Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Ask the Dog Trainer:
My Dog Herds My House Guests!

Michael Baugh CDBC, CPDT-KSA
Can I Get Away With This Spot?
Dear Michael, I have 2 herding dogs that get plenty of exercise. We walk 3 miles each morning and evening. Both dogs are young and energetic, so it takes this to keep their energy levels under control. This does a pretty good job.

My problem is when visitors come to my home. The two dogs nip (gently, but still annoying) at heels and follow their DNA very well, herding my guests into a group. Is there a training technique or command that I can teach to stop this behavior? Any suggestions would be helpful.

Thanks, Morty
Hi Morty,

I love that you are providing your dogs with some good slow-burn aerobic exercise.  Walks are great.  As you have discovered, though, they are the beginning of your solution.

It sounds like you are living with two great dogs with boundless energy.  Certainly there are some genes at play here.  Herders will be herders.  But, there's good news.  Genetically influenced behavior, it turns out, is not rigidly cast in stone.   Most of what our dogs do in life is actually learned behavior.  I'd bet your dogs have learned that chasing and nipping is quite satisfying (maybe even fun).  This is actually good news for us as well, because we know your dogs can learn.  I bet they've learned lots of things. 

So how do we get rid of an unwanted and annoying behavior?  We teach a new behavior to take it's place.  Simple right?  Well yeah.  Eager learners (like your dogs) are easy to teach.  Here's the plan:
  • Teach your dogs to settle down on a mat, where they can enjoy a chew toy or stuffed Kong.  I like to help dogs figure this task out on their own using a clicker training process called shaping.  There's a great book all about shaping dogs to lie on a mat called Fired Up, Frantic and Freaked Out (sound like your dogs?).  I recommend it to almost all of my clients.  When you're done, your dogs will run to their mats and settle down no matter where they are.  It's nearly fool proof.
  • Teach your dogs to go to a designated spot and stay there when someone comes to the door.  Guess what?  You can use the mat for this too.  Guest arrives - dog stays while guests move to the living area - dog greets guest - mat moves to the living room where the dogs settle again.  No nipping.  The dogs were on a "stay" on their mats.  Done.
But wait, there's more.  Let's get your dogs playing with interactive toys.  Let's also weave play and learning together with you (their favorite teacher).  These two things alone burn off lots of physical and mental energy.  

Smart dogs like yours love smart teachers.  I have a feeling everyone here has lucked out on that front.  Let's get a walk in and then start training.  You're just beginning, but you're on your way.
Used with Permission from
Robyn Arouty Photography

Michael Baugh CDBC, CPDT-KSA is a dog trainer in Houston  TX.  He specializes in fearful and aggressive behavior in dogs.  

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Michael's advice does not replace an actual consultation with a qualified trainer.


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