Golden retrievers can be great as adults, not so much as teenagers

Question: We have an 18-month-old purebred male golden retriever. We took local puppy training classes that are based on positive reinforcement and, specifically, with treats.

Our dog is strong-willed and smart. After all the training, we found he responds better to your alpha approach in most cases. He is particularly difficult for me as the female in our family. I do all of the daily walks and spend the greatest amount of time with “Mac.”

But he defies me. I have resorted to a prong collar when we walk (which he detests) because if we come upon another walker and he wants to lunge at the human, the prong collar gives me some semblance of control.

He is extremely friendly but overbearing toward people. He is very socialized with other dogs as he goes to The Animal Nanny three days a week while I am working.

My comment is that each dog is unique so one approach may work better on some dogs than others. By the way, “Mac” will do just about anything if I use the word “treat,” but he will not do it if there is no gain for him. He doesn’t value “attaboys” enough.

My question: How can I teach him to sit quietly when we have guests or meet someone on the sidewalk and not have him jump and cry and maul them?

— Deanna

Answer: Golden retrievers are such a nice breed and are one of my favorites. They typically are smart, loyal and friendly and make great family companions.

It sounds like you are doing all the right puppy basics in training and socialization. At 18 months, he is still very much a puppy.

Relatively speaking, he is at the stubborn, teenage stage of his life. Fortunately, this will pass soon.

Right around his second birthday, he will experience a maturity spurt, and you will notice a significant difference in his behavior.

It is important you continue working with him through this period, however, as it builds his foundation. Here are a few suggestions that you might implement into your routine.

There is a product out there called a gentle leader. I think they are reasonably inexpensive and can be purchased at local pet stores. I don’t know if you have tried this product, but it seems to work well on larger, strong breeds. It works similar to a horse halter. It goes over the dog’s snout and hooks under his chin.

Choke chains and prong collars offer some control, but the dog still can pull you when they want to go see the border collie across the street. The gentle leader provides head control through the snout, reducing the lunging and pulling motion.

When I first saw the gentle leader in use, I thought it looked like a muzzle. The owner of the dog was a large man, and the dog was a fairly well-behaved 100 pound Labrador retriever.

This owner was experiencing the same problem of trying to control his over-zealous Lab.

I was amazed at the difference in the dog’s demeanor when the gentle leader was placed on his snout. Since then, I have seen many dogs respond positively to the gentle leader, and I recommend giving it a try.

Golden’s are gregarious and think the world loves them equally. They often show their love for others through jumping, crying and mauling.

Teaching them to sit quietly when strangers approach is definitely a challenge that can be overcome but will take some work. Keep working with Mac on the basics.

“Sit” and “stay” are invaluable tools that can be applied to situations such as encounters with other dogs on walks and friends coming to the door. When you are walking him and he spots the dog across the street, have him “sit” immediately and “stay” until the dog has passed. He will probably cry and whine but keep up positive verbal reinforcement.

Many dogs respond to treats and they are very effective in training. Try limiting treats to initial commands and continue reinforcing with verbal “good dog.” He’s still young and will catch on to the spoken “attaboy” eventually.

When guests come to the door, in Mac’s mind, they are coming to play with him. As a hospitable host, he wants to greet them with all his heart, soul and 75 pounds.

Begin working with him at home alone. Have him sit at the door and wait before you open it. When you open the door, have him wait until you release him from “sit.”

When leaving the house, make sure you walk through the door before he does, whether leashed or not. Do this frequently until he learns to sit and wait at the door. Here is where the consistency aspect of training comes in. It needs to be done each time you go through the door.

It sounds like you are Mac’s main trainer, but everyone in the family should work on helping him achieve this goal.

The next step is to incorporate someone coming to the door. Perhaps a friend could come over to help work on this initially, and I recommend having Mac on a leash.

He will undoubtedly try to rush the guest, but make Mac “sit” and “stay” until you release him. Then he will go maul the newcomer!

This will be difficult at first, but have your friend come in and ignore Mac. Mac wants undivided attention and will try and command the situation. You have to teach him to wait.

Start out with short intervals of time before your friend greets Mac, gradually increasing the “ignore” time. Even a few minutes of patient waiting will teach Mac to be respectful when greeting a guest.

Golden retrievers have huge hearts and typically love everyone. By no means do you want to alter their vibrant personality. However, as with any breed, teaching them good manners at a young age will produce a much happier coexistence.

Most young dogs are eager to please, and training is important in the first couple of years. The foundation you build with your dog will reside within him throughout his adult life.

■ ■ ■

I received this email concerning the column I wrote pertaining to a cat peeing on its owner’s bed when she went out of town. I found this email extremely interesting and felt it should be shared:

“I am writing in response to your article in Sunday’s paper 9/30/12. I recently attended the SouthWest Veterinary Symposium in Dallas, in September.

“Dr. Hazel C. Carney, DVM, DAVBP, a feline specialist, gave a presentation regarding cat out of the box elimination behavior. One of the reasons she listed for why a cat will urinate and spray is because their odor helps reduce their anxiety. She stated that urinating on a bed helps the cat mix their owner’s smell with their own, and it is comforting to the cat.

“I wonder if the woman’s cat in Sunday’s article is experiencing anxiety, and not just being disgruntled. I just wanted to pass that on so people can consider if their cat may be scared or experiencing anxiety instead of being mad at the owner.” — Terri

Charlé Thibodeau is a veterinary technician for Aspentree Veterinary Care. If you have a pets question you would like Thibodeau to answer in her column, email .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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