Changing the Leadership Dynamic to Stop a French Bulldog’s Nipping

Wriggley and Duncan

Wriggley (left) lives with Duncan, a two and a half year old French Bulldog who has nipped the families preteen children on more than one occasion. His owners had previously hired a dog trainer to help with the issue and while he helped with some issues, the nipping and failure to constantly respond to commands and corrections was something their owner wanted to fix once and for all.

When I sat down with the family to discuss the situation, I observed both dogs and how they interacted with the family. Wriggley was much more laid back which is to be expected from a senior dog. On the other hand, Duncan took turns wandering from human to human nosing under their arms or scratching for attention. This can give the dog the impression that they are in a leadership position so I suggested that the family start giving Duncan a basic command when he asked for attention this way. By giving the dog a command, then providing affection when it complies, we can use positive reinforcement to help the dog start to see and identify as being in a follower. position.

I also went over some new ways of communicating and disagreeing with Duncan non verbally. To a dog, standing up and facing them is one of the most commanding or authoritative position a human can take. I suggested that they stand up abruptly and fur so they are facing Duncan any time their verbal command went unheeded.

If standing up and facing the dog didn’t do the trick, I suggested that they march right towards the dog with an “I mean business” attitude.  Movement and position are important parts of dog communication. By marching at Duncan with intent until he turns away or sits down, his owners can help him understand that they mean business.

Next I went over some things to watch for from Duncan. They had reported that most of the nips had occurred when the child reached near him unexpectedly or when he was near food or another possession. While this behavior is ok when a dog is guarding an object from another dog, clearly its not appropriate with a child. This usually happens when a dog thinks he is equal to or have more authority than the humans in the home.

Because his family petted him for no reason and had no real rules or boundaries in place, its probable that Duncan thought he had the authority to disagree with actions or behaviors he didn’t agree with. Because dogs correct and raise their young much differently than humans, its always a cause for concern if an unbalanced dog thinks thats his job.

To prevent this from happening again, I led the family through a leadership exercise that will help Duncan see all the members of the family as having more rank or authority as he did. Now many people think this involves dominating the dog to show it who’s boss. I do not subscribe to that theory. My goal is to help the dog see that there are different levels of authority in the home with the dog in the lowest position. Once the dogs sees himself in this position, its inappropriate for the dog to attempt that behavior unless surprised or provoked.

Because Duncan is a bully-breed one of the worst things you can do to disagree with a behavior is to get physical; pulling, shoving, etc. Bully breeds play in a physical way so when a human applies a physical touch this way, the dog sometimes doesn’t take it seriously. By using an assertive energy and movement, we can establish boundaries or communicate much louder than any verbal command.

Because its always more powerful when a dog restrains itself, I look for any opportunity to practice and pointed out situations and scenarios that his owners can use to help Duncan practice self restraint. Not letting him leave his kennel, put on a leash, go for a walk or eat his food unless he is in a calm frame of mind. By pausing as soon as the dog starts to get over excited during all of these activities, we can help communicate that they only way to proceed is when the dog remains calm.

The leadership exercise I showed his owners will help to accelerate this process. I placed a high value treat on the floor and used my body movement to communicate that I wanted him to leave it alone. He got it pretty quickly, in fact faster than any bulldog I have ever worked with. I repeated the exercise a few times to be sure, then took turns coaching all the members of the family through the exercise with the same results.

Because the young children have been the targets of Duncan’s nips, it was important that they were able to participate in this exercise. We brought them in after Duncan had mastered it with their mom and dad first. By the time the youngest took her turn, Duncan had it down cold and waited patiently for her to give him permission to come and claim the treat. I emphasized to their parents the the kids that they should only practice this exercise when mom or dad was there. Based on how well Duncan responded, practicing this exercise for the next week or two should really cement the positive behavior changes made in the session.

Duncan is not an aggressive dog. He just had the wrong impression as to his position and job in the family. Now that his owners know how to communicate with him in a way he understands and responds to, they can practice the new exercises while enforcing new rules. Combined, tall of the above will help Duncan understand what rules, boundaries and limits he needs to respect.

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