Teaching a Boxer Mix to Focus to Stop Her From Being Possessively Aggressive

By: David Codr

Published Date: December 15, 2017

For this in home dog training session in Malvern Iowa, we worked on stopping 2 year-old Boxer mix Mabel (left) from pushing the boundaries and starting dog fights over items with T (Middle) a 11 year-old American Staffardshire Terrier mix. Their room mate, 11 year-old Husky mix Hank (Right) just sat back and collected as many treats as he could get as I worked with the other dogs.

As you can see in the above video, this is a case of two balanced dogs and one who is insecure. Maybel’s standoffish movements, barking and body language all communicated that she was highly agitated to have a new person in her home.

I ignored Maybel’s outburst and when she had lulls in her barking, I tossed high value treats her way. I did not call to her, try to let her or look at her. When you are dealing with an anxious dog one of the best things you can do is give them space and time to get comfortable first.

Although Maybel got progressively more relaxed as the session went on, her anxiety was a big concern. The most reactive dogs are usually the most anxious and insecure. Anytime you have a dog who is acting aggressive or fighting over toys and other items, its important to help that dog develop new behaviors. An additional aspect to consider is the dog’s state of mind and confidence. As I mentioned above, that was a big concern for Maybel.

To help improve her confidence and self esteem I suggested the guardians take turns teaching her (and the other dogs) a new trick or command each week for the next 8 weeks. This will help the dog’s self esteem and also help them see the humans in a more respectful light.

I explained how important it is to have clear rules and boundaries to help the dogs see that their is structure in place and that the humans are good leaders who consistently enforce the rules dispassionately. Dogs are all about what they see. As a dog behaviorist I have found many people’s lack of rules and structure confuse dogs into thinking they are peers with their human counterparts.

After suggesting some rules and ways to enforce them, I went over ways to add structure to petting the dogs and how to reward desired actions and behaviors to motivate the dogs to continue exhibiting them. Paying attention and rewarding the dogs for things you like is a great way to help the dogs understand what you want them to do or how to behave.

The family is expecting their first child in a month so I spent part of the session going over tips and suggestions to ensure the baby’s arrival goes as smoothly as possible. I also promised to add a link to an article I did for the Omaha World-Herald on the subject.

Because Maybel is pushing the boundaries with the other dogs, I recommended they up her exercise and keep a journal to help them track the day’s activities and then assign a grade for the day. This is even more important for Maybel as she is kenneled most of the day which means she will be concentrating her energy. Too much pent up energy wont start a dog fight or conflict, but it can certainly make it more likely to happen.

By playing around with the repetitions of the various forms of exercise, they should be able to identify the right cocktail of exercise to help Maybel feel less of a need to push the boundaries and get rowdy.

I have found that instilling a strong redirect command can help cut off conflicts before they happen. Usually I show my clients how to do this by teaching a focus exercise, but Im in the middle of developing a new technique that incorporates the dog’s name into redirecting them. You can watch a video where I outline both approaches in the video below.

It will take a week or two to develop a strong redirect command if the guardians practice the focus and name command game 4-6 times a day. Teaching a dog to focus is just like any other command, it takes practice and repetition. The idea is to gradually increase the amount of time the dog is asked to stay focused or reward faster looks when calling by name.

We finished things up by feeding the dogs in a structured way. The dogs responded really well while I was there. But a day after the session, I got a message from the guardian saying Maybel went after T while one of the guardians was attempting to keep a boundary around the other while he ate.

Maybe didnt display any dog aggression during our session, which is a good sign. Since T and Maybel spend time together without any fighting or aggression, this shows that its more a case of Maybel’s insecurity, confusion about her role and adolescence than its is dog aggression. That doesn’t mean a high can’t happen. One already has. But it does mean that the solution is close than if it were a full blown case of dog aggression.

Dogs sometimes have what we call redirected aggression. This often happens when a dog is frustrated but can’t interact with the thing that is frustrating them, so they lash out at something nearby. Its possible this is what happened, but its more probable that this is another example of Maybel’s insecurities and a little shock over all the new changes.

I will be speaking with the guardians later today to come up with some revisions to the plan and recommended via email that they put Maybel away for the new feeding ritual or any time an activity is going on where she may be upset, fearful, jealous or reactive.

Anytime you have a dog who is biting or initiating aggressive behavior, you have to monitor them closely and put limitations in place. Restricting their access to situations where a fight may break out is cumbersome, but necessary. The guardians had already adopted this approach a bit, only letting T or Maybel out separately. Dogs get better at anything they do including aggressive behaviors so you want to block and eliminate any opportunity that you can while you rehabilitate the dog.

In order to stop Maybel’s reactive actions, the guardians will need to consistently enforce the new rules (keeping in mind to not put Maybel in a position to lash out at T while doing so), build up her confidence via new commands, increase her exercise, emphasize rewarding desired behaviors and develop a strong redirect command so they can stop or call her away anything she gets too worked up or anxious around the other dogs.

To help the guardians remember all the small dog training tips and behavior suggestions I shared, we shot a roadmap to success video that you can watch by clicking the video below.

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