By Daniel Stevens and Martin Olliver
Kimber is a Female Bull Terrier. Growing up, she was well-trained. She is an extremely social creature, who always embraces a philosophy of “the more the merrier.” Kimber belongs to a male owner. The owner adopted Kimber in his mid-20’s while renting a house with two other friends. When they would all hang out together in the lounge, Kimber would become excited and extra playful.
One her favorite habits became sprinting out of the room, then, with a running start, she would jump up on the chest and lap of any one of the guys on the couch and spring straight off, all the while without breaking stride. This stunt was so amusing the roommates even gave it a name. They called it a “drive-by” (as in drive-by shooting), an ironic reference to the somewhat unsafe neighborhood they lived. The behavior was funny, and very much encouraged.
The owner eventually moved out of the house and in with his girlfriend, but Kimber not surprisingly continued the drive-by’s whenever there were guests gathered in the house. This was causing problems. When I was emailed by the owner, he was convinced he had a difficult task ahead of him in getting Kimber to unlearn this behavior. I told him the opposite, that this case had a slam-dunk solution, provided the same thing that was causing the behavior was willing to help stop it: that cause being the social group.
First step is to identify the exact behaviors that lead up to Kimber’s overexcited stunt. The heavier panting and wagging tail (even though hers was docked you can still see that trademark wiggle) are typical signs indicating willingness to play. But the giveaway was that Kimber would always do a few excited circles before sprinting out of the room and back in a full speed.
This is the vital moment that we had the owner intervene, and momentarily calm her down. Timing is everything. “Down Kimber.” “Settle.” As soon as Kimber tones it down even slightly, the owner was told take her outside (the basement was the winter alternative as they lived in a cold climate) and ask the others to accompany him for five or 10 minutes while Kimber burned off some of her social energy.
The important part is asking others to join you. Some of these guests were dog people, some weren’t. The ones who were not didn’t need to participate in the play session at all. What matters is that they indulge the dog, because she is reacting to the excitement of a sudden swell in pack numbers. That’s really all the time it takes to wind a jumping dog down. (It is always a good idea to exercise a dog such as this before taking them into a social setting, but in this case Kimber acted up with guests even after an exercise session right beforehand).
This way, instead of keeping Kimber separate from the social pack, which is really the last thing in the world she wants, she was able to join the group and lay down calmly on the floor. The indoor jumping problem was solved, and Kimber’s drive-by’s became a thing of the past.
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