Teaching an Excited Dog to Calm Down So She Can Control Herself

By: David Codr

Published Date: April 22, 2015

Bella, Lulu and Eddie

I kicked off this trip to California working with a pack of dogs in LA; Bella (left), Lulu (right) and Eddie in the back. Their guardian called me for help after Lulu’s recent aggressive behavior towards Bella when guests arrived. The most recent episode resulted in Bella needing a few stitches.

As soon as I started knocking at the door, a avalanche of barking ensued. It took their guardian a few moments before she was able to get the dogs moved away from the door enough to let me in. While Bella seemed to respond to her guardian’s commands, Lulu mostly ignored her while barking her disapproval and trying to rush past her.

Eddie and Bella had been barking too, but their tone was one of excitement that someone new had arrived. By the time I came inside, they were over ten feet away from the door. But Lulu was right there two feet away barking while being held and pushed back by her guardian.

While keeping everyone safe is always a priority, holding a dog back in this fashion can often escalate and intensify a dog’s reaction. The energy they put forth in an attempt to break free gets transferred to their reaction to the stimulus or trigger, in this case her barking at me turned into lunging at me. I knew at that point that one of the things I wanted to accomplish was to show her guardian how to get the dog to back away from the door without any words or physical contact.

Once the dogs had settled down a bit, we sat down in the kitchen to discuss the situation and what she wanted to accomplish for this session.

As I often do, I asked what rules or boundaries they dogs were expected to follow. While their guardian was thinking about the question, Bella wandered over and stood an inch away from her. Her guardian reached over and petted the dog on the head which was exactly what Bella wanted.

While I’ll never say there is such a thing as too much love and attention, providing this affection on demand with a pack of dogs can cause problems. Not only does it give the dog the impression that they can demand attention whenever they want, it can cause the other dogs to do the same. If you factor in some excitement or jealousy, a conflict between the dogs can spark at any time.

I suggested that she give the dogs a counter command the next time any of them nudged or pawed at her for attention. By countering with a sit or lay down command, and then rewarding the dog for following it, we can help the dog learn there is a reward when they follow their handler’s lead.

I suggested a number of simple rules that will help redefine the leader follower dynamic in the house. While these new rules and boundaries are little things, they will have a cumulative effect on the dogs. I like to attack a dog’s perception of it seeing itself as being in a leadership position from al sides. By making the changes small, the dog doesnt protest each one. And when they are all combined together, they have a big impact on the way the dog sees and identifies itself.

We went through some of the situations that caused Lulu to get territorial and ways to address the behavior. Her guardian was using a lot of verbal commodes and reprimands along with physically pushing, nudging and pulling the dog into position. But because dogs communicate non verbally, all the commands were really not working effectively. In fact, they likely increased the energy of the situation. Additionally, when we manipulate a dog physically, they don’t learn anything.

But the biggest issue in this case is that Lulu just gets too excited and when she is in that state, she has difficulty restraining herself. She had nipped a few people who surprised her with their innocent movements and tried to do the same with me once I got inside. I say it all the time, but its when dogs are in an excited state that they are most likely to get into trouble.

Compounding the issue, Lulu is a big and strong dog who knows how to use her weight and athletic ability. When I arrived for the session, she was pulling and almost dragging her handler around. And she was in such an excited state, she wasn’t listening to a thing her guardian said. In fact the louder her handler spoke spoke, the less the dog listened as the excitement and energy from her her shouting was feeding into the dog’s energy.

To change this behavior, I went over some non verbal communication methods using body language, eye contact and movement. I also stressed for her owner to use a calm assertive energy. Right as I had finished going over all this with the dog’s guardian, the person who watches the dogs arrived to sit in on the session. Perfect timing which allowed us to practice.

Now when I knocked on the door, it took almost five minutes of their guardian telling the dogs what to do then pulling and pushing them where she wanted them to go. But with the new non-verbal communication methods and movement, their guardian was able to get all the dogs away from the door in about 90 seconds without touching them or saying a word.

I had told their guardian to ignore Bella and Eddie when she was answering the door. While they were barking and increasing the energy and excitement in the room, they were acting in a very normal dog-like way. Lulu on the other hand was acting in a insecure territorial way which is a dangerous combination, especially when a dog is excited. You always want to focus on the most intense dog or the one that is acting in an unbalanced way as the other dogs usually follow along once that dog relaxes. This was certainly the case with these dogs. Not only did they listen at the door better this time, they calmed down much faster as well.

I stepped outside so that I could play the part of a guest arriving. I waited a few moments before knocking on the door with quite a bit of enthusiasm. I could see her owner moving around the room through the window, but didn’t hear a single bark from the dogs or any verbal commands from their guardian.

By the end of the session, the dogs were pooped, but they were also respecting the personal space of their guardian and handler on their own. They were following commands and responding to corrections much quicker as well.

It will take time, practice and supervision to keep Lulu from getting over excited when various triggers occur such as a guest arriving. But as she develops the ability to self restrain by respecting the new rules and boundaries, her guardian will be able to recondition Lulu to identify as being in a follower position. Once this is the case, Lulu will be able to stop thinking she needs to protect her family by nipping and barking aggressively at strangers.

After she stops getting over-excited or reactive when new guests arrive, her guardian can start having new arrivals drop treats as they walk into the room. This is a great way to use positive rewarding to help change a dog’s perspective. The “I need to ward off this stranger” behavior changes to “when new people come over, tasty meat treats fall from the sky.” In time the dog will start to relate new people arriving to getting a tasty treat.

Categorized in:

This post was written by: David Codr

%d bloggers like this: