Tips to Stop an Anxious Dog From Barking and Nipping

By: David Codr

Published Date: June 28, 2017

Bella is a five-year-old Long Haired Dachshund who’s guardian’s recently moved to Encino. With the family expecting a pair of boys soon, they set up a dog behavior training session to help Bella learn to stop barking and stop nipping strangers.

I could immediately tell that Bella was a bit nervous or possibly insecure. She barked with a lowered head, moved away and carried herself with a stiff posture. I pulled out some high value treats to see if I could help her relax and build up a positive association with her.

When we sat down, Bella got even more fired up, barking at me as she moved around the room which allowed her to keep her distance. This was normal behavior for her; barking at anything she disagreed with usually followed by biting them when their back was to her. I had one of her guardians put her on the leash, hand it to me then stepped on it to prevent her from moving around the room.

When a dog is worked up, the more they move about, the more worked up they tend to get. Additionally I wanted to help Bella learn that just because she was next to a new person, that nothing bad would happen. During this period of the session, I did not look at her, talk to her or give her any eye contact. All I wanted her to do was relax while near me. Many people think petting a dog is a good way to build up trust, but if a dog is reactive, petting it is one of the last things you should do.

I chatted with her guardians about her dog behavior problems for a few minutes and learned that she didn’t have many rules or boundaries in her life. This is a common theme I encounter on my dog behavior sessions; especially for rescue or insecure dogs.

Its very common for people to think that removing all rules, boundaries and limits is the best way to help the dog feel better and relax. In actuality, a lack of structure, combined with lavishing of love can cause the dog to think that the humans need the dog to take the lead.

When an insecure dog starts to think it needs to be the leader, this can cause it to feel responsible for the humans. This usually leads to stress as the dog attempts to tell the human what to do, but as humans, we don’t see dogs as leaders. So we ignore their efforts. This in turn compounds the dog’s stress and can easily make them more reactive. Im pretty sure this is the case with Bella.

Throw in moving to a new house in a different part of Los Angeles, living in a house under renovation (with workers coming and going) and a guardian expecting her first child (two children in this case) and you have a scenario that is probably taking the dog’s stress to a level beyond her ability to cope.

I suggested a number of rules and boundaries that will help Bella start to see herself as being in the follower role. Changing her perception of authority will be a crucial part of her dog rehabilitation. Until she sees her humans as leaders, Bella will continue to try to protect them and when people don’t listen to her, she will nip people.

This conversation lasted about an hour, and as it progressed, I saw signs of the stress leaving her body. Once Bella laid down at my feet, I knew she no longer saw me as an immediate threat. Once she was laying down completely calmly, I stepped off the leash very subtly so she wouldn’t notice. Bella laid on the floor by my feet that way for close to an hour before she got up and moved away, completely calm.

While the rules and boundaries will help Bella stop feeling stressed out, I also needed to show her guardians a few dog behavior techniques and exercises to help address her unwanted behaviors’ nipping and barking. First up was Bella’s habit of barking at things that moved.

The above video is a combination of counterconditioning and desensitization. As you saw, when I moved slowly, at an appropriate distance and while her guardian was delivering a treat, Bella was able to watch me without barking or nipping.

Bella’s guardians will be able to use this same technique to address any situation where she feels the need to bark or nip someone. It will take some patience and practice, but by addressing these problems now, the family will make the arrival of their twin babies much, much easier.

I spent part of the session going over some dog behavior tips that will help ensure Bella is prepared for the babies to arrive. They may also want to check out this dog behavior column I wrote on the best way to introduce a dog to a new baby.

By the end of the session, Bella was wiped out. If you have ever been in a stressful situation, you know how draining it can be. Bella has been in this state for far too long.

Now that her guardians know how to provide her with the structure she needs, and have tools to stop dog problems, Bella should start to feel more relaxed and comfortable in her human’s leadership. As this transition takes place, she will feel less responsible and stressed out which should get her to stop barking and stop nipping.

In time, these changes will enable Bella to be able to go back to being a dog; more concerned about dog treats and bones than who is knocking on the door or moving around near her.

We wrapped up the session by filming a short Roadmap to success video. If you have a dog with Bella’s nipping or barking problems, you can find quite a few dog behavior secrets by watching the video yourself.

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This post was written by: David Codr

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