Teaching Bella the Dane to Respect Her Owner’s Authority to Stop Her Aggression Towards Other Dogs

By: David Codr

Published Date: December 27, 2013

Bella and Taylor


Bella (Left) is a four-year-old female Great Dane, pictured here with Taylor a two-year-old male Black lab / Basset Hound mix. I was called in to put an end to Bella’s recent aggressive activities toward Taylor.

When I arrived for the appointment, the dogs greeted me at the door with a good amount of barking, excitement and energy. While I didn’t sense any aggression, they both showed some nervous energy.

After discussing the situation with their owner, I discovered the dogs really didn’t have any rules they were expected to follow. It was pretty obviously the case with Bella as she showed no respect for my personal space and stuck her nose wherever she wanted.

Each time she got too close, I stood up to communicate that she wasn’t respecting the boundary I wanted. Each time I did, she would turn and walk away, but as soon as I sat back down she resumed her previous position. I explained to her owner that Bella was testing my boundaries and authority.

After she returned a third time, I started to walk towards Bella after I stood up which caused her to walk further away and delayed her return to my personal space. After the fifth correction, she walked away then laid down on the floor about three feet away. When a dog has been testing boundaries then stops and lays down, you can take that as a signal that it understands and respects the new boundary.

I explained that it will be important for ALL the members of the family to use the same movement to communicate she needs to be more respectful of people personal space. I learned that Bella had occasionally stolen sandwiches and snacks out of the hands of the kids in the family. By continually disagreeing with Bella when she gets too close, we will help her learn to control herself and the distance will help prevent further sandwich – swiping.

Next I demonstrated a leadership exercise that will help Bella control herself while also reinforcing the authority of the human members of the home. Af first Bella barked in an attempt to intimidate me, but I held my ground and shortly after, she surrendered to the exercise. As soon as she did, I rewarded her warmly and repeated the exercise a few more times.

Once I was sure she understood the exercise I coached all the members of the family through the exercise. It took the kids longer, but once they got it, you could see the recognition in Bella’s behavior that the leadership dynamic was changing. If each member of the family practices this exercise with her daily, Bella will learn to defer and respect their authority.

Once the dogs see and respect the authority of the members of the family, they will be “authorized” to disagree with any dog behavior. Establishing the authority of the humans is only the first step in eliminating Bella’s dog aggression. Disagreeing with any signs of aggression as soon as they are displayed is equally important.

I went over the various body language and territorial communication that the family needs to look for in Bella as well as ways to disagree with it. By disagreeing with her at the first sign on any of these signs of aggression, they will be able to communicate to Bella that the behavior is unwanted and will not be tolerated. It will take timely and repeated corrections, but since Bella demurred so quickly to my sound of disagreement she understands the concept and responded appropriately.

I finished up the session by showing the dog’s owners a different, more structured way of feeding them. By controlling the order in which they eat, we can further elevate the humans in the house as pack leaders to the dogs.

By the end of the session, the dogs were lying calmly on the floor and were much more responsive whenever they received any commands from their owners. It will take a few weeks of timely corrections, practice at the leadership exercise and respect for the new rules before the behavior becomes permanent. But the progress we made in a few hours shows that these dogs can learn to become a calm, non-aggressive balanced pack of dogs with the proper guidance.

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This post was written by: David Codr

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