Fixing Marleigh's behaviour

Marleigh is a female Alaskan Malamute who needed help learning how to say hello calmly to her family whenever they walked outside to leave for school and work. As a puppy Marleigh attended our puppy pre-school where she learnt some basic training exercises and would sit when requested most of the time. Now Marleigh at 9 months old and weighing over 35kg, the dilemma of her jumping up and grabbing at arms and clothing for attention was becoming a serious problem. Marleigh had also started pulling on the lead and often became over excited when she saw other dogs on her walk.

Marleigh's mum came to us for some much needed behavioural advice. In order to make a full assessment of the problem a full behavioural history was obtained along with a video of Marleigh's behaviour.

Marleigh's behaviour had started from about 7 months of age, which is a common time when behavioural changes start to develop. The video helped us to identify that Marleigh was also chasing her tail at times. It is important to consider any medical history that may also be relevant. In Marleigh's we found she had been diagnosed with a severe sub aortic stenosis (a narrowing of the main artery from the heart) as a young puppy and was on treatment. Special consideration was made as to not overexert Marleigh during the training sessions.

It was determined that Marleigh was exhibiting some signs of anxiety and would also become over excited when greeted by family who would return home, also very excitably to see her. A combination of the two resulted in Marleigh behaving inappropriately whenever the family came in or out of the house and yard. This was starting to also occur with visitors coming to the home.

Andrew and Tina together with the assistance of Dr Gabrielle Carter, a veterinary behaviourist at Advanced Vetcare, developed strategies to help change Marleigh's behaviour.

The first important step was to ensure that all family members agreed on how to interact with Marleigh:

  • Greet Marleigh calmly
  • Request Marleigh to sit then drop before greeting, playing games, going inside and outside of the house
  • Teach Marleigh to stay on her mat while the family came inside and went outside
  • Ignore attention seeking behaviours
  • Reward Marleigh when she is calm

Whilst Marleigh had daily walks and was with the family most of the time, she needed to build her confidence when she was alone. We suggested rotating her toys and using a Kong toy filled with her favourite treats to keep her busy when the family are away. We also suggested using a dog appeasing pheromone spray called DAP. A few sprays on a bandana will help reduce anxiety.

Marleigh responded enthusiastically to the positive reinforcement training techniques. We developed both hand and verbal cues for sit, drop and on the mat stay. Marleigh is still working on walking calmly on the lead with the aid of an Easy Walker Harness and rewards.

A technique called response substitution was used to teach an appropriate behaviour to replace an unwanted behaviour. Punishment should be avoided as it often increases anxiety and frustration without teaching the desired behaviour. We started by teaching Marleigh to follow the cues then practiced in the situation where the problem was occurring. It was important for all family members to pre-empt when Marleigh was likely to behave inappropriately and direct her to the appropriate behaviour before she started to jump for attention. Consistency amongst the family was really important to help Marleigh learn the appropriate behaviour.

We are happy to report Marleigh is no longer jumping up and grabbing at a family member's or visitors' arms and is now sitting calmly for attention. There has also been a great improvement with her anxiety levels and is a much calmer dog at home. We would like to thank Marleigh's family's dedication and commitment to training Marleigh to a much behaved dog.

Find more about our Behavioural Consultations. If you have a misbehaved pet and needs some assistance or advice on behaviour training, please do not hesitate to contact our friendly team.