This is the story of Candace (Cavalier King Charles Spaniel) and Bella (Boxer). When I first got the call from their mom, she was very worried because Bella would often feel compelled to pin Candace down (reasons to be explained). This scared their mom very much. When I met them, I realized Candace was a terrified little girl. She was so afraid of people that she firmly planted herself between the nightstand and bed in her mommy and daddy’s room and barked incessantly at me. Candace’s fearful behavior made her a target for Bella’s need to control her.
It took 45 minutes of the “treat and retreat” game and me actually laying down in their bedroom floor and tossing treats, and then holding them in a flat outstretched hand, to get her to approach me and get in my space. Her fear was making her a “target” for the more confident and dominant Bella. Bella felt she needed to control Candace’s fearful outbursts.
Their mom was concerned that the episodes would escalate to the level that would end up with Candace being injured. Sometimes, Bella would react to their Mom simply having Candace in her lap on the couch and would jump up and be on top of Candace before their Mom could react.
I began with teaching Bella solid Canine Good Citizen obedience and showing her parents how to give those commands. She was an absolute dream to train because she is incredibly smart. We quickly advanced to her reactivity to vehicles going up their street and desensitizing her to vehicles in general, as well as an incredibly long down stay OFF LEASH with a great recall. During that process, her owners learned how to get her undivided attention on them and give her commands. This strengthened their bond and Bella’s trust and respect for her owners was thereby strengthened, giving Mom a feeling of empowerment to control her dog.
Then, I moved on to Candace. With continued efforts and work Candace has now come out of her shell and is a little social butterfly. Instead of cowering, running and hiding when you reach for her, she will happily let you pick her up and pet her and will give you sweet kisses.
Candace had never been leash trained and would completely shut down when the leash was put on her, so I knew this process was going to take much patience and only positive reinforcement methods, due to her shyness/fearfulness. When we would go outside with her leash on, she would find a corner by the porch steps and try to become invisible. We had to entice her with treats and ball play, just to get her to get up and walk and run while wearing a very light slip leash. We could not risk a relapse into her insecure behavior. We are still working on this part, but she is progressing beautifully.
Candace wasn’t even confident enough to respond to a “watch” command when we first began our work, because she was so insecure that looking me directly in the eyes was difficult for her. Candace will now give a beautiful “watch” “sit” and “stay”. Her confidence has increased exponentially. Now, it is important to note that with this new found confidence, some behavioral issues began to develop. She would growl at Bella at meal times. Candace would stand over her food, not eating it, but rather just growling at Bella. We had to work with both dogs to stop this behavior in Candace and to make sure Bella knows it isn’t okay to respond to it!
There was also the issue of treats and toys. If Bella finished her treat first, which was always the case, she would go after Candace’s. During the reconditioning process for that behavior, we found that Candace would chew on her pig ear treat until she was bored with it, and then growl at Bella if she got anywhere near her. For this, Candace had to be corrected, just as Bella had to be corrected for attempting to go take Candace’s treat. I also advised the parents to remove the uneaten remains of the treat when Candace lost interest in it. By doing this, there is no reason for Candace to feel compelled to guard her treasure and no temptation for Bella to covet it.
It didn’t take long at all to teach them both how to properly act with their own respective treat dispensing toys. Bella was taught how to use a puzzle treat game that takes her longer to get the treats because she has to move the pieces to get her prize. These mentally challenging games are invaluable!
We used Bella’s solid response to the “leave it” command to teach her to leave Candace’s toy alone. Because Candace has the tendency to become fearful, after one instance of Bella taking Candace’s Busy Buddy treat ball, Candace would not play with it anymore. I put a little peanut butter on Candace’s treat ball and she quickly learned to love it again. This is a good example of raising the value of the reward in order to engage a dog.
Bella and Candace both liked to bark, a lot, at cars going by or people knocking on the door. To alleviate this problem, and make their parents’ lives easier, we taught the dogs the “settle” command and they both responded beautifully.
Before I left yesterday, we practiced this by me going outside and knocking on the door and the dogs being put in the settle position so that Bella didn’t either jump up on the window seat to bark or rush the door, barking. Mom and dad loved this exercise and within a short time, both dogs were being much calmer and reacting much more properly to someone knocking on the door.
As I have said before, it’s fine for your dog to alert you to the presence of someone driving up or being at the door, but you don’t want the alert barking to continue and escalate to the point of an over excited state of mind, which makes getting the dog back into a calm state of mind and creating a nice calm atmosphere for your guests to enter much more difficult. Some people will simply (and understandably) resort to just putting their dogs in their crates, rooms or outside to avoid their guests being bombarded by over exuberant dogs.
I am sharing some pictures of these wonderful dogs for your enjoyment.
Last night, I received this heartwarming text from their Mom: “Sitting on the couch with a girl on each side. They’re worn out from playing with their respective balls, simultaneously.” THIS IS WHY I DO THIS WORK!
I am sharing this story with you all, so that you will be encouraged knowing these problems are manageable and to show you how important it is that you be the leader in your household and remove any need for one dog (or more than one dog) to control the behavior of another, because everyone in the house knows that YOU are in control of everyone and that everyone must follow the same rules. 🙂