Case Study - Lola
Breed: American Pit Bull Terrier
Lola has always been a friendly dog, but her hyper nature was causing her Kyle, TX owners a lot of grief. She would race around the house at full speed several times a day, knocking things over and bowling into people as she went. Her biggest problem, however, was the fact that she was a jumper. She would jump not only on her owners, but on their guests as well. The jumping was a constant issue, confounded by the fact that once she started she would not stop! The jumping up would last until someone sat down on the couch... and then she would climb up onto the couch and try to sit in their lap while licking their face. She did not respond to any commands to get off, or to leave people alone. She loved people, but she simply had no respect for them.
After taking a thorough history, we found that part of the problem had to do with the length of time that she was left in a crate. She was in a crate up to eight hours a day while her owners were at work because they were afraid that she would get into things while they were gone. Furthermore, although her owners tried to play ball with her occasionally, she really was not getting the exercise that she needed. A two-year old Pit Bull needs a fair amount of exercise in order to burn off their energy.
We started by training her how to run on a treadmill. Her owners already owned one, and a treadmill made sense for her situation. Because of her owners busy schedules, it was far easier for them to give her the exercise she needed on a treadmill rather than outside jogs. She took to it quickly and soon learned to really enjoy this new form of exercise! In addition, with the help of her owners we created a safe place for her in the house consisting of several rooms that she could roam around while her owners were at work. We kept the crate in one of the rooms with the door open so that she could enter her "den" whenever she felt like it, but she still had a bigger area to walk around a bit. These rooms allowed her to look out the window (a favorite pastime), grab a drink, and lay on a dog bed or inside her crate. We gave her a stuffed Kong to keep her busy, yet calm. Otherwise we made sure that there was nothing that she could get into. This is not the right tactic for every dog, but in Lola's case, it was. Some dogs can get more riled up looking out the window, for example, but Lola's owners live in a quiet rural community in Kyle where there isn't a lot of action for her to get excited about. Instead, it was a quiet activity for her.
To address the jumping, we taught her some obedience commands including sit and down. This was for two reasons. #1, we were establishing a line of communication with her so that she could understand what to do when we gave her a command. #2, we were teaching her to respect the authority of people. Once we had these things in place, it was only a matter of letting her know what was not accepted, and what we would like her to do instead. We taught her an off command, and waited for her to follow the next command (sit or down) before she would receive attention. Once she was no longer jumping on her owners, we enlisted a few of their friends to come over so that we could work on these same principles with other people. She gradually began to generalize the behavior, and realized that the new rule not to jump applied in every situation.
Finally, we taught her that the off command also applied to the couch. In Lola's situation, her owners didn't want her up on the couch anyway, so we all agreed it was mutually beneficial to establish the rule that the couch is always off-limits. This took some practice because Lola had been crawling up onto the couch for quite a while, and it took her some time to understand that now the couch was no longer an option. We made it as easy for her to understand as possible - making it black or white. On the couch is bad, while off the couch is good. Once she learned this concept, it became much easier to control her annoying face-licking behavior because she was no longer on equal footing with her licking-target. She learned that it was much better to stay on the floor and get soft praise and attention.
By the end of our lessons, Lola was much calmer and no longer running around the house like a crazy dog! Her owners could have their friends over without having to worry about her leaping up onto them and driving them crazy.