command learned years ago. Why is that? We know she’s excited, but does that mean she forgot how to sit?

Dogs communicate in a variety of ways, but their preferred method is visual. They use their posture and body language to communicate with other dogs AND with people. If visual communication is the dog’s preference, why do we humans insist on shouting verbal commands at them then? It’s in our nature! We use our voices to communicate so we assume they should too. If you want to really connect with your dog, though, visual communication will be far more successful.

I teach every new command using just my hands (and maybe a delicious treat) to guide them or “lure” them into a behavior. Without saying a word, I can easily get a dog to sit politely simply by providing a visual lure to follow. Once the dog is following the lure consistently, a verbal command can be added if desired, but it isn’t even necessary. In fact, my dogs will often respond to hand signals much more quickly and consistently than verbal commands.

Let’s use the sit command as an example.

  1. Hold a delicious treat between your thumb and first finger.
  2. Hold the treat in front of the dog’s nose for a few seconds without letting her eat it.
  3. When she’s focused on the treat, slowly pull your hand straight above her nose and toward your chest.
  4. If she jumps for the treat, hold your hand still and wait. After a few seconds, many dogs will drop into the sit.
  5. When her bottom falls to the floor (and her front feet remain on the floor), praise and reward her with the treat.
  6. Be careful not to treat her when she’s not in the sit position. For example, if she pops up or paws at you when you reach to give her the treat, start again. She must be in the sit position to receive the reward.

Another great benefit to visual commands is the dog’s desire to match your physical energy. If the human is raising their voice and panicking to communicate with the dog, the dog will also raise their energy level, excitement, and anxiety. If, however, the human is calmly giving quiet visual commands, the dog will respond with quiet compliance.

Next time you’re raising your voice and pleading with your dog to get them to follow a verbal command, try working with your hands instead.

by Jodi Hoyt, Hoyt Consulting

jodi@hoytconsulting.net

 

Hoyt Consulting