Building Up a Dog’s Confidence to Stop Aggression Behaviors

By: David Codr

Published Date: December 18, 2016


Mini is an eight-year-old teacup Poodle who lives in downtown Omaha and is only comfortable around her guardian. If anyone other than the guardian is in her home, Mini barks, lunges, nips and bites them until they leave. We set up this Dog Psychology training session to put a stop to those behaviors for good.

I could immediately tell that Mini was an anxious and nervous dog. She started barking as soon as I came in and due to a damaged trachea, this caused her to be a little shorter of breath with each bark.

Usually I like to give a dog a chance to calm down, but her guardian had previously told me she barks the entire time guests arrive and tries to bit their ankles any time they turn their back on her.

Because a dog can work itself up by moving around in an animated state like this, I handed her guardian a Martingale collar and leash. When you have a dog with a damaged trachea you want to avoid using a collar to prevent further damage. Once the Martingale was on I wrapped the leash around her chest so that the contact and tension were off her neck.

I put Mini on the floor at my feet while simultaneously stepping on the leash about a foot from her head. I wanted to block her from moving around and getting more worked up and also from going to her guardian which would only amplify and nurture this unbalanced behavior. When I put her down, she pulled on the leash a few times then settled down considerably. By blocking her from running away and not trying to touch or interact with her, Mini quickly relaxed.

When I discussed the situation with her guardian I learned than Mini didn’t go to puppy socialization class, had very little exposure to other dogs, didn’t know any real commands, had no rules and was able to tell her guardian what to do. This is a bad combination.

The lack of structure had resulted in Mini thinking she was the top dog; a position that comes with a lot of responsibility. But without knowing any commands or skills, its hard for anyone to feel confident. Add in a lack of social experience and you have a situation that resulted in a stressed out dog.

I started out by suggesting the guardian immediately stop a number of actions and behaviors that were confusing to Mini or saying the exact opposite of what the human meant to say.

A good example of this is putting Mini on her desk when meeting with clients. Most of the time you pick a dog up, you are rewarding it. When dogs sit with one another, the height at which they sit has a correlation with their rank in the group. So putting the dog on the desk when its barking tells the dog “I love it when you bark so much Im promoting you to a position higher than any of the humans in the room. Also, stand on all my stuff so you feel like you are in charge of everything.”

By putting a stop to picking Mini up when she is barking, over excited or in any other unbalanced frame of mind, her guardian will go a long ways towards helping her start to think and see herself as a follower. Once she thinks of her human as the authority figure, this will greatly reduce dog stress.

Another great way to help a dog think of itself as a follower is to add structure to rewards and interactions. I have a technique I like to suggest for people with dogs that have these problems, but in order to do so, the dog needs to know how to sit on demand.

Problem is, despite being almost eight years old, Mini didn’t know how to sit on command so I spent a few minutes teaching her. Once she started to get it, I showed the guardians how to use positive dog training to reward Mini for sitting for them.

It will take a few days of practice with this positive dog training before Mini is able to sit on command. Once that is the case, the guardian can start utilizing my Petting with a Purpose method.

By asking Mini to sit to earn her praise, her guardian will help the dog build up some confidence. Instead of telling the human what to do (a leadership position), she will instead ask and “pay” for attention by showing off good behavior.

Learning and mastering new skills is going to be a big part of Mini’s rehabilitation process. Mini’s outbursts are not due to aggression. They were because the dog is insecure, stressed out and feels no one is listening to her. By reducing stress and building up confidence, we can attack Mini’s issues on multiple fronts.

Just like humans, dogs feel a sense of accomplishment when they master a new skill. Teaching Mini to sit, come, lay down as well as a few other commands of tricks will go a long ways towards building up dog confidence and reducing her insecurities.

I suggested that the guardian pick 4-8 new tricks and commands and then look for instructional videos on Youtube that break down how to teach them to a dog. By introducing one new command a week, then practicing it for the next 7 days with her, Mini’s guardian will be able to use positive reinforcement to rebuild confidence in her dog.

Building up a dog’s confidence by teaching it skills that boost its self esteem is a great way to deepen the leader follower relationship while helping fix multiple problems at once.

To take things even further, I spent a few minutes showing the humans how to teach a dog to come when called.

Because Mini accompanies her guardian at work, I spent several minutes showing her assistant how to use positive reinforcement to start engaging with the dog. Prior to my session with Mini, the only person who could pick her up was her guardian.

After building up some trust and confidence in the assistant with positive reinforcement, I showed the assistant how she could pick up Mini without having the dog bite her until she was put back down. I also showed her how to pet Mini in a way that would be calming which worked wonders.

I wish I had filmed that encounter. Within minutes of picking the dog up for the first time, she had Mini so relaxed she was having difficulty keeping her eyes open! I sense that this is the start of a wonderful relationship.

Due to her very low self esteem and high anxiety, I set up a follow up session for Mini and her guardian in a month. This will give them time to practice all the changes and exercises we introduced in the session so we can take a big step forward for our next session.


  • Get a harness for Mini and remove the neck collar for good
  • Stop picking Mini up when she is misbehaving. Absolutely no Mini on the desk from now on
  • Stop petting Mini when in any unbalanced state, this includes excitement
  • Use a leash time out any time Mini gets worked up and can’t calm down
  • Continue practicing the come and sit commands a few times a day (1-2 min practice sessions)
  • Pick out 8 new tricks or commands (including Lay and Stay) and teach Mini a new one each week
  • Start petting Mini with a purpose once she has mastered the sit and come
  • Introduce rules and boundaries and enforce them consistently
  • Disagree within three seconds of Mini engaging in unwanted behavior
  • Look for opportunities for the guardian’s assistant and other people to hold Mini (only when calm)
  • Replace Mini’s food with a higher quality brand and add structure to meal time
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This post was written by: David Codr

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