Training Passive Dogs

Like humans, dogs are individuals. Some, through a combination of genetics, circumstances and self-development display assertive characteristics and others are more passive.

Assertive dogs seek alpha (leader) status, forcibly remove rawhide bones or toys from others, try to enter doors first and are generally more demanding of attention. Passive dogs – either with, without or despite training – will tend to eat last, enter last and wait to be noticed.

At first blush, it may not appear that passive dogs really require much training since much of it takes the form of restraining dogs from unwanted behavior. Assertive dogs are leashed and corrected when they pull ahead during a walk or training exercise. Assertive dogs are taught not to rush out the door after every passing cat. Even fetch and release is often more a matter of redirecting behavior than encouraging it.

By contrast, passive dogs spontaneously wait to exit after others and show less tendency to dig, chase cats and perform other unwanted behaviors. Passive dogs will often separate themselves a short distance from other dogs in the house.

But some passive behavior is undesirable and can even put the dog at risk. Willingness to allow any stranger to approach unchallenged can, unfortunately, sometimes be an unsafe practice. Accepting treats from anyone who offers can be bad for the diet or even dangerous. There are, regrettably, sick people who will poison a dog or steal it this way.

Teach the passive dog that boundaries need to be respected both by the dog and unknown humans. Discourage treat taking from people you meet only once. Paranoia would be misplaced, but you’re training the dog not judging every stranger.

To optimize your chance of success, as with any dog, work with the dog’s nature not against it. Even passive dogs enjoy play and welcome rewards. ‘Passive’ and ‘fearful’ are not the same thing.

If you have multiple dogs, take the less assertive one out by itself from time to time. That way the only more dominant member of the pack nearby is you. Allow and encourage it to enter the house first occasionally. Feed it while the others are not around sometimes. When multiple dogs are fed together, ensure the passive one is not chased away from food.

Find one or more objects the dog enjoys – a favored stuffed cotton ball or rope or a beef-treated rawhide bone, for example. Perform the same ‘sit’ then ‘up’ maneuver with the dog you would with any other, but don’t keep it waiting as long as you would a more assertive dog. A more encouraging, friendly voice is helpful, too.

Passive behavior is, to some extent, unchangeable – either physiological/genetic or ‘chosen’ (to the extent dogs have free will). Expectations about modifying the behavior of passive dogs shouldn’t be too high. Nevertheless, with patience and persistence some degree of change is possible.

As with any training program, consistency and commitment are key. Expect to have to devote an hour a day for some weeks or months to encouraging a particular habit. Don’t give up at the first or even the tenth failure.

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