Teaching a Pair of Nervous Dogs to Focus on their Guardians

By: David Codr

Published Date: June 6, 2018

For this Los Angeles dog training session we taught 2 year-old Chihuahua mix Lola to focus so her guardians can redirect her attention on walks. We also shared tips to boost the self esteem of her and her roomie, Gizmo a 1 year-old Chihuahua Papillon mix.

I could immediately see that the dogs were stressed and out of balance with this new person in the room. They darted around in jerky movements, barked in protest, backed away any time I tried to engage or pet and had stiff postures. Compounding the issue, the guardians reached over to pet the dogs any time they came near or climbed on top of them.

While petting your dog is a great activity, anything your dog is doing when you pet it is what you are rewarding or amplifying. This includes unbalanced states of mind like fear, stress, anxiety and excitement. So petting an anxious dog will make the dog more anxious. This is one of the most common mistakes people make with their dogs.

To help the humans start petting the dogs in a more beneficial way, I shared my petting with a purpose and passive training methods. Asking the dogs to do something before petting them or petting them after they do something we like is a really easy way to motivate any dog to behave the way you want them to.

Because these dogs were focusing on the wrong things on walks, I showed their guardians how to train a dog to focus on them on command. This positive dog training exercise is a great way to redirect a dog’s attention away from things they are normally reactive to. You can learn how to teach a dog to focus in the video below.

If the guardians practice the focus exercise a few times a day with each dog, gradually increasing the duration of the second movement, they should develop a strong focus command. Once this is the case, the guardians can ask for a focus the instant Lola or Gizmo sees another dog; long before they perceive the dog as a threat. Redirecting before the dog reacts (when it is sub-threhold) is key. Once the dog is reacting, the best recourse is to increase the distance until the dog stops. Sometimes this involves moving outside of the dog’s line of sight.

The guardians can help the dogs stop being so reactive on walks by exercising them before the actual walk. A quick game of fetch, chase the laser or scent games can take the top edge of energy off and make it easier for the dog to relax and listen to their guardians.

Because the dogs also had some accidents in the house, I went over some potty training tips and recommended the guardians come up with a new command words to ensure it doesn’t have any confusing baggage and

A big part of the reason these dogs were dog aggressive was out of insecurity. While the guardians had the absolute best of intentions, the lack if structure had caused the dogs to think they were peers or superior in rank to the humans. But when the dogs corrected or warned the humans and they didn’t respond, the dogs got more stressed. Combine that with being petted for being scared and you have a situation where the dogs were only going to become more stressed and anxious.

Im hoping that by flipping the leader follower dynamic, rewarding desired behaviors and developing a strong way to redirect the dog’s attention away from things before they go over threshold, their dog aggression will stop. If the guardians are not seeing improvements with that behavior in a month, we may need to set up a follow up session to do some BAT or Behavior Adjustment Training.

To help the guardians remember all the dog behavior tips we covered in this in home dog training appointment, we shot a roadmap to success video.

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This post was written by: David Codr

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