Changing Abby’s guarding behaviour – Part 1

Nov 6, 2020Uncategorized

Today I want to tell you about how I approached Abby’s behaviour of being alarmingly on guard almost all the time when being in the park. We will have a look at how to meet a dog’s need, what leadership is and how we can meet Abby’s need for leadership specifically.

When I met Abby, the sweet Standard Schnauzer of 3 years, she would demonstrate intense guarding behaviour in a public park: she closely observed humans who entered the park and ran towards them to circle them and snap bite at their legs.

Abby did not hurt anyone, her intense guarding behaviour had just recently increased to that degree. However,  this behaviour was quite alarming and could easily increase in intensity if ignored.

I spent some hours with Abby and her brothers Baxter and Dax and observed her behaviour inside and outside the house, in

Abby the black Schnauzer

interaction with familiar and unfamiliar humans, with different toys, with dogs in the park and with Baxter and Dax. I also gathered many facts about her breed, upbringing, age and the environment she is living in including her daily routines. Almost at the end of that day, I had the chance to attune to Abby’s emotions which gave me the missing puzzle piece to fully understand what Abby was lacking, or with other words, what she was in need of: humble leadership & solid guidance which comes with predictability and safety. It also comes with a fair amount of mental challenge which an intelligent dog like 

Schnauzer Abby really is in regular need of. 

When I met her humans Lana & Nigel and chatted to them about what I observed and what we could do about it, both were full-heartedly committed to work with and help Abby being able to reveal her true and friendly self to most other people and dogs.

You can find the whole story of how I met Abby and how I would holistically approach her as a being in order to figure out what she needs here.

How can we meet a dog’s need in general?

It is important to me to make clear how a dog’s need can be met, as this comes down to commitment of time and energy.

A dog’s need can be met with a custom training plan and a decent & genuine commitment of the dog parents to actually train their dog. Especially in the beginning, this often means a daily commitment of time and energy.

Of course, I help! I swing by and explain & demonstrate the exercises, I teach what to pay attention to and how to reward in time. 

I also translate the dog’s communication so that dog parents learn how their dog is communicating to them and what kind of behaviour they should reward and what not to reward.

And super important: I also increase awareness for signals in body language that tell us that our dog is mentally exhausted. This is crucial: Mental training is vital for dogs, but it mustn’t be too much for them at a time, otherwise the nervous system will get overcharged and we’ll experience our dog becoming unhealthily overexcited.

This may look funny, but it is anything else than a pleasant stat for a dog to be in. An overcharged nervous-system also decreases the brain’s ability to sustainably learn new behaviour. By the way, every dog is a lil different in how they show their signs of exhaustion.

So, Lana, Nigel & I meet Abby’s needs with being committed to (1) a certain amount of time & energy for a daily training (2) a custom training plan and (3) regular meet-ups where we check on communication, timing, progress and especially where we adapt to Abby’s change.

Abby needs leadership

As mentioned above what Abby has been needing is leadership which comes with predictability and safety.

As every dog is an individual unique being, we gotta remind ourselves of what Abby is feeling: stress, overwhelm, exhaustion and, as a result of all this anxiety.

Being aware of why Abby feels anxious in the first place, it becomes very clear that training her must happen without overwhelming her. To ensure that, we need to observe Abby’s body language closely and always be ready to patiently rather take 2 steps back in the training process than overwhelming her with a task just once.

Of course, everything we do with Abby is based on positive reinforcement. This means we add something to a behaviour shown, we reward her for the behaviour we like. Rewards can be loving words like “great” or “good girl”, treats, a toy, a play or touch.

By the way, studies have shown that our reward-voice releases the same happy-hormone-cocktail in a dog that is released when receiving a treat.

For indoor training, we figured that Abby’s motivation is treats & voice rewards, she is strongly motivated by food and shows the sweetest signs of love when hearing Lana & Nigel rewarding her with their voices.

Leadership & how to sustainably establish it

Our goal is that Abby can reveal her true, friendly self in public, which means nothing else then being able to relax, listen to us and know, that there is no need to guard – or in other words accepting our leadership. Therefore, let’s have a look at leadership & how to establish it:

leadership graphic

As Abby lives in dog’s-heaven-home, resources is checked off. When we talk about guidance, we mean making decisions for our dog, which we constantly do when we train them, as we ask them to do certain things. Also when we initiate play, we make a decision for them what to do next. Dog’s don’t do well with having too many choices all day long on what to do – they don’t enjoy that. Interaction with you is what they deeply desire. Furthermore, guidance means setting up rules and being consequent in teaching our dog to learn and stick to the rules; for example, sitting before eating, being leashed up or the ball is thrown. Safety is a result of us being empathetic and responsible. For example, if we have a dog who gets bullied by another dog, we understand that this is highly unpleasant for our dog and provide protection through intervening when our dog is being bullied and we also offer him to hide behind us. Our dog learns that we keep him safe and sound. The dog who had bullied learns “I’m not allowed to do that”. Responsibility here means that we acknowledge that we are in charge of providing that safety and do it consistently.  Last but so not least, love is the motivation for our actions.

Back to Abby:

As always, reaching a goal is achieved with a step by step process. What are the steps? First of all, we need a solid foundation for communication which requires Abby’s ability to pay attention to us when we ask her for it. In terms of learning new behaviour,  generally it can be said every behavior that we want her to show outside needs to be acquired and practiced fluently inside first; every behavior that she shall perform off-leash needs to be reliable on-leash first.

That being said, in order to establish leadership we need exercises that:

  • teach Abby how to pay her undivided attention to us as an absolute baseline for all communication during training
  • help us to practice our communication with Abby at large and in detail
  • help Abby to trust that we make decisions for her that are beneficial and enjoyable (rewards)
  • make her understand that we are in charge of our territory (territorial acceptance, no need to guard)
  • help Abby to relax and trust that we take care of keeping everyone safe
  • teach Abby how to come when we call for her
  • teach Abby that people are friends, not intruders
  • Abby enjoys!! Only a dog who actually enjoys the training will show sustainable effects in learning that strengthen trust & bond
Abby in Spring

Taking into consideration all the steps we need to go in order to achieve our overall goal, it’s fairly clear that change needs time.

This is only reasonable given the fact that from Abby’s perspective, she shall give up her job (guarding) and replace it with relaxing, sniffing & playing – I think everyone in her shoes would need time for that to adapt with joy and curiosity. Let’s be honest here, how easy does it come for us humans to step away from work and totally relax w/o thinking about work?! 😉

Following along Abby’s journey so far, what are suitable exercises to start this journey with? How exactly can we teach Abby to pay directed and reliable attention to us? How will she learn that we are in charge of our territory? And how can we make her understand that we make decisions that are beneficial for her?

Questions over questions that I will answer soon in the next posts – stay tuned. You are interested in Abby’s journey? Follow Kalitu Dog Training on Instagram for more insight and beautiful pictures of sweet Abby.

Got something to work on?

Angelina Behrendt

@ Vancouver, Canada

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