Helping a Fearful Dog Stop Acting Out by Building Up His Confidence

By: David Codr

Published Date: November 7, 2017

In this Omaha dog training session we worked with 1 year-old Bloodhound Bo who is acts aggressive to new people in a protective way due to being an insecure or fearful dog.

As a dog behavior expert, I see many dogs who act out for reasons that are not aggression-based. Sure it can look aggressive when a dog is barking, snarling or lunging at you, but in many cases the dog is doing so out of a feeling of fear, anxiety or insecurity. Im pretty sure that is the case with Bo.

After sitting down with Bo’s family to discuss his dog behavior problems in more detail, I found out that there were few rules or boundaries in place. I have found that its very easy for a dog to feel that it needs to take over a leadership position when they have a lack of structure in place. But if you have a puppy thinking it needs to lead, it can easily increase the fear and anxiety.

Compounding things, Bo’s previous guardian did almost no socialization or training while he was a puppy. In fact, things were so bad that his current guardians went over and rescued him from a bad situation; neglected, tethered and extremely under socialized.

Based on what I observed and learned, I think Bo’s reactive behavior was a result on being in less than ideal situations; confined spaces, under exercised and confused as to what his position is in the family.

To help Bo’s family put him into a position to succeed, I started off by going over the importance of sufficient exercise. Your average dog needs at least 45 minutes of constructive exercise every day. Bo was getting less than that and not getting exercise every day.

Upping his exercise, adding in tools like a dog backpack and games that ask Bo to use his nose and brain will all go a long ways toward helping reduce his fear and help him feel more relaxed.

Next I went over some concerns I had based on what I saw in his home. Bo was wearing a choke chain, I spotted a spray bottle on the counter, noticed he had limited chew toys (and many of them were inappropriate like tools, etc) and saw the humans attempting to help Bo by physically pushing him into a sit.

Some of these things work by force, pain or the threat of either one (Spraying the dog to disagree, choke chain causing pain when tightened). This approach is referred to as dominance training (some trainers now refer to themselves as “balanced trainers”) and while it works in the short term, these are not something reputable trainers use anymore. They don’t use them as the dog only follows these things because they have no other option and these techniques cause many other unwanted problems. And in some situations, even then the dog doesn’t listen or comply.

The good news is dogs live in the now. Once the humans stop engaging in these activities that send a mixed message, they can help Bo stop feeling anxious and fearful of new people and situations.

We discussed the importance of rules as these help the dog see the humans acting as leaders, at least as far as dog’s perceive their actions. Introducing some rules can help Bo feel less overwhelmed as it shrinks the dog’s world rather than thinking very new person, dog or situation is a potential threat.

After suggesting a number of rules, I went over ways to disagree with unwanted actions and behaviors using a set of Escalating Consequences I came up with a few years ago. You can sit in on this conversation by watching the video below.

While rules and structure will help Bo feel like there is good leadership in place, I always look for ways to incorporate positive reinforcement.

I showed the humans how they can pet Bo with a purpose (asking him to sit, come or lay down) before petting him. This can help the dog feel like it earned the attention and praise which can go a long ways towards boosting his confidence and self esteem.

I also went over passive training which is rewarding the dog with love, attention or affection any time it engaged in desired actions or behaviors. Every time Bo comes over to a human on his own, they should pet him and say the command word for that action. This helps create a positive association which will make the command something the dog is far more likely to want to do. Id like to see the members of the family petting and rewarding Bo when he comes, sits, lays down, drops items and goes into his kennel to start.

I always want the dog to do the work and want to do what we ask them to do. By rewarding desired behaviors consistently and creating situations where the dog only has one option (the thing you want it to do) then rewarding it richly when it does, allows the humans to help the dog practice behaving the way they want it to.

Another great way to help Bo feel more confident and secure is to add to his skill set. When we did this in home dog training session, Bo really only knew a few commands. If all the members of the family take turns teaching him a new trick or command each week, Bo will feel better about himself and also have more respect for the humans as leaders he can count on.

At the end of the session, Bo was relaxed; taking treats out of my hand without any stiffness or hesitation. This shows that he is not an aggressive dog and that his unwanted behavior can absolutely be eliminated. Its going to be up to the members of the family to put him a position to succeed with all the positive dog training tips and suggestions I shared with them during this in home dog behavior appointment.

To make sure the family members remember all the things we went over in this session, I filmed a longer roadmap to success video which you can check out in the video below.

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