MOORE: When dog acts up, use leash to outwit it

June 24, 2013 

Q: My once sweet, 10-month-old English bulldog Max has turned into a little devil. Things that used to be easy to do — putting him in his crate, making him go outside, getting him into the tub for a bath — are now becoming real battles which include him barking at me and running away when I try to catch him. I think he's trying to be dominant. How do I fix this? — John

A: Be dominant? No. Typical adolescent behavior? You bet. Max is simply maturing, John. Your best approach to addressing these issues is to be non-confrontational, and to outthink your young dog.

First, recognize that when your dog begins to bark at you, you don't have to address it directly; ignoring the behavior is a better approach. Entering into conflict with Max gives him more practice at being combative, so don't fall for that.

Next, the three scenarios you describe can all be addressed in the same manner. Your dog should have a light 4- to 6-foot leash attached to his collar at all times when you are home with him. Just let the leash drag, and pay no attention to it unless you need to put your dog in his crate, in the tub or outside. When you decide to do one of those three things, don't ask the dog to comply, and don't negotiate. Avoid directly interacting with him, and just pick up the leash. Then, turn your back on him and begin to move in the direction you want him to go; since he is attached to the leash, he will have no choice but to follow. Praise him as he moves along with you, but don't turn to face him, and don't stop. When you have succeeded in getting him to the desired destination, offer more praise or any other reward you choose — treats, petting, etc.

To make this process even more successful, I suggest practicing even if you have no intention of really needing to place him in the crate, the tub or outside. Just randomly, throughout the day, get a few repetitions in of ignoring Max, picking up the leash, turning your back on him, and walking him out the back door or into the crate or tub. Once he's where you want him, praise him and release him to hang out with you inside again. This way your dog is not likely to resist going with you, since it usually results in praise and freedom once again.

Q: I'm confused about what I should allow my dog to do on a walk. Should I let him stop and sniff at every bush and tree or follow the advice of my trainer and make him walk only at my side? — Amy

A: There are no absolutes here, Amy — you get to decide what you prefer, and then your job is to teach your dog what you want. I'll tell you what I do: I teach my dogs to walk at my side on a loose leash, and put it on cue ("Let's go"). We pass by all sorts of distractions, including bushes, trees, kids, cats, etc., and yet my dog's job is to ignore those things and continue to walk with me. When I decide, I give my dogs a different cue ("Get busy") when we get to an area where I've determined it's OK for them to stop walking at my side and enjoy a good sniff around, and take a potty break if they'd like. After I pick up their "business," I give my leash-walking cue again, and off we go together. The important concept to note here is that it is my decision, not the dog's. So figure out what you want your dog to do on walks, the cues you will want to teach him, and then begin by teaching each concept independently. Combine the two only when your dog understands each behavior separately.

Lisa Moore's pet-behavior column appears once a month. Write to her in care of LifeStyles, The Modesto Bee, P.O. Box 5256, Modesto 95352.

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