Teaching a Dog to Follow to Stop His Aggressive Outbursts to Other Dogs

By: David Codr

Published Date: August 30, 2015


I traveled to Marina del Rey to work with Brady a nine-month-old Dachshund Mix who is very reactive even aggressive to dogs outside of his home.

I sat down with his family to discuss Brady’s day to day life and discovered a number of things that the family was doing that were confusing the dog. They didn’t have many rules which can cause some dogs to think there is no leader in the family. “If there are no rules for me, I must be the one making the rules. That makes me the leader.”

Dog go through life probing and waiting to be corrected when they go to far. If we never correct it, the dog can get the impression that anything it wants to do is ok. Because the dog feels secure in the house, it doesn’t react so the humans think they dog listens to them. Instead, there really isn’t anything inside the house that provokes or challenges them. The humans don’t, remember Brady has few rules.

Additionally I noted the dog moving ahead of the humans in a number of different scenarios; answering he door, going up stairs, jumping on the couch, etc. When a dog is in front of us, it thinks its leading us. This dog moved ahead everywhere.

I wanted to give the family members a number of ways to get the dog to stop moving into the lead position. The first exercise was the stairs, I had a member head up so I could see the dog’s reaction.

We repeated the exercise a few times so I could show the members of the family a few techniques to communicate that Brady was to wait at the bottom of the stairs until he is called to come up.

This gives the dog practice at restraining itself while also helping to redefine the leader follower dynamic in the home.

By the second repetition, Brady was waiting on her own.

Next I went through a simple recall exercise so I could show the members of the family how to use positive reinforcement to condition the dog to follow their commands. Like many of my clients, they had a number of different ways to call the dog (Come, here, whistle, etc) which can be a little more challenging so I suggested they come up with a list of command words so that everyone was using the same terms.

Consolidating and repeating a single command word helps the dog pick things up much quicker. I also went through some hand motions and non verbal communication methods that will help as well.

With Brady feeling good about himself, I walked the members of the daily through a leadership exercise I developed years ago. It helps the dog learn self control while helping the guardian practice correcting  and leading the dog.

I only had to run through the exercise a few times before Brady knew what was expected of him. Once I saw this was the case I coached his guardians through the exercise until they got the same result.

Practicing these exercises that ask the dog to wait and restrain itself will accomplish a few things. Number one practicing restraining itself will help the dog learn to be less reactive. Number two; the more a human corrects and rewards a dog, the more the dog sees and develops respect for his guardians.

Because many dogs are visually triggered, I wanted to share a trick that will help Brady’s handlers distract him from other dogs before he erupts or reacts to them.

Because the treats were so effective, I taught them the eyes exercise. This involves the handler holding a high value treat up between their eyes then getting the dog’s attention. Once the dog is looking at the human, he lowers the treat towards the dog, keeping the treat in between their eyes to maintain a stare while repeating the command word or “eyes.”

Practicing the eyes exercise inside is crucial. His guardians need Brady to be so adept at it that they can give the “eyes” command and know that the dog is going to turn to look at them every time.

Now that we had added these structure and exercises inside, we were ready to head out on a walk. Brady’s guardians had already applied my technique to get the dog into a completely calm state before heading out on a walk which was great. However, just because a dog starts out calm, does not mean they stay that way.

At first there were no other dogs around which gave us the ability to practice a few new techniques on the leash. Using the Martingale collar made it easier to correct the dog, but Brady continued to try to pull ahead on the walk. His guardian will need to practice defining how far in front the dog can go and immediately applying a correction the instant the dog passes to far in front. If the guardian practices correcting the dog this way with good timing, it will eventually walk in the heel position on its own.

About 15 minutes later, we ran into a dog that Brady had extremely severe reactions to. One of his guardians told me that she had to resort to picking the dog up and waling it away whenever this dog came into sight.

I took the leash and approached the other dog in a very controlled and measured way. I disagreed with Brady each time he tried to start something with the other dog. Staring with a lowered head and forward ears was his first move. Each time he started to give that signal, i corrected him and returned him into a sit.

It took a minute or two, but eventually I was able to approach this other dog and facilitate a proper introduction.

Although this was a successful encounter, its not the end of Brady’s reactivity to other dogs. It will be extremely important that his family members practice and master the exercises we went over to help develop Brady’s ability to control himself and respond to their lead and corrections.

As we headed back from the walk, we ran into a pair of unknown dogs; one of which was “not friendly” according to his handler. He agreed to help us and waited for me to get the leash so I could record my steps at introducing the dog in this calm manner.

By disagreeing with Brady with good timing and pausing to ensure he was completely calm before moving forward, Brady can learn to greet new dogs without the aggression he was showing prior to this session. This will not be an overnight fix, but it is absolutely achievable.

Brady is not reacting due to his prey drive. Dogs that react for that reason are far more difficult to teach how to behave. In this case, Brady thinks he is leading the humans. This problem is compounded with the fact that Brady simply doesn’t know how to greet other dogs.

The more the dog follows the humans in the house, the easier it will be for them to lead the dog outside of it. As the dog sees the humans as having more authority, it will be less inclined to react to other dogs. Pausing and controlling the speed of the greeting will help Brady stay calm which will help dogs she encounters to be calm as well.

Brady Crashed

By the end of the session, Brady was interacting with heir family members in a much more respectful way. Checking in with them. following their lead and not running in front of them. If they continue the exercises, rules and structure we added today, and practice controlled calm meetings, Brady will learn to engage in a calm, non reactive greeting when approaching other dogs.

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This post was written by: David Codr

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