Adding Rules and Boundaries to Help an Insecure Dog Relax and Regain Her confidence

By: David Codr

Published Date: December 16, 2014

Sony and ParkerTonight I worked with two year old Boxer Rottweiler mix Sony (left) and Parker, a one year old Shepherd mix. Sony’s owners were concerned after seeing her develop some dog aggression that seemed to manifest after they brought Parker into their home.

Their owners had them behind a baby gate when I arrived. When she let them out, they tore around the room, jumping up, running in circles and barking. Normally I like to sit down with my clients and ask how I could help them, but the dog’s were so out of control I jumped right in. I pulled two leashes out of my bag and had their owners put them on the leash.

I took Parker’s leash as he was more excited than Sony who seemed a little hesitant. I stepped on the leash about two feet from where the leash attached to the collar. Parker stopped barking and instead started to pull on the leash. I ignored him and after a he settled down. As soon as he did I pushed the foot standing on the leash towards the dog to take the tension off the leash. A minute later he laid down on the floor completely calm.

I suggested that their owners apply this same consequence each time the dogs got too excited inside. Young dogs frequently get into the most trouble when they are over excited. By giving them a doggie time out any time that their energy gets too high or play is too rough, their owners can help communicate the limits and boundaries they expect the dogs to follow.

While both dogs were clearly higher energy, Sony showed some minor signs of insecurity. After greeting me, she spent most of her time leaning up against one of her owners, she had some hesitancy in her movements and her body posture was a little stiff. Her owners explained that she was a shy dog before they got Parker. Its likely that she was insecure before, but the fact that she was the only dog in the house masked any issues as she was not competing with another dog.

The addition of a high energy Parker into a home with few rules and boundaries had resulted in the dogs thinking that they had the same authority as the humans. They pawed or rubbed up on their owners when they wanted attention, they jumped up on them or the furniture with no respect for their personal space and clearly they didn’t listen to their corrections.

I suggested they adapt some rules and boundaries to help the dogs see that there are limits and give their owners practice at correcting them in a way they understand. Each time that Sony invaded her owner’s personal space, I had her stand up and turn so they she was facing Sony. Any time Sony didn’t stop or move away to give her space, she marched right at the dog to claim her space.

I suggested a few more non verbal communication methods and then demonstrated a leadership exercise. This exercise involves the human claiming a piece of meat left in the middle of the floor. The exercise is complete when the dog walks away and communicates it no longer is attempting to get the treat.

I started out with Parker who got the exercise pretty quickly. Once he had it, I walked his owners through it until they got the same results. But when I ran Sony through the exercise, she had difficulty with the last part, claiming the treat as a reward for giving up on trying to take it. This is usually the case with dogs that are insecure and lack confidence. As we practiced, she got better and it and her body posture improved somewhat.

I suggested that her owners practice the exercise with her for the next week or two. As she has more exposure to the exercise, her confidence level will increase which will help with her self esteem. Combined with enforcement of the new rules and boundaries, Sony will start to see and identify as a follower. In many cases, this change in perception can reduce or eliminate a dog’s aggression as they defer to their owner to ensure the situation is under control.

By the end of the session the dogs were much calmer, responding to their owners commands and corrections and even observing some of the new rules and boundaries on their own. With some practice at the exercise and enforcement of the rules, their owners will enjoy this new calmer behavior all the time.

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