Training a Grumpy Dog to Stop Barking and Nipping at Guests

By: David Codr

Published Date: May 1, 2017

Comet (left) is a ten-year-old Silky Terrier who lives in Omaha with seven-month-old Teddy Bear puppy Clover. Their guardians set up a dog behavior training session with me to work with Comet on some unwanted dog behavior; barking, nipping and lunging at guests who arrive or move around the room.

Because Comet sometimes displayed redirected aggression towards Clover when guests arrived, the guardians had the puppy behind a baby gate in the kitchen so I could focus on Comet.

Comet was animated when I arrived for the session; barking, jumping up, launching himself at the door, spinning in circles while getting more and more worked up. I wanted to gauge how intense his reaction was by offering a high value treat with the door only open a crack.

Normally I would not offer an over-excited or out of balance a dog a treat as this can be interpreted as agreeing with the behavior. But in this situation, I wanted to see if the scent would provide a distraction and potentially positive association.

Redirecting a dog’s attention through scent is one of the dog behavior tips I have learned over the years. Because a dog’s nose controls 60% of its brain, offering something with a strong smell can be an effective way to redirect their attention and get them to “snap out of it” while using positive dog training.

As you can see in the above video, dropping the treat through a crack in the door didn’t work. But once I was inside, the treat distraction worked wonders; settling Comet down instantly.

When I sat down with the dog’s guardians, I learned that these aggressive behaviors started after Comet’s companion dog passed. Its possible that the companion dog was seen as the authority figure by Comet and once that dog was no longer around, he thought it was his job to fill that void.

But because his actions contradicted the wishes of his human’s and they didn’t comply, Comet was likely stressed out which increased these dog aggression behaviors. As a dog behaviorist, I have seen this situation in many of my client’s homes.

We have a tendency to think that the dog’s should see and respect us as authority figures as we bought them, feed them, provide a place to live, etc. But to dogs, its what they see us do not what we did while they weren’t around. As a result, none of those things are interpreted as actions that are attributed to being leader.

So you have a dog who thinks its in charge, but not respected. Just like humans who are in a position of responsibility; when your charges do not follow your instructions, an increase in stress is likely. And just like humans, when we feel we are not being heard or listened to, Comet had increased the intensity of his attempts to control and correct the humans he thought he was responsible and in charge of.

I suggested some rules and boundaries and went over how to enforce them using a series of Escalating Consequences I have developed. I also went over ways to delay gratification and add structure to repeating tasks. These are all ways to help Comet start to identify as a follower which should reduce his stress.

By petting the dogs with a purpose, constantly enforcing rules, demonstrating leadership through actions and rewarding desired behaviors, the humans can help the dogs start to see them as authority figures. Once Comet sees them this way, he wont feel its his job to watch over and protect the humans. This will reduce, then eliminate many of his unwanted dog behavior issues like barking and nipping at humans who arrive or move without his permission.

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