Building Up Their Guardian’s Authority to Stop Blue’s Dog Aggression

Charlie and Blue

Charlie (left) is a two-year-old Golden Retriever who lives in Los Angeles with his room mate Blue, a one and a half year old male Australian Shepherd who is aggressive to dogs on walks and sometimes engages in misdirected aggression with his handler when they try to correct him from reacting to other dogs.

One of the first things I noticed was that the dogs showed absolutely no respect for their guardians personal space. When a dog does not respect the personal space of their guardians, its usually indicative of a lack of respect for the authority of their guardian.

In this case it was easy to see why the dogs repeatedly nudged or shoved themselves at their guardians, the humans petted the dog each time it did so. Making matters worse, the guardians would even pet the other dog when it noticed it wasn’t getting attention and came over to invade the human’s space as well.

When a dog comes over and inserts itself between you and another dog you are petting, its trying to tell you what to do (A leadership mentality). If you pet the second dog, it will keep coming over and repeating this unwanted behavior.

By hooking your thumb around the collar of the second dog and stiff arm blocking it from getting close so you can continue petting the first dog, you control the situation. In time this method will stop the dogs from coming in for attention out of jealousy as the tactic no longer gets them affection.

To put a stop to the first dog invading their personal space, I showed the guardian how to define their area by using some non verbal communication cues.

It will take consistent disagreeing with the dogs when (preferably before) they invade the personal space of any humans in the room. We had to repeat the technique several times to get the dogs to keep a small distance due to the humans allowing this behavior to go on for so long.

One of the consequences I usually suggest when dogs keep on coming back and invading personal space after being corrected is to tether them on a leash on the far side of the room. In this case I recommended a chain leash as Blue consistently tried to chew on the training leash I put on him to disagree with another issue.

While the training leash stopped one behavior out of Blue, it resulted in another; his chewing on the leash. I used this as an opportunity to show the guardian how to make a sound to disagree with unwanted actions or behaviors.

Its always best to disagree with a dog the instant it starts (or before it starts if possible) engaging in unwanted behaviors. Dogs go through life probing and waiting to be corrected when they cross a boundary. This is why its so important that you immediately disagree and continue to do so consistently. If your timing is good and you are consistent, the dog will quickly learn that its an  unwanted behavior and stop.

When a dog is reactive to the sight of another dog, I like to show the guardian ways to distract the dog. Often by redirecting a dog’s attention away from what they are reacting to, we can stop an outburst before it gets a chance to start.

To condition the dog to look up at his handler’s face when on walks, I showed the guardians the “eyes” technique I often use.

But the eye’s exercise is only a distraction. It is not going to completely eliminate a reactive dog by itself.

Dogs can be reactive or aggressive for many reasons; fear, insecurity, aggression, protection, territoriality, etc. But in my experience, its often a result of the dog not having the proper respect for the human’s authority. When a dog doesn’t respect the authority of the human, the dog can feel as if it needs to ward off other dogs or protect their guardians from what it perceives as competition or a threat.

I was delighted to hear that the dog’s guardians had been reading my case studies and had picked up a number of techniques and exercises from my website including the Leadership Exercise I developed a few years ago.

I had her run through it so I could make sure she was doing it correctly. She had gotten almost everything right but I did spot a few minor things that she could do better.

After going over how to make the Leadership Exercise progressively more difficult, we were ready to go out on a walk. As I often do, I had the guardian show me how she got the dogs ready for their walk. Often the problem starts inside the home. Once the dog realizes that the guardian is getting them ready for a walk, their energy level goes up.

Many people confuse excitement for happiness when it comes to dogs. But a dog can be calm and happy. Dogs often get into the most trouble when they are in an excited state. So if we let the dogs get excited when we put on their leashes, by the time we get outside they are so worked up they have real difficulty controlling themselves.

Introducing an unknown dog or other trigger to an unbalanced or excited dog can be a recipe for disaster. This is why I teach my clients to stop the leashing process the instant that the dog starts to get overexcited. By stopping the second the dog gets excited and waiting for it to return to a completely calm state before continuing, we can help it understand that we will only proceed when its calm.

Blue and Charlie got a little excited at first, so we repeated the exercise a few times until they remained calm throughout the process. Once that was the case, I fitted Blue up with a Martingale collar. His guardians had been using a choke chain due to his reaction to other dogs butI prefer to use the least intense tool possible.

While out on the walk, the guardians said it was easier to correct Blue, but that was without any other dogs around. A few moments later a neighbor walked by with three well behaved dogs so I took the leash and asked Blue’s guardians to stay back so I could walk him near the other dogs without their influence.

As I mentioned earlier, dogs can often feel the need to protect or defend their guardians. I wanted to see if I got the same reaction from the dog. While Blue was somewhat reactive, I was able to get him to sit calmly a few feet away from the trio of dogs; something his guardian said he would never do with them.

Because I was able to get Blue to remain calm near other dogs, I knew this wasn’t an issue of real aggression or a robust prey drive. This is good news as those problems are much more difficult to stop.

When we returned to the house, I walked their guardian through a structured feeding ritual.

Because eating is such a primal activity, having control over feeding time will go a long way towards eliminating Blue’s perception that he is in charge of protecting or defending his guardians on walks. The more that the dog sees his guardians have things under control, the less he will think he needs to react when encountering dogs on walks.

At the end of the session one of the dog’s guardians mentioned how much he was enjoying the dogs not being in his personal space. While this may not seem connected to Blues dog reactivity, it actually is. Its going to take time, consistent corrections and redefining the leader follower dynamic in the home before Blue gets the message that his behavior on walks isnt wanted or warranted.

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