Ask Tom, the Dogcharmer: Tucker

Keeping four paws on the floor.

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Susan Hobart

Dear Tom,

Our 6-year-old labradoodle, Tucker, is a wonderful, well-mannered dog except for when company arrives. He joyfully greets our guests, jumps up to lick their faces, and fully invades their space, ignoring our commands of “sit” or “no.” This greeting can go on for several minutes, after which he lies down at our feet and ignores everyone while our guests go wash their hands and faces.

We cope by snapping on his leash while guests wait outside, and holding him in a sit on a short leash six feet away until the guests have entered. Unfortunately, no matter how long we keep him in the hold, when we release him, he runs to commence his greeting. We’ve also tried incenting him with treats while we command “sit,” but that just gives him the added joyful reinforcement of a treat and a greeting ritual.

Tucker is also tormented by the squirrels in our yard. When he sees one taunting him on the deck or a nearby tree, he barks and climbs the glass doors and windows. He’s even broken through a screen. We react with shouts of “Tucker, no!” or “Tucker, come!” but he has selective hearing and doesn’t quit until the squirrel disappears, by which time we’re fruitlessly yelling over the cacophony.

Any advice?

Susan

Dear Susan,

Unless trained or too old to care, there’s hardly a dog alive that isn’t way too intrusive at the door. This ill-mannered behavior is actually connected to one of the key reasons man and dog bonded thousands of years ago — territoriality. Dogs served, and still do, as alarm systems and protectors. Several days ago, to avoid waking up the whole house, I told my daughter and son-in-law to leave their front door unlocked because I would be arriving from the airport about 2 am. Had I stood at the door fumbling with a key, their two dogs and my Paula Jean would have awoken the whole neighborhood with their barking. So by approaching the house quietly and opening the door quickly and immediately greeting them using their names, there was but one bark, and nobody, including my grandson, woke up.

Included in my basic training is what I call the “door turmoil routine,” the routine at the door to eliminate the turmoil. First, the dog has to be taught not to jump on people, unless invited to do so. This can be done in a multitude of ways, from turning away from the dog with a shrug and scowl as you say “off” to a leash correction, to a startling noise, to anything that the dog finds unpleasant while his front paws are on you. The split second four paws are on the floor, Tucker needs to know that you’re pleased, which can be as subtle as a smile and a soft “good boy.”

The timing is critical. When his paws are on you, you’re not happy, and it’s not so pleasant for him; when he’s off, you’re happy.

Next is the “stay.” More often than not I can teach a dog to stay by just using my body language and the word “uh-uh” with a frown on my face. After the command, the split second the dog starts to move, I step toward him saying “uh-uh,” which almost always stops the dog cold, at which point I’m smiling and softly saying “good boy.” When I say “stay” my arm is outstretched

toward the dog with a flat hand, like a cop stopping traffic. I don’t use the word “no,” because by the time I get there, most of the dogs think their name is “No Bad Dog!”

Then the focus is on increasing three things, the length of time he stays, the distance you can get away from him while he stays, and the intensity of the distraction through which he stays. That’s why my door turmoil routine lesson is usually one of the later lessons, because the dog has to be pretty well trained for it to work through the distraction of the territorial response of someone at the door.

Many dogs will treat you like they haven’t seen you in months when you return after 90 seconds putting out the garbage. If you don’t want professional help, a good way to work on it is to have a family member leave the house and return after a few minutes, knocking or ringing the bell. Then you thank Tucker for alerting you to someone at the door, tell the guest to wait a second while you lure Tucker away from the door with a treat, and tell him to sit and stay, at which point he gets the first treat. Then you answer the door, with your real focus on Tucker, and don’t open the door unless Tucker holds the stay. If you have to pick up the dragging leash and bring him back to the spot away from the door multiple times, so be it.

When you can open the door, keep it low-key with the “guest,” so Tucker is less likely to come rushing forward. When ready, tell him “OK,” and make sure he sees you have another treat to give him when he sits, as opposed to molesting the “guest” (family member). If done often enough, Tucker loses his enthusiasm with the same “guest” at the door, and starts to develop a more polite greeting habit.

From that point on, until Tucker really has it, every time a family member comes home, he or she knocks or rings, and the person who’s home does the routine. If you just wait for real guests, it won’t work. This door routine requires consistency to overcome a dog’s natural territorial response.

As for Tucker’s territorial predation, destroying screens and windowsills because squirrels have the audacity to invade his yard (you’d think Tucker pays the bills), you can try scat mats and or x-mats. Place the scat mat in front of the door and on the low windowsills, and when he steps on it he will get a mild shock as you calmly say “leave it!” The x-mats have hard rubber-like needles which might be ignored by a very small, light dog, but Tucker will probably find stepping on them as much fun as a canker sore. I would suggest he be taught “leave it!” by a pro, so if he’s off-leash and there’s one of those audacious squirrels across the street, he doesn’t give chase upon hearing “leave it!” Put the work in, and you’ll enjoy the enhanced quality of life with the Tuck.

 

The Dogcharmer

 

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