|18 month old male Golden Retriever – pulls on the lead, barges past his owners through doorways and growls if removed from sitting on the furniture. Why might he be behaving like this and what alternative would I suggest to solve their problemFirst of all I would ask questions of the owner:
Pulling on the lead: He is eager to get to where they are going. If the same route is taken each day, to the park for example, then the dog learns the route and knows he is going to the park where there are lots of interesting smells. He wants to get there as quickly as possible so he pulls on the lead in his eagerness to get there. If his handlers have been taught to jerk the lead when he pulls, this will encourage him to pull even more as force encourages opposing force. A change of route may also help whilst training him to walk nicely because having no idea where he is going he will rely on his handler more.
My alternative to solving this problem would be to turn around and walk in the opposite direction as soon as he starts to pull. This may take some time to do, but he is still getting exercise and also having to think and work out ‘why’ he is being pulled away from the direction he wants to go in all the time. Eventually he will work out that if he keeps the lead loose he keeps going in the direction he wants to go in, but if he pulls the lead he gets taken away from where he wants to go.
Whenever he is walking to heel, he should be clicked and rewarded, so that he knows what he is doing right and can link the correct action to the reward.
|Another method would be to teach him to walk to heel with treats. Holding a treat in your fist allow him to smell it and then keeping the treat fairly low, but your hand in a fist walk a few steps then allow him to take the treat. Should he attempt to jump up to get the treat pull your hand out of the way until he stops and then hold it down again. He will learn that if he walks to heel he gets a treat, if he jumps up it’s taken out of his reach. Gradually lengthen the distance before allowing him to take the treat. Then when he is walking to heel without getting excited or jumping up start putting the word with the action before walking. Say ‘Heel’ and then take a few steps and treat. When he is doing it every time, slowly decrease the times he receives a treat, until he is walking to heel without being treated.
Barges past them through doorways: If he was praised as a puppy for going outside, this could have inadvertently rewarded him for going through doorways first and when he was a puppy he probably also learnt that when the doorbell rang if he ran towards the door somebody would come through and make a big fuss of him, which is rewarding in itself.
My alternative to training him not to barge through doorways would be as follows:
Start off by having him on the lead and asking him to sit by the doorway. Reward (click and treat) him for sitting patiently. Whilst he is still in the sitting position start to open the door, the minute he starts to move, stop and wait for him to calm down again. If he stands up, ask him to sit again and start the process over. He will gradually learn that if he sits patiently the door will be opened, if he moves the door will stay shut.
When he is at the stage where the door can be opened with him in the sitting position his handler should take a step through. Again, if the dog moves, start over with the door open this time. Always remember to reward him for sitting patiently. Gradually increase the amount of steps his handler takes away from him until his handler is through the doorway with him still in the sitting position on the other side of the open doorway. When his handler is through the doorway call the dog through and treat, get him to sit again whilst his handler shuts the door.
When he has stopped barging through start using the word ‘wait’ so that he can link the word to the action of waiting patiently to go through the doorway. When his handler has opened the door, use the word ‘wait’ whilst his handler walks through the doorway. Once through say ‘come’ or something similar to the dog for him to join his handler.
Each step of the exercise should be rewarded (click and treat). Hand on the handle without him moving, door opened a crack without him moving, door opened fully without him moving and finally his handler walking through the doorway without him moving. Gradually he can work harder for the click and treat, such as sitting and door being opened, then click and treat, handler walking through and calling him through and then click and treat. Eventually taking it out altogether.
Persistence and patience is necessary, but eventually he will learn to sit or at least ‘wait’ whilst his handler goes through the doorway. He will learn that if he waits patiently not only will he be rewarded with a treat to start with, but also by the door being opened and him being allowed to go through. On the other hand if he misbehaves the door will be closed again and he will not get his reward.
Growls when removed from the furniture: If he has been allowed to be on the furniture from a puppy then it’s no wonder he growls when removed. We don’t like being made to move from somewhere comfortable, why should a dog feel any different. By being removed from the furniture he is being psychologically punished for being comfortable. Being comfortable is an external reward that is being taken away from him.
An alternative method of removing him from the furniture would be to give him a different reward for doing so.
To do this, try calling him off by sitting on the floor and calling him. A dog will sometimes see attention from a human as a resource and reward, so by sitting on the floor he may see it as an offer to play or an opportunity for attention. If this doesn’t work offer him a treat initially and try luring him off the furniture with that. At the first sign of a positive movement click and treat, even if it’s just his head lifting up off the couch, at least he’s paying attention. Gradually ask for more from him for his reward. He sits up from a lying position – click and treat. He stands up – click and treat. He looks at the floor – click and treat. Everything needs to be broken down into tiny steps and gradually linked together into one huge step, off the furniture. Again, patience and persistence will pay off. If he sits up and gets the reward, but then lies back down again, start from the beginning, but this time ask him to sit for longer before rewarding. If necessary show him the treat and put it on the floor where he can see it. When he gets off the furniture to investigate, click and treat. Gradually move the treat further away after showing it to him, remembering to click and treat every time.
Once he understands that he will get a treat if he gets off the furniture a word such as ‘off’ can be added so that he can link the word and action together.
Eventually he will learn that getting off the furniture is not a ‘punishment’ because he will get rewarded. Slowly decrease the amount of times he is treated or the size of the treat, but only when he is doing it every time without growling and to the command ‘off’.
Dogs live by the belief that ‘if it feels good and it’s safe, do it’. Therefore they need to be trained from a very early age to control their impulses. To do this handlers need to think of how they want their dog to behave when they are fully grown and what they will allow them to do when they are fully grown. Just because they are puppies now and their behaviour is comical, does not mean that it will still be comical when they are fully grown, start how you mean to go on so that dogs and people are safe.
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