Building Leadership to Correct Annie’s Dog Aggression

By: David Codr

Published Date: September 22, 2013


Annie is a one-and-a-half year old terrier mix who was recently adopted. Her owner asked me to help stop Annie from attacking another female dog in their home.

When I arrived Annie seemed somewhat excited, but didn’t show any aggressive behaviors towards myself. However, it didn’t take long for me to see Annie’s aggressive side. While discussing the situation with her owners, a female bloodhound approached my side of the room and Annie reacted immediately; raising her hackles, lowering her head and turning it sideways and curling up her lip. Although no sounds were made, these actions are clear communication to other dogs.

I immediately disagreed with her aggressive behavior and Annie snapped out of it without any further protest. But a few moments later, she was at it again. While the other dog was far bigger than Annie, it had a very gentile nature and was clearly retreating and staying away from wherever Annie was at the time.

Since dog’s usually only get aggressive when they feel their pack leader doesn’t have the situation under control, I had her owners place the other two dogs in the back yard so I could focus on working with Annie.

To help Annie see her new owners as authority figures, I demonstrated a leadership exercise that will also teach Annie to learn impulse control. The exercise involved me claiming a high value item on the floor the same way a dog would.

At first Annie tried to ignore the human (me) and attempted to cycle behind me. I kept pivoting around so that my hips and shoulders were always facing Annie while stepping forward at the same time. This blocked Annie from access to the treat and because i was also moving forward – the more Annie tried, the farther away from the treat she got.

When she stopped, I did too. When she sat down, I immediately took a step back so that the treat was between us. As soon as i did she got up, so i took a step forward to block her. We repeated this dance a few times, then Annie sat and laid down. As soon as she did, i turned to the side and gave her permission to get the treat. After practicing a few times, I was able to walk across the room while Annie sat or laid down a few feet away from the treat.

I coached both of her owners through the exercise. The husband got a better immediate reaction because he was more deliberate in his movements. Dogs dont respect weak leadership or indecisive commands. Annie’s female owner had a bit of difficulty at first because she was slow and indecisive in her movements, allowing Annie to circle around her to get the treat. But after a few repetitions, her movements got more deliberate and her timing also improved. Once that happened, Annie stopped trying to get around her and started showing respect for her authority.

To make sure Annie understood, we invited the other dog’s back in. They said that Annie was most aggressive when the bloodhound had a bone, so i gave her owe right in front of Annie. Annie started to move toward the bloodhound but i made a single sound and she stopped. Her owner’s told me that they hadn’t been able to give them bones in the same room because Annie would immediately attack and try to get both bones. But now that we had established some rules and authority, we were able to tell Annie those behaviors were no longer acceptable.

It will be important for Annie’s owners to watch her closely and disagree with any aggression as soon as they see the first signs. Annie will likely attempt to revert to the previous behavior so her owner’s timely corrections and supervision are paramount in the rehabilitation process. The goal is to prevent the behavior before it happens consistently for the next week or two. By stopping the dog from being aggressive for long enough, its almost as if the dog forgets to be aggressive.

By disagreeing with unwanted behavior, practicing the leadership exercise daily and gradually increasing the time Annie must wait before getting her reward, she will learn to respect her human’s as authority figures. Once this happens, they will be able to disagree with Annie any time she starts to show any aggression or behavior they dont like.

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This post was written by: David Codr

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