Updated: Jan 24
Friends, today I’d like to talk to you about a serious condition that affects millions of dogs all over the world. It is seen in puppies, adult dogs, and, perhaps most often, adolescents. It does not discriminate between pups purchased from breeders and dogs rescued from shelters. Many owners—often those with Labrador Retrievers and bully breeds—swear the affliction has a genetic component. Others believe the nefarious condition lies dormant until adolescence, when it bursts forth full-blown. Symptoms include sore throat (the owner’s, from shouting), loss of hair (again, the owner’s, from tearing it out), and a belief on the part of the dog that his name is “No, no, bad dog!” This condition is so widespread that, I dare say, it is a syndrome. Its name? PDS: Pushy Dog Syndrome.
Bodhi, who we adopted from a shelter at the estimated age of a year-and-a-half—prime time for PDS to manifest—came to us with a severe case. No, the treatment wasn’t antibiotics or bed rest; it was training, and a mega-dose of patience. The shelter had told us Bodhi had been turned in by a college kid who could no longer afford his upkeep. Judging from Bodhi’s behavior, it was easy to believe he’d been raised in a frat house. Hell, he probably hogged the remote and used beer kegs as Kongs. That first week, I couldn’t walk across a room without him blocking my path, jumping on me frantically, and repeatedly clamping his jaws around an arm or nipping at my legs. This wasn’t soft mouthing, either; it left bruises.
Another way Bodhi’s PDS manifested was that whenever I’d go to pet Sierra, he’d thrust himself bodily between us in an attempt to keep all the attention for himself. Yep, he had it bad. So what’s a dog-Mom to do? First, instead of allowing him to block me, I body blocked him. I certainly never kicked him (no, not even the “Cesar kick”), but instead shuffled forward as though my feet were glued to the floor. Bodhi quickly learned that trying to impede my progress just wasn’t going to work. As I claimed the space, he surrendered it by moving away. As for the charming jumping/mouthing combo, I leaned slightly forward while giving him a hard stare and uttering a low, guttural, “Eh-eh!” That might sound harsh to some, but something had to be done. It certainly didn’t traumatize him, but it was an effective punishment, as it quickly decreased the occurrence of the behavior.
As for his pushiness when I would pet Sierra, I decided on an acceptable alternative way for him to solicit my attention; to lie down. Of course, I didn’t expect Bodhi, in a flash of doggy genius, to come up with the idea on his own, so I showed him what I wanted. I taught him a down. Then, any time he approached while I was petting Sierra, I immediately cued him to down. He was then rewarded him with a most spectacular tummy rub. The result is that now, many times when I’m on the floor petting Sierra, I’ll hear a thud behind me. It’s Bodhi, flinging himself to the floor and rolling onto his back, waiting for attention. It’s pretty funny, but it’s also a beautiful thing. (Note: My book Keeping the Peace: A Guide to Dog-Dog Aggression in the Home, written since this blog post, includes how to teach this step by step.)
As for Bodhi’s PDS, we still have a ways to go, and he may always have a trace of it. But we’re working on it. So take heart, friends, if your dog has PDS, patience and training is just what the dawgter ordered.
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