Teaching a Squirrel His Guardian is the Authority Figure to Stop His Aggression

By: David Codr

Published Date: October 2, 2015

Squirrel

Squirrel is a two-year-old Field spaniel who is getting progressively more territorial and aggressive. He recently snapped at the family’s four year old son for making eye contact near the dog when he had a pig’s ear.

Dogs can be aggressive for a number of different reasons. In order to help Squirrel, I needed to know what kind of aggression we were dealing with. Fortunately it didn’t take long to identify Squirrel’s shade of aggression.

Squirrel’s family recently moved into a new home which coincided with the loss of the family’s senior dog and that is when the aggression seemed to start. When you have multiple dogs living together, one is usually the leader. In this case, the dog that passed held that role. When she was removed from the picture, Squirrel got it into his head that he was now not only the top dog, but in charge of the humans too.

In order to change this perception, Squirrel’s family members will need to fill this role in the dog’s eyes. To help with this transformation, I suggested a few ways to add structure to Squirrel’s day to day life. By incorporating some rules, boundaries and limits and then correcting the dog when it violates them, we can help it start to see that the humans have the authority position handled.

Squirrel’s guardian had been placing him in the kennel when guests arrived to ensure there were no issues. While this keeps everyone safe, it doesn’t help the dog learn a better way to greet and interact with new humans. In this case, this technique had resulted in the dog going into the kennel then barking and snapping at guests from there.

I had his guardian call him out of the kennel then close the door to block him from retreating into the kennel and repeating his aggressive behavior there. Once the door was closed, Squirrel moved to the far side of the room, essentially running from his problems.

I placed him on a leash and brought him back into the living room.

My goal was to Block Squirrel from running away so that he could learn a new way of dealing with an unknown humans in the home.

When using this technique, its important for the new human to completely ignore the dog. Often people want to pet, treat and over love the dog to “prove” to them that they are a good person. But this is too forward for a dog in this state and often results in the dog withdrawing even more.

By ignoring the dog and letting it come to investigate us in its own time, we can help reduce its nervousness.

Dogs meet through scent, so you want to see a dog using its nose when its meeting someone new. If the meeting is mostly through eye contact, that can easily turn into a fight or confrontation for dogs.

But a dog isn’t going to come up and sniff you if you are reaching for it and its already anxious or nervous. But because Squirrel had been running away, he was never going to transition to using his nose.

To help engage Squirrel’s nose and make sure it was a positive experience, I used a trick I learned a few years ago.

Now that Squirrel was more relaxed and comfortable with my presence, I went over how to enforce some of the new rules and boundaries we introduced.

Often humans add extra emotion and excitement to situations by how they deliver the commands. This can cause unwanted issues on their own. For this reason, I prefer using non verbal cues and communication as this is a dog’s native language.

By disagreeing with these methods with good timing, dogs can learn new rules and behaviors faster. To help Squirrel’s family communicate this way with the dog, I went over the escalating consequences I like to use.

It will take a little time for the humans to get into the habit of communicating and disagreeing with Squirrel using these new non verbal cues, but once they become habit, they will find them easier that talking to their dog in English.

Because Squirrel’s lunge at the family’s give year old boy happened when he was on the couch, one of the rules I suggested was to make furniture off limits. To dogs, the higher they sit correlates to how much authority they have amongst the members of its pack, in this case the family he lives with.

After showing the guardian how to disagree when he asks to get up and how to correct if he does so without permission, I went over a technique to condition the dog to use the doggy bed instead.

Now that we had added some rules and structure in the home, we were ready to go out for a walk. His guardian had been using a pinch collar and choke chain due to some really bad advise from a  local trainer (Dillion’s Dog Training).

These are tools that can cause issues on their own if used incorrectly and I was flabbergasted upon hearing the ways that Dillion’s Dog Training had instructed Squirrel’s guardian. In fact, I would consider the techniques they described as abuse.

Instead I fitted Squirrel up with a Martingale collar and showed his guardian how to add the special twist of the leash to stop his pulling and give her more control on walks. Once the dog was ready, I went over some rules I like to use for a structured walk that helps the dog see and follow the human as the leader.

People often head out on a walk when their dog is in ab unbalanced and excited state. But when we head out this way, we are setting the dog up for failure. Most dogs get into the most trouble when they are in an excited state. Combined with Squirrel’s perception that he was in charge of protecting the humans, this excitement can easily result in a bad experience on the walk.

But because we took our time before the walk and had altered the leader follower dynamic, the dog was ready for the human to take over the leadership role. This became apparent when we were able to practice walking the dog past an unknown man a few houses down the street without incident.

Instead of barking, snarling and lunging at this unknown man, Squirrel kept his composure and followed the lead of his guardian. By correcting him before he started to stare, and placing him into a more subordinate position (a sit) before interacting the with man, Squirrel saw that his guardian has things well in hand.

By the time we returned to the home, Squirrel was walking at a heel on his own. He only needed to hear a command one time to comply and when he started to get out of line, his guardian was catching it and correcting him with ease.

The more that Squirrel’s guardian corrects the dog and provides it with discipline and structure inside the home, the less reactive he will be on walks outside of it. It will take time and practice, but based on how far he had come in only a few hours, it shouldn’t take long for Squirrel to adopt the follower position he saw himself in before the loss of the family’s other dog.

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