Reducing Stress and Adding Structure to Help Stop a Dog’s Aggressive Behavior

By: David Codr

Published Date: February 21, 2019

For this Omaha dog training session we shared tips to help 2 year old Lab / Boxer mix Carl stop acting aggressive to people who visit his home.

I called ahead to see how Carl’s guardians handle visitors to the home. I have to admit I laughed a but when he said they tell people to hold their hands over their head (to prevent him from hitting and biting them) and wait for him to finish jumping up on them.

Instead I used a very structured approach, waiting outside the door after knocking for him to settle down. He was so worked up his back leg quiver had become a full fledged movement (more than I have ever seen before) which told me he was no where near ready for me to come inside. I kept my body sideways to the door, yawned quite a bit (a calming signal) and turned away when he got the most intense. This helped him calm down somewhat, but he was still very aroused.

I probably waited for 10 minutes before Carl settled down enough to walk away from the door. As soon as he did, I popped it open and tossed in some high value training treats to create a positive association. I repeated this approach 4-6 times until he was much calmer. However, calmer was all I could achieve with this approach after 20 minutes at the door. Finally I had the guardian call Carl away, put him on the leash and leave the area so I could enter without his presence.

I coached the guardian on bringing Calm back into the room in a slower, structured way while on the leash. I didn’t want Carl to lunge or pull so as soon as he did either, the guardian stopped. I had also left a trail of high value treats from where he was to my location to provide even more positive reinforcement.

Stopping dog aggression is rewarding for me as a dog behaviorist, but it can also be dangerous at first. The first step is establishing a relationship built on trust. I wanted Carl to practice being in the room with me, but with me at a distance so he could relax.

It took a while, but eventually Carl started sitting down on his own and eventually laying down. I made sure to keep my voice quiet, avoided big movements or direct eye contact; these are all things that can set a dog off and my goal was to have Carl practice being calm in the room with me.

I started out by talking about some creative ways to exercise Carl inside. This will help him considerably and reduce the stress his guardians have as they can all be done inside. I think the treat toss on the stairs will be a lifesaver. If they can get him considerably more exercise on a regular basis, and before any guests arrive, that should help a lot. Upping his exercise will not stop the dog aggression, but it will make it easier to reduce the aggressive dog behavior.

I also went over ways to create a healthy leader follower dynamic like petting with a purpose, passive training and introducing and enforcing rules such as teaching him to respect an invisible boundary.

These will all help flip the leader follower dynamic and help Carl start to see his humans acting like leaders. This will be important in order for Carl to start trusting in their ability to lead and control the situation. Many dogs who act aggressive to people are doing so because they are stressed out by thinking they are in charge of some humans who dont listen to the dog.

When you have a human aggressive dog, having guests over can be nerve-racking and stressful. I handed my camera over to have them film me discussing a number of things they can do to help create a positive situation when guests visit.

Now I dont want the guardians to start practicing that approach for at least another month. They can do some prep work discussed in that free dog training video, but for now, all their efforts should be directed at influencing Carl’s behavior by providing more structure and discipline (not punishment, talking about order here).

I told Carl’s guardians to contact me in a month so we can set up a one hour follow up session to build on the progress they will make with all the dog behavior tips I shared in this in home dog training session.

To help them remember all the things we went over, we shot roadmap to success video that you can view below.

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This post was written by: David Codr

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