Building Up Sammy’s Confidence to Stop Dolly’s Aggression

By: David Codr

Published Date: January 12, 2014

Dolly and SammyThis is Dolly and her roommate Sammy (Right).  Their owner called me to put a stop to the occasional aggression Dolly was showing to Sammy and his obsessive need to retrieve the remote control when visitors or his owners came home.

When I arrived, the dogs met me at the door with some excited energy but no aggression. Sammy was a bit standoffish but other than that, a pretty normal greeting.

When I sat down to discuss things with their owner’s, Sammy sat as close to her as possible, literally leaning on her. As soon as she did, her owner instinctively started petting her. While petting a dog isnt a bad thing, doing it at the wrong times can send a dog a message we dont intend.

Dolly, who was recently brought into the pack, was more independent and confident with a medium high energy. She investigated me, my bag and wandered the room while Sammy stayed connected at the hip with his owner.

Whenever you bring a new dog into the pack, there is an adjustment period when the dog explores boundaries and authority in an effort to find his place in the pecking order.  As a result, Dolly is likely acting and pushing the boundaries more than she would usually. But when you combine that with Sammy’s insecurity and lack of confidence, aggression can result.

Dogs usually advance when they sense weakness and it only took a few moments with him to see that Sammy lacks confidence.  This became even more apparent as I worked with him. He became confused at times, started to exhibit avoidance and partially shut down returning to his owner’s side.

Whenever I work with a dog is insecure, I find that teaching new or reinforcing existing skills can help them start to build their confidence up. I had his two owners sit at different sides of the room and took a position equally apart so we could practice the “recall” exercise.

At first Sammy was very hesitant to come to anyone away from his female owner. I was able to coax him over to me, but he refused to go to his male owner. I continued to call him over and rewarded him in a calm way while moving slightly closer to his male owner until i was sitting next to him. Finally we were able to get him to come and take the treat, but Sammy’s body language was screaming that he was uncomfortable.

We kept at it and after about 15 minutes, Sammy started to show better body language and reacted better and faster.  By practicing this exercise daily for the next week or two, Sammy will gain confidence with the experience.

To further help Sammy learn to be confident I suggested that his owner refrain from petting him for no reason. Asking a dog to sit or lay down before you show the affection is a great way to build up or reinforce the leader follower dynamic. Sometimes humans pet dogs at time that communicate something they don’t intend. By only showing affection after the dog follows a command, we can add some structure to the relationship.

Sammy’s habit of retrieving the television remote control is likely an attempt to self sooth or appease his master’s. Once he has learned a number of new commands and skills and practiced self restraint, his need to retrieve the remote will soon subside.

After going over a few additional exercises to help Sammy build up his confidence, we started to work worth Dolly. I went over the different ways Dolly may be communicating a dominating or aggressive message to Sammy and how to disagree with it. I also showed them a few exercises to help Dolly learn to look to her human’s as her pack leader as well as how to better control herself.

Their owner will need to practice these confidence and leadership exercises to put an end to the occasional bouts of aggression from Dolly. But as Sammy’s confidence grows and she acclimates herself to her new pack, the opportunity for such confrontations will dissipate until they stop completely.

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