Teaching a Fearful Dog Some Basic Commands to Boost His Confidence

By: David Codr

Published Date: July 17, 2015

Burt 1

Burt is a eight-year-old Jack Russell mix who nips men’s heels when they turn away from him and is refusing to use the potty pads ever since his guardian moved into a new home.

When she originally made the appointment, his guardian had explained that due to an abused past, Burt had a negative reaction to men; cowering and shivering when any male came near. This was clearly apparent when I arrived for the session. Burt barked and retreated and repeated that movement over and over. As I walked into the apartment, he backed himself into the next room.

I slowly followed him while offering soothing, non confrontational body language. I stopped frequently to let him adjust, then would take another step or two before pausing again until I was a few feet away from him. I offered the leash and let him sniff it which he did. Once he stopped looking away and his pupils returned to normal, I slid it over his head then led him back into the living room.

I did not try to pet, look at or interact with the dog in any way as I sat down with his guardian to discuss Burt’s day to day life. Because his flight mode was engaged, I stepped on the leash to block him from running away. I wanted him to have the experience of being next to a new male who shows no interest in him in any way. After a few moments he started to look around a bit, his body tension dissipated and his nostrils started to flare.

This was what I was waiting for. Scent is a dog’s dominant sense and its how they should meet any new person or animal. When he leaned over and started sniffing my boots and pants, I knew he was feeling more comfortable.

While the dog was becoming more comfortable, I was getting to understand why he was so jittery and insecure. I was suggesting that she should ask him to sit or lay down before petting him, then how to reinforce the actions with positive reinforcement when I learned that Burt didnt know how to sit, lay down or come on command.

While a lack of rules is fairly common for my clients, very few have a dog this old who doesn’t know how these commands. Its no surprise a dog with an abused past has such low self esteem.

In order to start building this dog’s confidence back up, I knew I needed to help him learn some skills that give him a sense of pride and accomplishment. I went over a few simple exercises to help his guardian teach the dog to sit, come and lay down on command.

Next I fitted Burt up with a Martingale collar and showed his guardian how to use my special twist of the leash to lead the dog rather than allowing him to run in front of her while pulling on the leash. Burt was not happy or comfortable with the Martingale at first. Initially his body tensed up a bit and his tail ducked a little between his legs so I had his guardian stop or pause a few times so that he could relax and whew could keep him in a nice heel position beside her.

While it sounds way too simple, simply keeping a dog next to or behind you while you move about is a great fundamental to practice. This literally puts the dog in a follower position.

By taking our time inside the apartment, Burt was much easier to walk outside of it. It didnt take long for his body language to change; his tail and pupils returned to a normal position, he was carrying his head high, ears were up, there was a bounce to his step and best of all, he was walking in a perfect heel next to his guardian.

When we returned from the walk, Burt was clearly much calmer and more confident that when we started the session. While he wasn’t in a state of fear or anxiety, he was able to sit and lay next to me without shutting down or shivering as he was a few hours before.

Burt 2

Because he had virtually no fundamentals, it will be important that his guardian continue to practice the simple command exercises until Burt can execute them all on demand. This will increase his self esteem while will help him when he is exposed to situations he doesn’t understand or follow. Combined with his guardian assuming the leadership role and helping the dog to move into a follower position, Burt’s stress and anxiety will continue to drop. Once that is the case, we can conduct another session to focus on his aversion and fear of human males.

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This post was written by: David Codr

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