Making Mabel More Manageable


Mabel has a Maniac Switch which gets activated when she is over-excited. Below is an email I sent to Mabel’s family with tips on how to use the leash and obedience practice to help Mabel grow into the wonderfully well-behaved dog we all know she can be.

The content is pretty nuanced, but for anyone who’s already working with a testy dog, the information might be helpful. Or you can read it as a sample of the type of personalized information you would receive if working with me on training your dog.


Probably at least some of you are applying these concepts at least some of the time, but I wanted to send over a list from this morning’s musings about Mabel. These are great concepts to apply as you work with Mabel and further integrate her into your lives.

– Total focus –
I have the privilege of just having one responsibility at your house: Mabel. But you all have kids and home to take care of. As much as you can, try to give Mabel all your attention when you have her leash.

It’s a lot easier to curb her craziness when you can see it just starting to surface, but it’s a lot harder to notice this subtle change when you’re engaged with something/someone else. And the crate is always an option.

– Start off on the right foot –
Related to focus, make sure the beginning of the walk or hangout session is on point. That will help the rest of the time go a lot smoother. Make sure she holds her sit solidly at the front door. Make sure she doesn’t bite at the potted plants outside the door. Make sure she doesn’t bolt to her potty spot (have her sit first). Make sure she doesn’t drag you down any stairs. If she does these things, just start over. Sometimes I even go all the way back to the front door.

– Try it Again –
Related to “start off on the right foot,” if she tries to eat a leaf (or is doing something similar and not paying attention to you) on the walk, do a turn and pass the leaf again. Do this a few times, until she walks past the leaf without trying to eat it. This is an excellent way you can test how well you’re communicating with her. If she keeps going for the leaf, there’s a problem in your communication somewhere. If you just keep going on the walk without resolving the leaf issue, she’ll just try to eat the next leaf and the next leaf etc. You don’t have to do this for EVERY thing, but it’s a good self-test and good practice.

– Prong + Scruff –
She’s at a terrible in-between size on the prong collar. Keep adjusting it to put it right behind her ears. This makes a world of difference. It’s probably time to add another link to her prong collar soon, which means she’ll need it adjusted even more regularly until she grows into it.

– Pops vs. Holding pressure on the leash –
I almost always advise to do pops, but I actually hold pressure on the leash regularly, too. The key with this is reading her behavior and response. If the prong collar is high and you very slowly increase pressure on the leash, probably she will respond to your directions. Sometimes she doesn’t care about a pop, because it’s over so quickly and she can go right back to what she was doing (not listening). I vary pops with holding pressure on the leash about 50/50.

Question from Mabel’s mom: I have a question about the leaf-eating and walking back and forth by it. I want to know how to correct the communication when I find myself walking back and forth and seeing that she’s still going for it. As you walk by the leaf over and over and she goes for it, are you doing a pop? Doing the constant pressure to keep her moving with you? Saying “let’s go” as you pass by it? All of these things? This is something that I struggle with for sure.

My response to Mabel’s mom: If she has the object in her mouth, immediately tighten the leash and hold it tight while you remove the object from her mouth (or she might spit it out). I usually go for a finger swipe to the back of the tongue. Once it’s out, relax the pressure on the leash.

If she’s just about to try to get an object, but hasn’t tried or gotten it yet, then I would do a quick pop on the leash. If she keeps going for it, then either the distraction is too crazy high, and/or you need a crisper or firmer pop, and/or to be faster with noticing when she’s going to try to grab something. You can do a pop when she’s thinking about grabbing something, before she actually goes for it, if you see it in her face/body language. Do a few “let’s go”s to test if she’s figured out that that thing is off limits (if she leaves it alone when you pass it).

Mom on Mabel’s visit to the vet: She got more shots today and weighed in at a whopping 24 lbs – gained 10 lbs over 3 weeks. And let me just say that vet is like an obedience disaster. All the techs giving treats. One tech was like, “wow I can’t believe you can get a puppy that little to listen to what you say.” Thanks to you!!! :)

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