October 25, 2014

Medina
Mostly clear
67°F

Better behavior

Purchased at a pet store, 5-year-old Cody, advertised as a Chihuahua puppy, now is a 23-pound dog standing 16 inches tall.

“He’s always had an attitude problem,” said owner Mindy Williamson. Even after training at a doggy summer camp last July, Cody’s bad behaviors still included aggression (biting), being possessive with items, pulling on the leash, excessive barking and neurotic jumping and barking when the doorbell rang. The family was embarrassed and so unsure of Cody’s behavior, they began to dread when visitors would come.

With his combination of problematic behaviors and the commitment of his owners to work with him, Cody was chosen as the winner of the Worst Dog in Medina Contest, offered by The Gazette in conjunction with Bark Busters.

When Bark Buster trainers Kathy Stetz and Betsy Foglia rang the doorbell to the home, Cody could be seen jumping ferociously at the window as he barked uncontrollably. Chaos reigned as the Williamsons restrained Cody when the trainers entered the home. He continued to exhibit aggressive behaviors, including making a move to bite Stetz when she moved from her chair. He made nonstop attempts to be the center of attention, stealing gloves, barking and circling.

“Cody had no boundaries,” said Stetz. Questioning revealed that instead of correcting for bad behavior, the Williamsons were unknowingly rewarding Cody for it. They would bribe him with treats in order to retrieve stolen items. Similarly, they would redirect him from his nuisance barking with a treat.

Whatever Cody asked for, he got, no matter how he asked.
Bark Busters’ training approach to regain control of Cody and reprogram him with acceptable behaviors was two-fold.

“We must first teach the owners to be leaders,” said Foglia. The Williamsons were instructed not to give in to Cody’s attention-seeking behaviors by doing everything on their terms not his.

“We want you to pet and play with your dog when YOU want to, not when he’s demanding it,” Stetz explained. When Cody barked for attention or pushed for a pat on the head, the family was instructed not to give in, to show him his attention-seeking behavior no longer worked. Leadership exercises taught the family how to be aware of positioning when they did certain things in daily life.

“It’s important for us to be first and the dog to follow when going up the stairs, through a door, or on a walk,” said Foglia.
The second part of the training was programming exercises such as recall, sit and stay and off-leash control. Through these exercises, Bark Busters showed the family how to teach Cody to honor a boundary at the door and not greet guests until verbally released to do so.

Their use of training aids offers non-physical correction, but they stress praise for good behavior is far more important then the correction and also offers incentive to the dog to do what is asked of it. Their positive training methods teach owners to guide their dogs through bad behaviors by using their voice tone and body language. It generally takes three to five weeks to change a dog’s behavior, but training has to be consistent, and problem scenes must be staged. Through these leadership and programming exercises, Cody would learn he was not the “alpha” of the Williamson family.

Six weeks after Bark Busters’ visit to the Williamsons, Cody showed remarkable progress as the family worked together to change his bad behaviors. Mindy’s husband, Scott, played a major role in teaching the dog to stay off the furniture. Cody gets down immediately when corrected and sleeps in his basket, which was unused for four years. One of his favorite tricks was to steal and chew up socks, slippers, shoes or whatever was left on the floor. Trying to retrieve the item would result in growling unless bribed with a treat to drop it. Now he responds to the command “leave it.”

“We can leave our shoes on the ground!” said daughters Alex, 14, and Taylor, 17, who actively helped with his training.

“He walks calmly at my side without pulling the leash,” said Mindy, “and is clearly calmer and friendlier around company.”

To verify this, Stetz said, “Dogs like to learn, like to please and are much happier if they feel they don’t need to be in a leadership role.”

Even though the chaos at the door is much improved, Cody continues to be reluctant to forfeit his reign there. He’s a smart dog and has gotten wise to the repeated attempts the girls and Mindy have staged, but they’re not giving up on it.

“When you spend just 15 minutes a day working with your dog, you’re going to see results. It’s been a good experience working with Bark Busters,” Williamson said, “and we’re very happy with the changes in Cody.”

Barnosky can be reached at 330-725-4160, ext. 4075, via e-mail at petlady@roadrunner.com or by writing The Gazette, 885 W. Liberty St., Medina, 44256.