I was working recently with a client whose dog, Phoebe, was jumping up and nipping for attention. Phoebe is a totally sweet terrier mix who’s just a little insecure and occasional tries unflattering and sometimes mildly aggressive behaviors to try to get her way or avoid fearful situations. When I met Phoebe back in December 2009 she’d just come from a shelter and wouldn’t come out of her crate for anyone but her new owners. She’d growl and carry on and the owner’s couldn’t get her to go out with their friend/dogwalker. They hired a trainer who’d told them to have the friend/dogwalker to sit there and give Phoebe treats while she was growling at her. This was a bad idea because then you’re basically rewarding a behavior you don’t want. Needless to say Phoebe’s attitude did not improve using this method.
The owner’s called me. I came in and of course Phoebe growled at me and wouldn’t come out of her crate. I lifted the back of the crate a little and she shot out like a greyhound after a rabbit. There was a lot of teeth baring and tail tucking but eventually I cornered her, lassoed her and once she was on leash she was much more agreeable. They hired me to began walking Phoebe on a daily basis. The next day I came by to get Phoebe and she was nowhere to be found. I searched the house and when I walked by the bathroom I heard a low growl. I flipped the bathroom light on and there she was wedged behind the toilet. I took the plunger and forced her out and lassoed her again (I never put my hands near a growling dog’s mouth) and we went for our walk. I asked the owners to keep the bathroom door closed from now on when they were gone. Within a few days she was coming to the door on her own ready to go out for her walk. Within a few weeks she fully trusted me and would let me put her gentle leader on without any trouble.
So back to the new bad behavior–Phoebe jumping up and nipping at toes to get attention. The owner’s said their verbal reprimands were not working. I recommended more dominance in and out of the house i.e. having Phoebe walk next to or behind them on walks, sit at doorways and enter after them and basically ignore or physically (not harshly) knock her off them if she tried to jump on them. I also remembered and recommended a tool I’d seen a few years ago used on a dog to get their attention and snap them out of a bad behavior. This tool is basically a water bottle with several coins in it. It works as a loud rattle and generally startles a dog enough to get them to stop whatever bad behavior they’re engaging in.
I left the training session with Phoebe acting better and me thinking. I had recently started working with a beagle named Daisy who would lay down and go totally limp when I tried to walk her. If I tried to pull her she’d just drag and her paws would get bloody. I’d never had a dog shut down so much and not want to walk. Usually a dog that doesn’t want to walk will pitch a fit and jump around and you can use their momentum to get them moving but not Daisy. I would wind up carrying her away from the building and getting her to walk on the way back, but I knew this was only a beginning. I’d noticed recently the one thing Daisy would move for was a loud noise on the street so the next day I decided to make and bring a rattle to her house. We came downstairs and she tried to lay down once she hit the sidewalk. I shook the rattle and she was startled and jumped up and started moving. We walked a little ways then she tried to lay down again. I shook the rattle she again was startled and jumped up and I got her to walk. As soon as she associated the rattle with laying down she stopped. A few days later I didn’t even have to use it anymore.
One last case I wanted to try the rattle on was Pepper. She’s a friendly German Shepherd, super-smart but very reactive to other dogs on the street. If she meets a dog at her or their house she’s fine but if she sees a dog she doesn’t know she gets over-excited and tried to lunge and bark at them. I took what I’m now calling “Susie’s Magic Rattle” to Pepper’s house the same day and shook it right when she tensed up near another dog and was about to lunge. She crouched away from the rattle startled and we moved on. I petted and praised her as we passed the dog.
I now carry this around in my bag when I’m dog walking and anytime a dog is engaging in a behavior I don’t like all I have to do it pull it out. Sometimes I don’t even have to shake it and a dog will sit down and snap out of their bad behavior. I highly recommend using this tool if you have a reactive or aggressive dog. Its cheap, easy to make, and works like a charm. Just a warning though, you do not want to desensitize a dog to it by over using the rattle. Only use it sparingly, it is loud and will give you a headache as well if you rattle it too much.