"It is Not about the Couch".
This is what I told a client recently.
The family had adopted Whiskey from the shelter 3 weeks before asking for my help.
He was about 1-year old. He was reportedly super happy when the family first met him - real definition: excited - and pulled on the leash when they tried to walk him, practically dragging the humans out the doors! But the family, a couple in their 60s, with adult children and several grand-kids, fell in love and brushed off the poor leash walking as simply him wanting to get away from the shelter and hoped it would calm down.
Whiskey quickly settled into the home. He found an older, worn in couch and immediately hopped up on it, and then spent the next few days lounging as a couch potato. His apparent change in energy was welcomed. The family didn't object to the dog being on their furniture. Their previous dog had been allowed on furniture and this particular couch was worn-in and not frequently used by the humans, so they didn't see any reason why the dog couldn't have the couch. The dog didn't seem destructive or possessive about it either. So they didn't think twice.
Then Whiskey started to do some uncool things.....
- he tried (and succeeded) grabbing food off one of the owner's plates when they got up from the kitchen table;
- he taught himself to open the bedroom doors (that the owner's closed to try and keep him out of);
- and the biggest concern was that the leash pulling was not going away, but getting much worse: his female owner was almost pulled over trying to walk him - a dangerous situation for a 60 year old - and she had specifically chosen Whiskey with the intention of getting a companion to walk with everyday!
So why do I bring up the couch, when it doesn't seem to be an issue, and there are so many other obvious concerns?
The couch is significant because it is one of the first experiences where Whiskey learned that he doesn't need the humans to give him direction, and that there are no consequences for his actions.
Whiskey chose the couch. He decides when to get on and off of it. Whiskey doesn't know what the couch has no value to the humans. Just because he is not growling when one of them comes near him, does not mean that everything is 'rainbows & sunshine'.
The state of mind that Whiskey is displaying - moving forward at his choice, not looking to his humans for direction or permission - started with the couch. He was a new member of the household, and was testing the boundaries. And he learned that the humans didn't seem to have any.....so it's reasonable that Whiskey took it.
It's also reasonable for Whiskey to think that the humans wouldn't have boundaries with anything else either. And so that's what we started to see:
- taking food from a human;
- going anywhere and everywhere in the house, treating it like playground equipment;
- ignoring the human when walking together;
- invading her intimate space when he wanted to 'play' by biting her clothing or her hands.
These are all behaviours that show a lack of respect for the humans in the relationship. They are signs that Whiskey is running the house (and lives!) of all the humans in it.
The humans didn't want this.
* relaxing strolls along Jericho Beach;
* peace of mind knowing their grand-kids could come over and not get knocked over;
* the confidence to go to an off-leash park and have their dog come back to them when they called his name.
So to get those things, we have to go back to the beginning and re-establish a relationship founded on trust and respect, rather than on the humans simply being the 'givers'.
Apply Dog Psychology principles.
Start creating the humans as the ones who are responsible for leading the situation. Create rules and structure that work for the HUMANS and then teach the dog - with patience and compassion - what those rules are and how to live within them.
Once the dog understands where they fit into their new pack - as the follower of all the humans - and their energy is in balance, then you can start to break some of the rules.
Including inviting your dog onto furniture! Because it is on your terms. So that you control the state of mind of your dog when he is in those situations.