Adding Structure to help a Pair of Nervous Dogs Learn to Relax

By: David Codr

Published Date: July 23, 2018

We worked with a pair of very anxious and fearful dogs (Parker on the left is an 11 year-old Pit Bull / Lab mix pictured her on the left with his room mate Duke a 10 year-old Newfoundland / Border Collie mix) in this Omaha dog training session.

Knowing that one of the dogs had nipped a guest previously, I called ahead to set the dogs up for success.

I spent about 15 minutes using all kinds of positive reinforcers and dog behavior tricks to earn the dog’s confidence. In the end, taking them out for separate walks turned out to be the most effective approach.

After the walks, the dogs were much calmer due to the added exercise as well as the fact that I did a number of things to earn their trust. But really, the main thing I did to help the dogs build up their confidence in me was to ignore them. I didnt try to talk to, look at or pet the dogs.

Many people think that petting a dog is the best way to earn its trust. But if a dog is anxious about someone new, petting it is about the last thing you should do. First of all, no human like someone they are unsure about touching them and dogs are the same way. Additionally, anything a dog is doing when you pet it is what you were going to reinforce.

After sitting down with the guardians I discovered that the dogs had very little structure in place. The guardians clearly love their dogs and doted on them with a lot of affection. But just like humans, if you get everything you want whenever you want it and don’t have any rules or boundaries, you’re going to get out of balance.

This lack of structure combined with a pair of rescue dogs that have had checkered past before they were placed in their current home had resulted in dogs who were over stressed out about just about everything when new people were around.

As a dog behaviorist, I have seen many cases where dogs get stressed out because of a lack of rules and structure. This confuses some dogs into thinking they are equals with their guardians (if a dog sees you as an equal, then listening to you becomes optional). In other cases the dogs demanded and got attention from the humans leading them to believe they need to guard and protect them. Other dogs are insecure or suffer from lower self esteem and act aggressively to get the person or dog to back off.

I spent a few minutes sharing some tips to help the dogs stop feeling so anxious and nervous around new people. You can learn how to stop anxiety in dogs with a similar lack of structure by watching the video below. Please excuse the over exposure, I forgot to look over my shoulder to check the background before we shot that video.

Now adding rules will help the dogs start to adopt more of a follower’s mindset, but adding rules is not going to fix these dogs problems. Its going to take several factors. However adding in rules that are enforced consistently is going to allow the dogs to start seeing humans as the authority figures which should reduce their anxiety with new people into the home.

Later I went over some tips that the guardians can use when introducing the dogs to new house guests.

The guardians can also help the dogs develop self control by asking for the dog to do something or wait before getting their way. An easy way to do this is to teach a dog to wait for permission before going out an open door.

I wanted to share a focus exercise with the guardians as this is a great way to redirect the dogs attention. But these dogs were so stressed out by the end of the session that I didn’t think it would be very productive. Hopefully the guardians can watch the linked video and try to teach the dogs to focus by watching me teach another dog this valuable skill.

After a few weeks of petting with a purpose, rewarding desired behaviors through training, it’s forcing rules consistently and having the dogs practice meeting people outside on walks, the guardians may want to start teaching the dogs to focus as I describe in this video.

Based on how insecure these dogs were before the session, they are likely candidate for us to do a one hour follow-up session in about a month. For now, id like the guardians to focus on the structure and other tips we covered in this session so the dogs can stop stressing out when meeting new people.

To help the guardians remember all of the dog behavior tips and tricks that I went over during this in home dog training session, we shot a roadmap to success video that you can check out below.

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This post was written by: David Codr

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