Philadelphia dog trainer Randi Anderson provides in-home dog behavior training to Philadelphia and the surrounding suburbs, including the Oxford area, where this case study took place.
I first had the pleasure of meeting Barney, a 1-year-old Yorkie mix, just a few weeks ago. Barney had been rescued from a situation of neglect, and was adopted into his current home just a few weeks before I met him. His new family never anticipated having to call a dog behaviorist. After all, how much trouble could such a small little guy get into? Turns out, a lot.
Barney displayed many common “bad” behaviors, including constant chewing (on everything!), nipping, jumping, barking and eliminating in the house. These behaviors concerned his new family, but they were prepared to help him through it. More concerning was the fact that Barney would never settle. He seemed completely unwilling to relax on the couch with the family, or relax anywhere at all. Barney was always in motion, and usually up to no good. Try as they might, the family was unable to help him settle down, and unsure if it was even possible!
As if all this wasn’t enough, their biggest concern was Barney’s leash behavior. He pulled on the leash much more than they thought possible given his size, and was distracted by absolutely everything. Even so, they were committed to walking Barney daily, but that’s where they ran into the most trouble. Anytime a car would pass by, Barney would bark, lunge, and “act like Cujo” until the car was out of sight. They were afraid that if Barney ever got loose, he would be hit by a car. Not to mention, this was pretty embarrassing behavior! The family’s favorite time to walk him was back and forth to the kids’ bus stop each morning, and with all the children and their parents present, this behavior was beginning to cause a problem.
More than anything, the family wanted Barney to be included in their daily activities. Barney was crate trained and handled his crate time well, but they wanted a family pet – not a house guest! In just a few weeks, the family would be relocating to the shore for the summer to open a family business. Barney would of course be going with them, but with such a busy, sometimes chaotic environment such as the beach, they worried that this wouldn’t be feasible.
When I finally met Barney, it was clear right away that he was experiencing quite a bit of anxiety. He barked like a madman when I came in, and jumped on me as I passed by. He paced around constantly, and almost compulsively felt the need to put something in his mouth. He picked up everything within reach, including bugs, grass, twigs, lint, food, dog poop, bones, toys, curtains, table legs – everything was fair game! He knew no basic commands, and impulsively responded to everything in his environment.
When we went outside to test out his leash behavior, Barney pulled and zigzagged toward anything and everything that caught his attention! When a car would pass by, he would lunge and strain against the leash while standing on two legs. He also behaved this way whenever he spotted another dog. His family was not exaggerating – Barney was a handful on the leash!
Many people would excuse most of Barney’s behavior as “hyperactivity” indicative of his age. I completely disagree. I would argue that even puppies can be taught to relax calmly in the house. Hyperactivity, assuming there is such a thing, cannot and should not be a way of life! Not all dogs will take it upon themselves to relax, and that’s where they need our help. One of our primary training goals is to teach Barney how to relax and be calm in the house.
The advantage of working with a dog like Barney is he isn’t really enjoying his behavior anymore than his family is. Much of Barney’s behavior indicates a very high level of stress. Think of the stressful situations you encounter in your life… Would you want to feel that level of stress on a constant basis? Barney doesn’t either!
Lucky for Barney, his family was ready, willing, and able to help. Thanks to their dedication, Barney’s behavior did a 180 in just ten short days! When I showed up for our second lesson, Barney was in a completely different state of mind! He was able to relax on the couch with the family, or enjoy chewing a bone (an appropriate item to chew!) on his place. He still nipped here and there while playing, but that behavior had also improved drastically. Barney was doing well with the sit, down and place commands, too.
With Barney in such an improved state of mind, and his family feeling confident, it was clearly time to tackle his leash issues. By the end of our lesson, Barney’s family had him heeling like a champ, strolling past cars and dogs with little more than a passing interest. Walks to and from the bus stop will now be much more peaceful!
We’ll hold our next few lessons in public places like a local park, or a busy street to make sure that Barney’s family knows how to translate the handling skills they’ve learned to other situations. This way if Barney slips up and begins to react, they know how to communicate with him to guide him back to good behavior. We’ll also spend time making sure each member of the family is comfortable walking with Barney.
There is still some work to be done, but I think it’s safe to say that Barney’s summer at the shore should be filled with good behavior! Behavior change doesn’t have to take months on end. Bad behavior on the leash can, and should, change quickly!
If you’re struggling with bad leash behavior (leash pulling, barking and lunging at cars, people, dogs, bikes, etc), I can help! I offer private, in-home dog training in Philadelphia and the entire Delaware Valley area. I will teach you how to communicate with your dog so that regardless of the situation, you can guide your dog to good leash behavior. I also tackle other dog behavior issues such as aggression, anxiety, jumping, counter surfing, and many more. Give me a call at 215.709.2560 or fill out my contact form.
Change is possible!