Helping a Yellow Lab Learn to Be Calm and Respectful When Guests Arrive

By: David Codr

Published Date: March 23, 2016


Bronco is a three-year-old Yellow Lab in Omaha who is getting aggressive to guests. Has nipped a few of the family’s childrens friends (who he has known). Also nudges for attention and positions himself between guardians and cats or kids.

I was a little bit surprised when I first met Bronco because his greeting was so subdued. I was expecting a dog to show excitement or agitation during the greeting, but Bronco showed none of those.

Bronco’s guardians mentioned that he was much more excited and animated when young children are the guests at the door. I have found many humans misinterpret excited for happy when it comes to dogs. But a dog can be happy and calm or excited and not happy.

Dogs tend to get into the most trouble when they are in over excited state of mind. I got to see a little bit of that excitement when we sat down in the living room to discuss the session. He invaded people’s personal space, nudged at them and started to get excited any time that anyone provided him with attention or affection.

While I never want to tell anyone that it’s bad to pet their dog, what the dog is doing and it’s state of mind when we pet it is something to need to pay attention to. When we pet a dog, we are essentially agreeing with whatever it happens to be doing at the time.

Because Bronco’s guardians petted him when he asked for it or invaded their personal space, they were essentially training the dog to continue to do those activities as a way of asking for attention. To help the guardians put a stop to this sort of behavior, I explained my petting with a purpose strategy.

In addition to petting the dog for engaging in a desired behavior, the family can also help Bronco by stopping any petting if the dog starts to get too excited or if he puts his paw on top of their arm.

By consistently stopping when the dog gets excited, we can communicate that calm behavior is the only way that it will get attention. Because the dog placing its paw on your arm while you pet it is an attempt to control the situation, stopping the attention at that point sends a message that the dog cannot tell you what to do.

When you have a dog that has started to disagree with guests or is nipping to correct, it’s a clear sign that the dog considers himself in a position of authority. The best way to mitigate these behaviors is to essentially demote the dog so that it no longer identifies as being in a leadership position.

As I was discussing some rules for the family to incorporate, bronco consistently invaded the personal space of anyone who he wasn’t getting attention from. This give me an opportunity to teach the members of the family how they can reclaim their personal space from Bronco.

I’m not saying that the dog can’t be in contact with humans. In this case, Bronco’s invading of their personal space was another indicator that he lacked the proper respect for them as authority figures.

Another great way to reinforce a healthy leader follower dynamic is to walk the dog in a structured way. But due to his strength and habit of pulling on leash, is guardians informed me that Bronco wasn’t getting as many walks as he needed.

I fitted Bronco up with a Martingale collar and explained how the guardians can go through the leashing a process in a way that helps the dog remain calm. Many people rush through this process and end up with a dog that is overexcited before the even leave the home. If the dog is excited before you leave the house, that is the same behavior they’re going to carry with them throughout the walk.

Once Bronco was calm and in a balanced frame of mind, we headed out for a walk. I took the leash first and demonstrated the proper position as well as how to reward and correct the dog for being in or out of position.

After showing her how to conduct a structured walk, I handed the leash to his guardian and I had her walk the dog. He started out a little bit rough and looks like he was going to try to start jumping up and biting the leash but the guardian gave him a nicely timed correction that snapped him out of it and put him into a nice heel position.

Regular structured walks will help drain bronco of his excess energy while also reminding him that he is in a follower position.

Bronco is not an aggressive dog, he simply was confused as to where his place was in terms of the family’s hierarchy. It’s most likely that his nibs towards gassed was a result of his over excited state.

By the end of the session Bronco was already adopting new behaviors. He was starting to show respect for people’s personal space, had stopped partying or nudging them for attention and was already starting to sit in front of humans as his polite way of asking for a pet.

By consistently enforcing the new rules and structure, petting him with a purpose and assuming the leadership position in the dog’s eyes, Bronco’s guardians should be able to nap is unwanted behaviors in the bud.
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