A Territorial Miniature Bull Terrier Learns to Calm Down

By: David Codr

Published Date: January 9, 2016


Rowdy is a four-year-old Miniature Bull Terrier who has started growling at the family’s 11 year old daughter, even nipping her in the nose. This behavior started after the family recently lost their Boston Terrier.

Usually I like to sit down with a dog’s guardians and discuss the situation before I start actively working with their dog. However in Rowdy’s  case, the excited and territorial behavior warranted an immediate response so I coached his guardian through an exercise while I waited at the door.

By consistently moving the dog away from the door before opening it in the future, Rowdy will quickly learn that his guardians want to handle the door greeting without his assistance. Its going to be a challenge. Rowdy thinks security of the pack is his job. But once this perception of authority  is changed, many of Rowdy’s unwanted behaviors will stop.

As responsible dog guardians, it is extremely important that we immediately disagree when our dogs start to engage in any unwanted actions or behaviors; especially if there is any aggression to them.

After explaining all the intricacies of the technique and practicing it a few times, I stepped outside to play the part of the guest so that the guardian could practice answering the door again.

While this behavior was a marked improvement from the dog’s initial greeting, he still has a long ways to go. In time Rowdy will learn to adopt a calmer energy and behavior when people come to the door. I suggested that the guardians practice this exercise themselves by pretending to be an arriving guest when they come home. This will enable the other guardian to practice this technique without the concern we have for a guest waiting at the door.

A clear indicator that Rowdy’s problems go further than his behavior at the door was apparent when I sat down with his family to discuss the situation.

Usually I like to let a dog get it out of their system on their own. But after several minutes of Rowdy pacing around the room barking at me, I pulled out a leash and showed his guardians how to apply and appropriate consequence to disagree with this behavior.

By consistently applying this consequence when the dog starts to engage in these actions or behaviors, Rowdy will quickly learn that avoiding the behaviors results in avoiding the consequence.

It took a while, but eventually I was able to return Rowdy to a completely calm state.

Most dogs get into the most trouble when they are over excited. Many dogs get even more worked up by pacing or circling the stimulus. By interrupting the dog and blocking him from doing so in the future, his guardians will be able to help Rowdy calm down faster and eventually not respond that way at all.

But as I mentioned earlier, a big part of Rowdy’s problem is his misunderstanding where his authority is with the other members of the home. It was clear Rowdy thought he was equal or even possibly superior to the human’s authority. To start changing the leadership structure in the home, I showed Rowdy’s guardians a technique that I like to call Petting with a purpose.

It usually takes people a couple of days to get into a habit of asking their dog to do something before they pet or provide it attention. But once they do, this simple act of petting the dog reinforces the leader follower dynamic that they want. This is probably one of the simplest yet most impactful changes that any dog guardian can adopt to improve how their dog perceives them in terms of respect.

Now that the dog was in a completely calm and balanced state, I explained the escalating consequences that I had been guiding the family through throughout the session.

To help the members of the family practice putting these new escalating consequences into effect, I demonstrated a leadership exercise that I developed a few years ago. In addition to helping the humans practice leading, it also helps the dog learn to better control himself.

After going through it with Rowdy myself a couple of times, the dog was ready to practice with his guardians. I asked the family’s father to go first.

I had placed a leash on the ground near the father to indicate the boundary that the dog was not to pass to make it easier for the first few repetitions. In the future it will be better if he enforces this boundary without any visual indicator. This will teach the dog to respect temporary boundaries in other places and locations.

After the family’s mother took her turn, the eldest son ran through the leadership exercise with really great results.

I suggested that all the members of the family practice this exercise with the dog every day for the next week or two. I also provided them with instructions on how to make the exercise more difficult to further develop the dog’s ability to control his behavior.

One of the ways that I like to help my clients is to look for ways to add structure and discipline to every day types of activities. Once the guardian’s adopt this new structured way of conducting the activity, it becomes second nature for them and something they do without even thinking. But each time they do so, it has a positive impact on the dog’s behavior and respect for their authority.

Because food is such a primally important activity for dogs, I showed the family members how to bring discipline and structure to mealtime.

While I would not consider Rowdy an aggressive dog, there were a number of behaviors that were concerning. Now that his guardians know how to recognize and disagree with these unwanted behaviors, they will be able to better communicate to Rowdy what is and is not acceptable.

As the dog gradually adopts more of a follower mindset, he will be less assertive and confrontational with guests as well as with his guardians. I could already see some changes in his behavior; he was less excitable with more balanced energy, was showing respect for the human’s personal space and following their instructions the first time they asked.

With consistent application of the new rules and structure combined with the new communication methods and escalating consequences, Rowdy will adopt more of a passive, follower mindset. Once the dog identifies as having less authority than all the members of the home, his confrontational and aggressive actions should stop.


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This post was written by: David Codr