Before I start working with an owner I make it very clear that there are no quick cures, fixes or magic wands in dog training, and without some serious effort and continued reinforcement they are not going to change their dog's behavior.
That highlights why working with an elderly dog owner, who has limited assistance from friends or family members or the ability to work with their dog because of health or mobility issues, can require coming up with some inventive solutions.
Mary Lou writes that her 15-month-old Shih Tzu-poodle mix becomes wild and uncontrollable when guests come over. She says, "We are in our late 70s, have limited finances and are unable to give her the exercise she needs, and since I developed a bad knee, I can't take her on walks."
She goes on to say, "I have thought about taking the dog to obedience classes, but with my bad knee, I wonder if I could follow through properly."
Out-of control behavior at the door is a very common problem, but my typical steps for retraining won't apply here. Mary Lou not only needs a training program that will break the cycle of the dog's behavior, it also has to one that will avoid the chance of further injury to her leg.
Here are my recommendations:
1. Anchor a 2-foot leash to the leg of a heavy piece of furniture such as a sofa or a chair and place a dog bed or small throw rug there. Avoid placing it in a high-traffic area, but also avoid an isolated area. The dog should have a clear view of guests when they arrive.
2. Several times a day attach the leash to the dog's harness, give her a command to "place" or "stay," open the front door and knock or ring the bell. Repeat and when the dog will stay calmly on the pillow, return and reward her with a treat.
Once she can execute the complete sequence of the door opening, the ringing bell and receiving a treat while remaining calm, she can be released from her place without excitement or celebration. We are teaching the dog that it gets attention and rewards for remaining calm, not excited.
3. When the dog will perform this behavior consistently, it is time to progress to the next level: a real guest. Since most guests are expected, place the dog on the tether before their arrival time. When the guests arrive, tell the dog to "place" or "stay" once and avoid speaking to her again. Go to the door, welcome the guests and instruct them to avoid eye contact with the dog and make no attempt to touch or speak to her.
4. The dog can only be released to visit when it is no longer in a state of excitement: relaxed and breathing calmly, no whining, etc.
Repeat this exercise every time someone comes over until going to her place and remaining calm becomes a habitual behavior.
With practice and persistence, this little dog can be taught to go to her place when company arrives and give up her wild and crazy ways.
Sherry Davis is a dog trainer/owner of CSI 4 K9s. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. These are her opinions, not necessarily The Californian's.