Adding Structure to Help a Stressed Out Dog Relax and Stop Nipping People

By: David Codr

Published Date: October 17, 2018

For this Omaha dog training session, we shared our Petting with a Purpose method to stop 3 year-old Shar Pei / Chow / Retriever mix Clyde (you photo) from barking, lunging and stop nipping people, stop 8 year-old Beagle mix David (Left in lower photo) from marking in the house and prevent 10 year-old Pit / German Shepherd Tilly from going where David does.

As soon as the dogs could see me, their energy level spiked so I had the guardian wait before opening the door. David and Tilly settled down after a minute or so, but Clyde persisted.

When I stepped through the doorway, Clyde got worked up again very quickly; barking, spinning in circles and air biting in my direction. I could tell that Clyde had lower self-esteem by the way that he carried himself and his movements. Knowing that he was an insecure dog, I was careful not to take my eyes off him or let him circle around behind me.

After discussing the situation with the dog’s guardian, I learned that she either kept Clyde on a leash or sequestered him away in another room when visitors arrived due to not being able to trust him. While this approach can keep everyone safe, it doesn’t offer the dog the ability to learn and develop new behaviors.

I ignored Clyde while he barked and circled the room and was eventually able to get him to settle down, albeit briefly. During my discussion with the dog’s guardian, I saw all three dogs go over and paw at, jump up on or bark to demand attention from their guardian. It was easy to see why they did this, each time they asked for attention, they received it.

Probing deeper, I learned the dogs didn’t really get a lot of exercise, had no rules and didn’t know very many commands. You can get away with this when you have a single balanced dog, however when you’re dealing with three rescue dogs that have their own unique issues, this lack of structure can easily cause the dogs to become confused and allow unwanted dog behaviors to spiral out of control.

In order for these three dogs to‘s give up their unwanted behaviors, it’s going to be important that the guardian first flips the leader follower dynamic. She’s going to need to consistently enforce rules and boundaries as well as look for opportunities to add structure to daily activities.

I wanted to share a dog behavior trick with the guardian that can help her add structure in the simplest of ways; petting the dogs. I handed her my camera so that I could demonstrate how to pet the dogs with purpose.

Ive been teaching people how to pet with a purpose for years and its one of the easiest and most effective way to help with dog obedience training. If the human gets into a habit of petting with a purpose, each time they pet the dog, it becomes a mini dog behavior training session without any conscious effort.

Adding structure to petting the dogs will go a long ways towards helping flip the leader follower dynamic. This transition needs to take place to help the dogs modify their behavior, especially Clyde who is stressed out thinking he need to protect his human who (in his mind) doesnt listen to him (which likely stresses him out more).

To try to help Clyde feel more comfortable around me, I took him out for a walk. Although he was still uneasy, he was considerably better behaved on this walk. He followed behind me, did not bark once and was curious about his surroundings. I let him sniff as he pleased as I was hoping to build a positive association and wanted him to relax and stop focusing on me.

While the walk was clearly beneficial, Clyde resorted to his old behavior as soon as we return to his home, actually ramping things up and biting my leg. By this point we had been working on things for close to two hours and it was probably more than Clyde was able to deal with so I asked his guardian to put him out back.

I spent the rest of the session working with Tilly and David, teaching them how to focus as well as showing the guardian how to reward desired behaviors with timely petting via passive training.

I promised the guardian I would share a video that shows how to establish and enforce an invisible boundary so she can stop the dogs from getting within 7 feet of her while she eats.

I also recommended the guardian start teaching the dogs a new trick each week. This is a simple and effective way to boost a dog’s confidence and self esteem. You don’t have to specialize as a mixed breed dog trainer to do this, simply go to youtube and search dog training to find thousands of free dog training videos that outline how to teach your dog to do most tricks and commands.

Enforcing rules consistently, increasing the dogs exercise and adding structure will help these dogs start to see and identify their guardian as the leader. Once they see and respect her as such, their anxiety with new people or situations will dissipate. Once that is the case, we can set up a BAT session to address any remaining reactive or aggressive behavior.

To help the guardian remember all the dog behavior secrets I shared in this in home dog training session, we shot a roadmap to success video.

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This post was written by: David Codr

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