Building Up Hunter’s Respect for his Owner’s Authority

By: David Codr

Published Date: December 1, 2013

HunterHunter is a four-year-old yellow Lab. His owners contacted me for assistance after a few incidents where Hunter lunged and nipped at a family member and neighbor.

I am always a little more reserved and cautious when Im called in to work with an animal who has shown signs of aggression. But shortly after I arrived for the session, It was obvious that Hunter was not an aggressive or dominant dog. He eagerly sniffed me, stuck his nose into my bag and displayed a nice playful energy. 

When Im called about a dog who has shown aggression in a very limited number of times or capacity, I always take the situation into account. In Hunter’s two cases of aggression, he was startled or surprised by something he wasn’t used to. In both cases, Hunter unexpectedly encountered a person in his home who wasn’t normally there.

Balanced dogs who rarely show aggression usually only do so when they feel they are confronted about territory or property. In Hunter’s situation, I’m convinced he was startled and his first reaction was to protect his space. I suggested that in the future, his owners thoroughly introduce Hunter to anyone who may be coming over to let him out or interact with him when they aren’t there. By simply having this person come over and let themselves in several times while Hunter is there with his owners, he will learn that this person has authorization to be there. Because his owner’s dont object to that person’s presence, the dog will follow suit.

His owners pointed out that those were the only times he had shown aggression and that he was usually a well behaved dog. When I pushed for more clarity on the word “usually” they said that sometimes Hunter would ignore them. Morso with his female owner than her husband, but to him on occasion as well

To help make sure that Hunter follows both of his owner’s and commands, I demonstrated a leadership exercise I show many of my clients. It teaches the dog to look to his owner’s for guidance while also helping the dog learn to self restrain and control itself. It took only three repetitions before Hunter understood what I was asking from him. After that, I showed his owners how to do the exercise as well.

By practicing this leadership exercise a few times a day for the next week or two, Hunter’s perception of himself as a follower will become permanent.

Next we discussed the dog’s day to day life. Oftentimes, my clients will unintentionally communicate things to their dog that they do not mean to. A great example of this is letting a dog up on the furniture or on the same level as his owners. To dogs, the height at which they sit correlates to their authority or rank in the pack. If you have a balanced dog who doesn’t test your authority it can be up on the furniture without incident. But for a dog who is unbalanced or thinks of itself as a a leader, sitting at the same level as his or her human’s may send the wrong message.

We finished the session by introducing a new way to feed Hunter. In a pack environment, dogs eat in the order of their rank amongst members of the pack. So when we feed a dog before we eat ourselves, the dog can think he or she has more authority than their human owners. By making the dog sit and wait (with food in its bowl) for his owners to finish eating first, and only giving them permission to eat after, the owners can further reinforce their place and authority as pack leaders.

By the end of the session Hunter was completely relaxed laying on the floor. Although he is not an aggressive dog, his occasional failure to respond and respect his owner’s commands could become more frequent if not addressed.

By implementing the new rules, adding structure to meal time, resuming regular walks and practicing the leadership exercise, Hunter’s responsiveness and respect for his owners should increase dramatically. Within a few weeks to a month, this new behavior and respect will become permanent.


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This post was written by: David Codr