Teaching a Dutch Shepherd Control to Stop Her Dog Aggression

By: David Codr

Published Date: January 19, 2016


Sookie is a five-year-old Dutch Shepherd rescue who gets aggressive around or at the sight of dogs she doesnt know.

When I arrived for the session Sookie was excited, attempting to rush forward and give me a sniff. As a result of this excited energy, her guardian pulled her away from the door by the collar.

While its a natural instinct for a human to pull a dog back when it isn’t listening, this action can actually increase the intensity of a dog’s reaction. Because dogs get into the most trouble when they are over excited, a better method for her guardian would be to insert herself between the dog and the door facing the dog, then start moving away from the door to back the dog away. Only after the guardian has established dominion over the area around the door should she open it.

Once inside the dog settled down energy wise, but I was concerned by Sookie’s complete lack of respect for anyone’s personal space. Not only did she get right up in my business, she nudged me with her nose and pawed at my leg to demand attention.

While petting a dog is a positive interaction, how and when we pet a dog matters quite a bit. If we pet a dog at the wrong time, we can actually condition the dog to do the opposite of what we want. Additionally, being able to demand attention can easily cause a dog to get the wrong impression on how much rank or authority they have in relation to their human counterparts.

To help Sookie develop more respect for her guardian, I showed her how to practice what I call Petting with a Purpose.

By consistently asking the dog to adopt a more subordinate or respectful posture before we pet them, we can condition the dog to start to engage in desired actions or behaviors as a way of getting our attention. Over time, this helps the dog develop a deeper respect for the authority of their guardians.

To better equip her guardian to disagree with unwanted behaviors, I went over a series of escalating consequences I like to use.

These non verbal communication cues are derived from how dogs communicate and interact with one another. As a result, most dogs recognize and respond to them immediately.

One thing I wanted to accomplish in this session was to show the guardian how she can teach her dog to better control herself. Dogs who are reactive usually do so instinctively. Now self control alone won’t stop Sookie’s dog aggression, but it is an important skill that will help with her rehabilitation.

To help the guardian accomplish this, I ran Sookie through a Leadership Exercise I developed shortly after I came up with the Escalating Consequences. The exercise helps the human practice using body language and the escalating consequences while allowing the dog to practice controlling itself and listening to the human.

After her guardian ran through the exercise a few times, I wanted to show her how to use the Escalating Consequences to disagree if Sookie forgot to respect the personal space around a guest.

Shortly after the guardian inserted herself in front of me to back the dog away, Sookie got upset and started to do some air biting near my hand. I was completely still when this happened as I was coaching the guardian using my voice only.

The outburst only lasted a few seconds, but there was some frustration and a small amount of aggression from Sookie. Im pretty sure this was a case of redirected aggression. Because the dog couldn’t bite the guardian to disagree, it targeted the next available option, me.

While this behavior was something to be concerned about, it was not a case of outright aggression. The guardian was caught off guard and expressed concern which is something a responsible guardian would do.

Obviously we aborted the technique as soon as Sookie reacted this way. This was likely a result of the dog not having any rules, boundaries or limits prior to the session. Due to lack of practice and experience, the dog was caught off guard and didn’t quite know what to do.

To prevent a repeat of this happening, I suggested that the guardian instead give the dog a recall command and then reward it for compliance. The problem was, Sookie only came when she felt like coming. This was another result of the lack of rules and structure in her daily life.

I used the next few minutes to show the guardian how to use a hand motion and movement to get the dog to recall, then how to reward this behavior in a way that helps the dog feel good about itself.

It will be important for the guardian to practice this recall exercise daily to help fully condition the dog to come when called. Due to her size and the redirected aggression, Id like to see the dog so well conditioned to recall that her guardian can use the command any time the dog gets excited or  reactive to a human in the same way.

By the end of the session, Sookie was doing much better. She was holding herself back instead of jumping up on people and the furniture as she was when we started. She was snapping her hear around to look for the source of anyone who issued a command and was looking up to check in with her guardian more often.

For nearly half of my clients, adding rules, boundaries and structure in the home helps the dog develop enough discipline to mitigate their reaction to other dogs. My hope is that is the case here, but it will depend on how much time the guardian has to practice these exercises and techniques.

By consistently petting the dog with a purpose, claiming her personal space, practicing the leadership exercise and using the escalating consequences, Sookie should develop more self control.

I advised the guardian to text or call me once a week for the next month to ensure the rehabilitation process is proceeding correctly. If the dog is still dog reactive after a month of this new structure, then we will need to schedule a second session to practice some counter conditioning.

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