Building Up Magnum’s Respect for His Guardians to Stop His Nipping

By: David Codr

Published Date: October 13, 2015


Magnum is a three-year-old Stafferdshire Terrier who is territorially aggressive, door dashes, charges arriving guests, jumps up on people and has nipped his guardians trying to correct or get too close to him when he has an item.

He barked in an alerting and territorial way when I arrived. I kept him in front of me and blocked him when he tried to claim me. But because he was in a territorial mindset, the correction put him in a slightly more defensive stance so I directed his guardian to get in-between us with her back to me and then march right at Magnum.

When a dog is doing something and we don’t disagree with it, they assume we agree with their actions. By standing up (more authoritative position) and getting in-between us, his guardian was telling the dog that I was her guest and under her protection. As soon as she communicated this, he walked away and stopped barking.

We sat down and started to discuss what his guardians wanted to accomplish in the session when Magnum got overly nosey with me and my bag. He moved away when I disagreed with him at first, but on the third correction he nipped back. It wasn’t aggressive, but it was a clear message that he didn’t feel I had the authority to correct him.

Rather than pushing Magnum on the point, I had his guardian show me who he acted when she got him ready for a walk.

While he wasn’t overly excited, he did move in front of his guardian on her way to the leash. When a dog is in front, it thinks its leading the human in a literal sense. When a dog thinks its in the leadership position, it feels it has the authority to correct those who don’t follow its rules or disagree with its actions. While this may seem like a small thing, it underscores the dog’s perception of rank.

I offered a few suggestions like not announcing that they were going for a walk and how to get him to sit right away. By assuming more of a leadership body movement and language, we can impact how the dog sees us as authority figures.

After practicing the leashing up ritual a few times, his guardian was leading and directing the dog in a way it understood and respected.

It wasn’t as dramatic a transformation as I usually get, but the dog did stay behind her the whole way and clearly obeyed her much faster.

One of the reasons I get such long lasting results for my clients is I show them how to live with their dog in ways that generate respect from the dog. Its a combination of many of these small things that are repeated over and over that reinforce the leader follower dynamic we want.

To that end, I showed the guardians how to claim their personal space so that Magnum understood he couldn’t paw at or lean on them in a controlling or dominating sort of way.

After we wrapped up that exercise I suggested we all head outside as we had been working with Magnum quite a bit. Sometimes a change in scenery can have a positive impact on a dog and it had been getting a little heavy inside with all the space defining and correcting we had been doing.

His family mentioned that Magnum could use some help with his recall so I grabbed some high value treats and had everyone stand in a circle about 12 feet apart.

I love using simple exercise to reinvigorate a dog when their energy or interest wanes a bit. The positive reinforcement for compliance puts the dog in a follower mindset and helps to deepen the proper leader follower dynamic.

We headed back inside to tackle on last problem; Magnum’s habit of barking and charging at the front door when anyone knocked.

When a dog is in front of us at the door when we answer it, they look as us as being in a supporter role to them. Security is a leadership exercise, so controlling who enters the home is a primal activity for many dogs.

I knew that having the humans reclaim the job of answering the door will go a long ways towards Magnum’s rehabilitation, so I had the family’s daughter head outside to play the part of an arriving guest.

By moving the dog away from the door, then correcting it every time it crossed the boundary he wanted to establish, the father was able to communicate to Magnum that he should stay behind him in a follower position.

To really transform Magnum, his family will need to practice all of these small ways of redefining the leader follower dynamic they want. Enforcing rules and boundaries, asking the dog to literally follow them, correcting the dog as soon as it gets out of line and petting him for a purpose may be small things on their own, but collectively they will really impact and gradually rehabilitate the dog until he no longer sees himself in the leadership position.

By the end of the session, Magnum was showing respect for his guardians and their authority. He even thanked me for not taking it personal when he was nipping me.

Magnum Shake


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This post was written by: David Codr

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