Teaching a Fearful Lab to Move Away Instead of Lunging at People

By: David Codr

Published Date: February 11, 2018

For this Santa Monica dog training session we worked with Stella, a 4 year-old Yellow lab mix who is anxious and fearful around new people; barking, nipping and lunging if they get too close.

Stella’s guardian had hired a few dog trainers to help with her barking and lunging at strangers on walks, to no avail. Unfortunately at least one of these trainers used to old Force and punishment based approach which is about the worst thing you should do with a fearful or anxious dog.

Knowing she was fearful and reactive to new people, I arranged to meet her a few times before the day of our appointment. I wanted to start to build up a positive association before actively working with her. Since she lives a few blocks away from my place in Santa Monica, a few drop-by’s were quick and easy.

The first time I met Stella, she was wearing a prong collar, compliments of one of these previously mentioned “trainers.” After rehabilitating thousands of dogs I have never needed to use this primitive, pain causing device and have grown to despise them. I want dogs to understand and respect their guardians and teach the humans how to communicate and lead the dogs in a way that inspires the dog to WANT to listen to the human.

After swapping out the prong collar for a Martingale, we ran through a few Behavior Adjustment Training approaches. The idea is to put the dog into controlled situations where we can help it practice moving away from anyone or anything they don’t like or are fearful of.

The day of the session we picked up and continued practicing these set ups right across from the beach. You can see some of the progress and some Behavior Adjustment Training tips and summary by watching the video below.

Please take note of my comment about closing my eyes when Stella looked at me. Since the camera cut my head off while sitting down, I wanted to point that out as its a very important factor. You can easily trigger a response from a reactive dog nay looking them right in the eye.

I was very pleased with Stella’s progress in the few days we met up briefly. But when her guardian mentioned she looked totally relaxed when approaching me, I felt even better.

After practicing outside in various locations for about a half hour, we headed inside to go over a variant of the exercise they can use when anyone comes to visit.

Its important to keep the tension off the leash during this exercise as tugging or pulling may confuse the dog or trigger a response. You can also get a good indicator of how the dog is feeling by watching its tail. You can see it was pretty low when she was licking up the treats. At the 4:49 mark, you see her tail come up as she moves away. Ideally you want to see the tail in the mid position (parallel with the dog’s spine in terms of height).

Now I was pushing the boundaries by moving quickly after texting her out and moving things around the room. I did this for demonstration purposes and that is not something you should do without the assistance of an experienced Dog Behavior expert like myself.

The goal for these setups is for Stella to practice moving closer to a person while still feeling relaxed so she can practice moving away from them when she gets uncomfortable. The more you practice this, the better the dog will get at doing so. After a while, you will see the dog move away from the person on her own.

Because of how reactive Stella was, I told her guardian we needed to set up a follow up session in about a month to build on the success we had in this session. The goal is for her to stop barking and lunging at people and instead move away to increase distance.

We wrapped things up by shooting a Roadmap to Success video that summarizes many of the positive dog training tips I shared with Stella’s guardians during this in home dog training in Santa Monica.

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This post was written by: David Codr

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