I worked recently with a young guy, Steven, who has a five month old Rottweiler. Wallace is a handsome dog, very friendly and a typical Rottweiler puppy. The reason for the consultation was that Wallace had started to become increasingly possessive over certain items which had been dropped on the floor, such as tissues, items of rubbish outside and so forth. Steven told me he usually tries to get the items from Wallace by holding his collar and taking them from his mouth, which Wallace has taken a dislike to and had started to react by either running away when he has something and hiding or snarling, growling and lunging if he wasn’t able to run off.
Now, from my previous two blogs, I’ve explained that dogs do what works for them. If behaviours are reinforced, they will increase. So, as Wallace lunges and snaps which causes Steven to back off, he learns this behaviour works. He is not “winning” or being dominant or “bad”, he is simply learning what actions get him what he wants.
Also from my previous blogs, you may recognise the following statement which I have started to apply to my training – Control the environment, not the dog, so that the dog makes better decisions and then reinforce those choices to make them more likely in the future.
In this instance, our environmental controls would be working at a distance where Wallace feels comfortable and not allowing him to run off and hide under the table where we would be unable to work. The decisions we are looking for Wallace to make are not reacting in a way we don’t like (lunging etc), and to willingly drop the item he has in his mouth on our approach. We were aiming to train Wallace not to want or feel the need to guard the object from us.
We started off with Wallace off leash in the livingroom and used Chirag Patel’s method which is described in the following link
I told Steven to continue to work on this technique often, at least a couple of times a day for several weeks, to build a really strong behaviour.
Once Wallace had the hang of this, we tethered him with a 6 ft long leash to a piece of furniture so he couldn’t move away under the table. Another way we could have controlled the environment would have been to move the table out of the room or practice in an empty room. We then gave him a pig’s ear (a prized item) to chew on. Ordinarily, Wallace would run and hide with the item if you approached from about 4 feet way and lunge if your hand was within about a foot of him. Starting at 5 feet or so, I used the “drop” cue and dropped pieces of cheese on the floor. I pointed them out to Wallace, he dropped the ear and ate them. I then walked away and let him go back to his pig’s ear.
We did this several times and then I got a little closer. He was now willingly dropping the pig’s ear on my approach, even before the cue and approaching me with relaxed body language. I reinforced this with food and let him go back to his ear. I repeated this several times also. The next time, I approached, asked him to “drop”, he dropped th pig’s ear, I reinforced with food and then I picked up the pig’s ear while he was eating cheese cubes from the floor. When he finished, I give him the ear back and walked away.
Here, I was continually reinforcing behaviours I wanted, i.e. relaxed body language on my approach and giving up the pig’s ear. Because I didn’t get into a confrontation with him (something I would undoubtedly lose in a few months time), reinforced the right decisions he made and gave him his pig’s ear back, he started looking forward to me approaching and all thoughts of running away of fighting for the pig’s ear were gone.
The last few times, after I gave him the pig’s ear back, I help onto it for a few moments before letting go. What happens here is that the dog learns that your hand is better at holding the pig’s ear than his front feet, and then he enjoys you holding it as he can chew it more easily. This stage can only be done if your dog has enough trust that you won’t try to take it from him.
I then had Steven do all the steps and talked him through it so he felt confident in doing it when I wasn’t there. Before I arrived, Wallace would have run under the table and would have probably bitten me if I had tried to take the ear from him. By the end of the session, he was willingly lying next to me or Steven while he was chewing the pig’s ear. The technique described will take many, many sessions for it to be come completely reliable in Wallace and Steven will need to practice daily. If you are doing something similar with your dog, take advice from a professional and go at your dog’s pace.
A great result, all without force or intimidation.