As soon as she saw me she bounded in, a wriggle of tail thrashing, nipping at me with her sharp little teeth, jumping all over me, so, so, so excited to meet a new person. Absolutely no respect for my personal space, none in the slightest! I had squatted down to meet her, and grabbed her gently but firmly by the nose, and the puppy handle on her cheek (the loose skin under her ear). The look of utter surprise on her face was something to behold…
“She’s a bit full on, isn’t she?” I asked her mum. “I’m just going to give her a little lesson about respecting personal space, if you don’t mind?”
“Not in the slightest!” her mum said, watching with interest. “Anything you can show me that will help with stopping that crazy behaviour is totally welcome.”
I had been fending her off with gentle nose grabs while I talked, and now I focused all my attention on her, staring strongly into her bright, happy eyes. She tried to rumble, bounce, and wriggle her way all over me again…
“No!” I said to the puppy, and then to her mum I said “I bet she knows that word!”
“She sure does.”
And it was clear she did, as I could see the subtle body language signs that let me know she was actually starting to think about and process her lesson. She moved back a fraction, even though she was still circling, wagging, wriggling, pushing as hard as she could on the edge of the personal bubble I was defining around myself. She would dart in, and I’d catch her on the way in with a gentle nose grab, and a firm “No!” – then she ran around beside me, behind a couple of boxes, to see if she could sneak through the gap and jump on me, to give me a good licking all over. I spun around, with an extended finger, and maintained my strong gaze as well, holding her out with my presence and will. She tried, and tried to push her way into my space, again and again, and I remained strong and calm, modelling a clear boundary.
Finally, she stopped pushing, and sat down, tail still thrashing with joy, blinking, and licking her lips. It was the smallest change, but I immediately dropped my hand into a gentle curve, and let my body language relax into receptivity. She came into my space with some care, head down a little, respectfully. I gave her a pat for a minute while I talked to her mum.
“So – the key is that I hold her out of my personal space until she stops trying to push into it,” I explained. “Then, when she settles down and stops pushing, I invite her in, and give her a whole lot of positive attention.”
“I see how it works,” she replied, “and I’m amazed at how differently she is approaching you after only such a short time, too. It’s obvious she’s not in the least bit distressed by what you’re doing, but she suddenly respects you!”
“That’s how it works. I call it ‘outing’ them. As long as it’s done gently, it teaches your pup to ask to come into your space, just as they do with an adult dog they don’t know. I’ll do a bit more with her, and show you what I mean.”
This little pup was as sharp as a whip, so quick to learn. I sent her out again, and started to link the word ‘out’ to the body language signals. I held her out, and then invited her in again, several times. Each time, with the attention, she’d flip into crazy mode, wriggling like mad, biting at my hand and so on – each time I would then send her back out until she calmed down and stopped pushing to come in, then I’d invite her in. Before long I could examine her all over with her lying on her side, nice and quietly. All the time, her mum watched me closely, and explained everything I did. By the end of the visit, she was sitting there, self contained, wagging, bright eyed, totally connected with me, and watching to see what I was going to ask her to do next.
“Thanks so much,” her mum said on the way out. “She’s so much fun, but she’s been a real handful, too, so these new techniques will be a wonderful help!”