How to Help a Terrier Stop Nipping Unknown People

By: David Codr

Published Date: July 5, 2017

Ernie is a five-year-old Norwich Terrier Mix who lives in Venice. His guardian’s set up this dog behavior training session to get him to stop barking and stop nipping people he doesn’t know.

Because Ernie has nipped a few visitors, his guardian had adopted a greeting ritual of having guests text when they arrive then wait outside so that she could bring Ernie out to meet them on neutral ground.

I met Ernie outside in the same way, but with a few additions. I positioned myself a half a black away and waited in a sitting position with my side to the street they would approach from. To dogs, a head on greeting is strong and can interpreted as a challenge.

A sideways or curved approach is a more relaxed / polite greeting for dogs. Also, standing can be intimidating or also associated with being confrontational. By sitting down, positioning myself sideways and leaving a trail of high value treats leading from the street to my position on the sidewalk, I was able to help Ernie feel relaxed and add in a positive association to boot.

Because of the neutral territory and softer body language detailed above, Ernie warmed up to me right away. We walked together for half a block to ensure he was completely comfortable before heading inside for his session.

I sat down with his guardian to discuss the dog behavior problems she wanted to address and get more info on Ernie’s background and day to day routine.

Turns out Ernie has bounced around to a few homes and as a result, his guardian didn’t have many rules in place aside from greetings. Many people adopt a no rules approach with rescue dogs hoping to make up for things the dog dealt with in the past. Problem is that approach rarely works and often results in even more problems. In this it led Ernie to think he needed to be protective and possessive around his guardian.

I suggested some rules, new ways to communicate with him and how important it will be for her to disagree with unwanted dog behavior consistently and with good timing. I also went over some strategies she can adopt to set Ernie up for success when it comes to meeting new people.

A great dog behavior tip to deal with undesired dog behavior is to redirect your dog’s attention before they get into trouble. To help Ernie’s guardian teach him to stop nipping / barking at strangers and guests, I taught the dog a simple Focus exercise which you can watch in the video below.

Training a dog to focus is simple, yet so, so beneficial with dogs with these type of dog behavior problems. It will be important for the guardian to practice the focus exercise with Ernie inside until he has it down cold. Then she can start increasing the duration of the focus inside until he can hold it for 20 seconds consistently. Once this is the case, then she can start practicing outside, but at first only when other no new people or dogs are not nearby.

By training a dog to focus, then practicing the technique in gradually more challenging levels of distraction, Ernie’s guardian can put him in a position to succeed.

By the end of the session, Ernie was resisting the urge to bark; even when he heard the trash truck came by – an activity he usually disagrees with strongly.

By adding in rules, enforcing them consistently and mastering the new techniques and exercises, Ernie will learn to trust his guardian’s lead and leadership. Once this leader follower transition takes place, Ernie will no longer feel the need to “protect” his human and be able to go back to being a dog.

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This post was written by: David Codr

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