Dog for 7/3

Dog Gone Problems is a weekly advice column by David Codr, a dog behaviorist in Omaha. David answers dog behavior questions sent in by our readers. You can reach him at dogbehaviorquestions@gmail.com.

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Dog Gone Problems,

I have an 18-month-old Goldendoodle who is a very kind and loving dog. My family’s intent is for him to work as a therapy dog. The problem is I am a 14-year-old small girl who this dog doesn’t respect at all. I feel like I have tried everything. My family has hired behaviorists and trainers. I walk him 30 minutes a day — morning and night — and I train him for 10 minutes after each one of those walks. No matter what I do, he doesn’t respect me. However, he respects the rest of my family. All my dad has to do is walk in the room and he will drop whatever he has. It's the same with my brothers, who are 11- and 16-years-old.

The next issue is that he has possession aggression. He is very fast. He grabs everything and does not let it go (at least for me). For example, he loves socks and will swallow them. Because of this he has had to get two surgeries and has had multiple visits to the vet to induce vomiting. We have buckets with lids and locks, but he can also open doors. When he gets something to chew on and I try to take it away, he growls — a lot. Then when I try to open his jaw, he bites me.

I need help. How can I make him respect me? Is it my fault or the dog's? 

Alexandra

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Hi Alexandra,

Wow. It sounds like you have quite a few issues going on. From what you wrote, it appears you are doing some good work already. Maybe we just need to add a little fine tuning. I can share a few tips.

Let’s break your letter down into individual sections so you can focus on one thing at a time.

First, respect for dogs can be confusing. Some of the factors may be related to your age and stature. Size matters to dogs. That said, one of my former apprentices has gone on to become a dog behaviorist and she is just over 5 feet tall. So it's something you can get past.

While the walks are great, they may not be enough. Your average dog needs an hour of exercise every day, but some dogs may need even more. From what you wrote, I'd guess your dog falls into that category. This video on creative ways to exercise dogs can help you supplement your walks with some easy indoor exercise options.

I'd look for some ways to build in compliance before your dog gets what he wants in your day-to-day life. Petting with a purpose is a wonderful way to help your dog learn to respect you as a leader and help him practice asking for things instead of telling you what to do.

Do you enforce rules with your dog? Dogs often see those who enforce rules as the leader. Enforcing rules gives you an opportunity to demonstrate your leadership in small, subtle ways multiple times a day.

Also, teaching your dog to focus is always a good exercise for dogs who are often otherwise engaged. 

I'd suggest you also start developing a strong leave it command with your dog. Once established, you can pull out high-value items and leave them on the floor when you can supervise and give the dog the leave it command. The more you repeat this, the less the dog will try to take things you want them to leave alone.

Lastly, this video includes a really easy and sneaky way to condition your dog to come to you — even when you don’t call him to come over.

Remember, training and behavior are separate. While training is awesome, I'd suggest you work more on these structural changes and behavior exercises to help your dog learn that listening and respecting you cause good things to happen.

Good luck and remember — everything you do trains your dog. Only sometimes you mean it.

David

Submit your pet questions to David Codr by emailing a photo of your dog and question to dogbehaviorquestions@gmail.com. Visit doggoneproblems.com for more from David.

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