Changing the Leader Follower Dynamic to Put a Stop to Scooby’s Aggression

By: David Codr

Published Date: September 24, 2015

Scooby

Scooby is a three-year-old Boxer / Rottweiler mix who is territorially aggressive, dominant when the family’s husband is not home and nervous and uncomfortable around people he doesn’t know in his home.

Scooby was behind a baby gate in a sunroom when I arrived for the session. His guardians told me that when people arrive, they often start with him secured behind the gate as he has been getting more and more aggressive with guests. Eventually they would transition to letting Scooby out and having the guest feed the dog treats.

While offering a positive reinforcer is good, the dog’s energy and state of mind when it receives them is of paramount importance. If the dog is still growling and showing other aggressive behavior, offering treats only reinforces the dog’s dominant behavior.

I went over a few ways to disagree with unwanted behavior including using a new sound to disagree. It will be important for Scooby’s guardians to immediately disagree and correct the dog the instant it starts to show any aggressive or territorial behavior. Its much easier to snap a dog out of it or get them to stop if they haven’t had a chance to get started.

Now that the guardians knew how to disagree with unwanted behaviors, I wanted to show them some ways to stop it from happening in the first place. In Scooby’s case, a lack of rules and structure led the dog to believe there was a leadership vacuum and he was trying to fill it himself.

When a dog thinks its in charge, most guardians only see a problem when they leave the house or if someone new comes into the home. The dog perceives these as potential threats and make sure to let the potential offender know they have their eye on them. Combine that with a higher energy dog that is under stress because its followers (The humans) aren’t following his rules and you have the potential for a dangerous exchange.

By incorporating a number of rules and boundaries into his daily routine, and correcting Scooby when he violates them, his guardians can start to change the leader follower dynamic in the dog’s mind. Simple things like keeping the dog off the furniture, blocking him from moving ahead of the humans, waiting for permission to eat and respecting his guardians personal space will go a long way in this regard.

To help the guardians practice the escalating consequences I taught them earlier, I coached them through a leadership exercise I developed a few years ago. The exercise helps the humans practice their technique and timing and the dog practices watching and following their commands as well as how to restrain himself. The more Scooby practices stopping himself from doing things without permission, the less reactive he will be.

One of the most fundamental leader follower exercises is the walk when done in a structured way. If the dog is in front of the human, it identifies as being in the leader role. This is why its important that the humans correct the dog and control the walk so that they are leading the dog rather than following behind it.

To give his guardians more control, we fitted Scooby up with a Martingale collar and I showed them how to apply the special twist to the leash. But even with the tool, Scooby was a bit of a challenge so we practiced walking the dog around the house first.

His guardians had been giving the dog way too much leash and letting him sniff and go where he pleased. By simply choking up on the leash and pausing when the dog started to pull in front or get excited, we can help it understand that the only way to move forward is by walking on a loose leash in the heel position following his handler.

Its going to take time for the new structural changes inside the home to translate to walks. Scooby has had quite a bit of practice at leading and aggression to those he doesn’t know. However, dogs live in the now and I could already see a difference in his body language and behavior.

By the end of the session, Scooby was looking up at his guardians faces, walking next to or behind them, respecting their personal space and adhering to their corrections right away. With a few weeks of practice and his guardians dutifully hiding and correcting Scooby the instant he gets out of line, the dog will stop thinking there is no authority figure in the home. Because these authority figures now take a leadership position and correct him when he doesn’t follow, Scooby will eventually revert into a follower position again.

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This post was written by: David Codr

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