Building up the Confidence of an Insecure Dog in Los Angeles

By: David Codr

Published Date: September 26, 2015

Naomi and Riley (South Central)

For this session in Los Angeles I worked with three year old Husky Naomi (left) and her room mate Riley, a one year old Shepherd mix. I was called in to put a stop to their manic behavior on walks.

After discussing the situation with their guardian, I had him put Naomi outside so I could focus on Riley. It quickly became apparent that the dog had some self esteem issues. To ad some rules and structure to the dog’s life, I suggested that the guardian make the furniture off limits for the next month.

Usually dogs don’t like this so they try to get back up a few times before giving up. Riley started out that way, but after each correction he crawled up under his guardian as if for moral support. When a dog starts to follow a guardian around and use them as a sort of shield, it can often turn into separation anxiety.

Ive seen dogs with similar behavior and it is often the result of people in the house over petting or babying the dog. Many guardians think its “mean” to have rules and correct a dog for violating them, but doing this creates a structured environment that can actually help a dog calm down and relax.

I suggested that everyone int he family start petting the dog for a reason rather than being close or looking pretty. By petting a dog after it sits down and repeating the command word “down” we can help it under stand that this action is rewarded with the human’s praise and attention. The more we pet a dog this way, the more the dog understands what they can do to make us happy. Once a dog figures this out, they start to engage in these actions instead of pawing for attention or getting up in their human’s personal space.

Next I showed Riley’s guardian how to claim his personal space. Having a dog to respect a 1-2 foot bubble isn’t asking too much for a dog, but it was for Riley. As soon as his guardian disagreed with his crawling up under him, the dog lost his confidence and left the room completely.

To start building up Riley’s confidence, I had his guardian bring him back so we could practice a very simple recall exercise.

As you can see by his slow movement and hunched over body language, Riley was not at all comfortable recalling on command. When he came to me and I moved my hand to place him into a sitting position, he backed away several steps before sitting down.

When a dog sits down with this kind of distance, it means its very uncertain with the situation so we continued. I did a few small things to help Riley relax as he was starting to shut down. After a couple of minutes of this, Riley started to regain some confidence.

I went over a few new ways for the guardian to communicate with the dogs using body language and movement. This is the language the dog normally speaks so using these cues instead of speaking to the dog, we make it easier for it to understand what we do and don’t want from the dog.

Now that we had gone over some discipline and structure for the family to practice inside the home, I asked the guardian to show me what happened when he got the dogs ready for a walk.

This is one of the top five most anxious leashing up ritual I have ever seen. While both dogs got excited, it was Riley who was the catalyst and more intense.

This happens over time. The dogs recognize the steps we go through before we take them on a walk. After enough repetitions, the dogs start to react to these steps which increases their excitement levels.

Many humans mistakenly interpret excitement in dogs as happiness. But a dog can be happy and calm and it can also be excited but not happy. Because dogs get into trouble when they are in an unbalanced state, I showed the guardian how to desensitize the dogs to the leashing up process.

It took about 20 minutes, but this was time well spent. By the time we finished, both dogs were in a calm and balanced frame of mind.

I suggested that the guardian practice this leashing up exercise a few times a day without going out for a walk each time. This will help the dog practice a new way of starting the walk; calmly.

While the guardian did a great job of teaching Naomi to walk at a heel, Riley was most certainly a work in progress. The one thing the guardian wanted to accomplish was to walk the dogs together, but before we can do that, we needed to teach Riley how to walk in a heel on his own.

Just like we did when leashing the dogs up, I had the guardian break down leaving the house into small manageable steps so that Riley could practice them and build on small successes.

By stopping and restarting how they left the house until the dog walked out and remained in a heel position, the guardian can help Riley understand that the only way to move forward is by being calm and remaining in a follower position.

Now that we exited the house in a calm controlled fashion, Riley’s guardian practiced walking him in a heel position using a Martingale collar with the special twist to the leash. It didn’t look pretty at first, but as they continued both handler and dog improved their technique.

Now Riley is going to need a lot of practice at walking calmly in a heel position before the guardian will be ready to walk the dogs together on a regular basis on his own. Even getting Riley to sit down was a challenge. Making things even more difficult is the plethora of barking dogs in Riley’s neighborhood. I can’t recall a neighborhood where I heard as many dogs barking.

By practicing walking Riley solo, his guardian will be able to focus all his attention on Riley and he is going to need every bit of it. Riley is a high energy anxious dog who is very reactive to other dogs who are in an agitated state. But by stopping and asking the dog to sit over and over, we made enough progress to get the dogs together for a walk.

I had Riley’s leash and we went off walking with all of us in a line together. By keeping the dogs at a heel, neither one was in front (the leader position) and neither was behind (follower position). This allows the human to assume the leadership position by dictating the pace, length and direction of the walk.

When the time was right, I slid the leash into the guardian’s hand without us stopping.

The group walk was far from perfect, but when the guardian told me that he had never had the dogs out on a walk this calmly before, I knew we hit the mark. I wanted to show the guardian what his dogs are capable of. But before the dogs are ready to walk this was on a day to day basis, the guardian will need to practice both inside and outside with Riley.

Building up Riley’s confidence, while practicing calming him down in situations he is normally excited in will take time. But once the dog feels good about himself and masters these new techniques and exercises, his anxiety will diminish. This will allow him to stay in a calm balanced state, even when he is around animals and situations that he used to react to out of his insecurity.

By the end of the session, both dogs were spent. But you could see Riley was carrying his head higher and moving in a more confident way. He was even sitting down near his guardian without being clingy or invading his personal space. A confident dog is usually far less anxious or saddled with unwanted behaviors. Its going to take time and practice, but Riley has it in him to be a calm and balanced dog.

With the right leadership from his guardians and their stopping of over cuddling and petting the dog, Riley will adopt the more confident and relaxed energy that his guardian wants. When that happens, the dual dog walks will be something human and dog equally enjoy.

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