Helping an Insecure Dog Learn to Calm Down to Stop Her Aggression

By: David Codr

Published Date: April 9, 2015

Rosie Rat Terrier

Rosie is Rat Terrier who is aggressive to anyone outside of the members of the family; barking and nipping at guests who visit.

When I arrived, Rosie was barking her disagreement with my intrusion into what she perceived as her home. While she was putting up quite a front, I could hear from the sound of her bark that she was coming from a place of insecurity not dominance or aggression.

I kept my front facing Rosie as she barked and danced around me. Standing up with your hips and shoulders facing the dog is the most commanding or authoritative position a human can take in a dog’s eyes. Rosie was trying to circle me so she could jump up against me to “claim me” as hers. By pivoting and keeping her in front of me I was essentially blocking her form doing just that.

After a few minutes of her attempts to out flank me failed, she tried a frontal approach, trying to jump up on my thigh. I made a sound to disagree with the action, but a minute later she tried again. When I disagreed and blocked her, she unleaded another barrage of barks and tried to jump up a few more times. I stayed calm and continued to block her hoping she would settle down on her own.

After another minute of her over barking, it was clear that this was a deep seated habit and waiting for her to stop on her own would take up more of the session’s time than Id like. I pulled out a training leash and started to move towards her in a deliberate and methodical manner. She attempted to evade me but I stuck with it getting progressively closer in a measured way.

Rosie’s owner offered to put her on the leash for me, but I needed to complete this ritual on my own in order to let her know I wasn’t going to stop or back down. She continued to bark at me and move around so I took my time not wanting her to feel cornered. When I got close enough, I offered the leash in front of her nose so that she could give it a sniff. Working with multiple dogs, my equipment carries the scent of previous dogs which helped in her situation as the aroma caught her nose. She stopped barking for a sec to give it a good sniff.

Once she was calm and had fully examined the leash, I slowly moved it over her head and then drew it down so that it was secure. As soon as I did, her energy level dropped considerably and she easily followed me as I led her to the kitchen table. Once there I dropped the leash and stood on it a few feet from her head. Once I sat down, she pulled a bit to try to get away. I kept her in my peripheral view but avoided direct eye contacts and remained motionless until she settled down. A minute later she was completely calm laying next to me so I lifted my foot off the leash slowly so she didn’t see me doing so.

I pointed out that she calmed down and stopped barking as soon as the leash was applied. While it wouldn’t be a good idea to have a guest attempt the same approach, I did suggest that her owners apply the same technique then have their guest step on the leash a few feet from her head. This will prevent Rosie from running away and barking at a distance while standing under some furniture as she did when I first arrived. This is textbook insecure behavior and blocking it in a structured way will help Rosie learn that guests are not to be feared.

It will be important that the guests do not try to make friends with Rosie when this is going on. Just stand on the leash and ignore her (No eye contact, no talking and no attempts to touch). This will help Rosie learn strangers aren’t out to get her and the repeated exposure under this sort of controlled situation will lead to more self confidence.

After the leash exercise, I showed her owners new ways to communicate what they wanted from Rosie as well as how to disagree with unwanted behaviors using body language and movement. Rosie responded to these new communication methods extremely well.

Next we went over a few leadership and obedience exercises to help change the leader follower dynamic. Because her owners had unintentionally rewarded activities and behaviors they didn’t want, it will be important that they practice and master these exercises so that Rosie starts to see and identify her guardians as being in a leadership position.

I also went over some exercises and actions to avoid. Rosie’s owners had been petting her when she demanded it by scratching or jumping up on them. This is a big part of why the dog thinks its her job to be in charge of security when guests arrive. By giving her a counter order to sit or lay down instead, they can help the dog learn her place is to follow, not give orders.

I also learned that her owners had been rubbing her nose in it any time she had an accident in the home. While their intentions were good, this technique has been clinically proven to do exactly the opposite of the desired intent. The dog starts to avoid and hide from the owner when it needs to got potty. After pointing this out I offered a few tips on how to help condition Rosie to understand that going potty outside makes her owners very happy.

By the end of the session Rosie was much more confident. She was responding to commands as well as corrections immediately and she was far less twitchy. It will take some time and practice at the new techniques and communication methods, but considering how much calmer and well mannered she was in only 3 hours, it shouldn’t take long for her to learn to defer to her guardians and adopt a calmer energy and demeanor all the time.

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