Whitaker Learns to Listen and Respect His Guardians to Stop His Dog Aggression

By: David Codr

Published Date: August 11, 2015

Whitaker 1

Whitaker is a two-year-old Mini Golden Doodle who’s guardian contacted me for help with his aggression towards other dogs.

Whenever I deal with a dog who is dog aggressive or reactive, I always look to the rules and structure the dog has at home. Often times I find these dogs don’t have any boundaries, rules or limits. To many dogs, that translates to “If there are no rules for me, I must be the king.”

Making things worse, Whitaker’s primary guardian couldn’t resist petting her dog for simply being. While petting your dog is a good thing that is mutually beneficial, over petting a dog who has sociological or psychological issues can have the opposite of their intended effect.

I suggested that his guardian get into the habit of petting their dog for a reason. Instead of petting Whitaker when he looked cute or nudged the guardian for attention, I suggested she give the dog a command that required it to change its position; sit, come, lay down are all good options. Waiting for the dog to obey, then reaching over and petting the dog while repeating the command word for that action can teach the dog to repeat these desired actions and give up unwanted behaviors as they no longer get a reward.

One area Whitaker was asserting himself that is related to interacting with other dogs was his behavior when people arrived at the door; barking, charging the doorway, jumping on guests and getting too excited. To help the dog learn that the humans in the home are the ones who determine who comes in the house, I demonstrated how to claim the area around the front door.

After coaching his guardians through the door claiming exercise, I had them show me how they got Whitaker ready for a walk.

As you can see int he video below, the guardian’s narration of the leashing up ritual provoked a strong reaction from the dog. While this wasn’t the sole problem, the excited voice was clearly a trigger.

After observing the way they leashed up the dog, we went back into the living room to discuss what just happened. Any time you leash up a dog, the state of mind or energy level the dog is at when the leash is attached is often how they start out on the walk.

Combine excitement with a dog who has problems meeting and interacting with new dogs and you have a recipe for disaster. We practiced the leashing up ritual a few times and were able to communicate to Whitaker that the only way we were moving forward was if he remained completely calm.

By removing the narration and excited voice, we were able to get Whitaker to stay completely calm, even sitting and waiting to be called rather than racing over to the leash’s location as soon as he thought they were going for a walk.

I expanded on how the guardian’s actions can influence the dog. Actions such as getting tense or pulling tight on a leash when the human sees another dog can have a similar effect on Whitaker. Without even realizing it, these actions by the handler can tell the dog “the human is uncomfortable or nervous.”

This can trigger a response from the dog as it sees the approaching dog as the cause of the human’s reaction. Therefore it is incumbent on every dog handler to lead their dog with a calm confidence.

I wanted to add a little extra time between the leashing up ritual and an actual walk, so I changed things up and showed the family a leadership exercise I developed a few years ago. The exercise helps the dog learn to look to the human for leadership and permission, practice respecting boundaries and restraining itself while helping the human practice leading the dog and enforcing boundaries through non verbal corrections.

After running through the exercise a few times myself, the family’s preteen daughter took over and did an amazing job.

I had all the members of the family practice the exercise with the dog until they got the same results. It will be important that the family continue to practice this exercise every day for the next week or so until they fully develop the dog’s ability to restrain and control itself. This skill set will go a long way towards helping the dog learn to stop reacting at the sight of unknown dogs.

Now that the dog was looking to and following the lead of the family members, we were ready to go out on an actual walk.

Because of his tendency to pull on the leash, I fitted Whitaker up with a Martingale collar and showed his family members how to apply the special twist to the leash. At first you could tell the new collar / leash felt odd to the dog and he maintained a stiffer body language.

I took the leash and demonstrated how to use small leash movements and corrections to get the dog to walk in the heel position and how to correct the dog when it got out of place. Within a couple hundred feet Whitaker lost his stiffness and started walking in a nice heel next to me without needing many corrections.

I passed the leash to the family’s mother and coached her up on the techniques until she was getting he same result before doing the same with the other members of the family. Walking the dog in a controlled way with the dog at a heel will help Whitaker learn to stop trying to lead the humans.

When a dog is in front of a human it is literally leading them. By keeping a dog in a heel position, its less apt to react to an approaching dog. Now that the humans knew how to properly walk their dog at a help, we needed another dog to practice with.

The guardian asked a neighbor if we could use her dog. She was a little apprehensive in asking the neighbor as the dog was a little reactive itself; biting the leash and being very vocal. Since the neighbor was a little off her game, I asked if I could take the leash myself.

As soon as Whitaker saw the other dog from across the street, he started to get a little excited and emitted a low growl. His guardian applied a leash correction that helped a little but not completely. I gave the lab’s leash back to his guardian and walked across the street to take Whitaker’s.

I asked his family to stay in their front yard as I took Whitaker across the street myself. I wanted to see if Whitaker’s reaction was due to possessiveness. While Whitaker and the lab were both more excited than I would like, they were able to be near one another without going at it.

After a few moments the dogs settled down so I took the Lab’s leash and headed off for a short walk with both dogs. I kept them both at a heel on either side of me; not allowing them to interact with one another. Within a hundred feet or so they both fell into a nice trotting heel by my side.

A couple of minutes later I had them laying side by side on the grass next to Whitaker’s front yard.

Whitaker 2

While Whitaker was able to lay next to the lab, he showed some signs of being a little unsure. It will take practice at the exercises and enforcement of the new rules and structure in the house to really help Whitaker learn to not be so reactive outside of the house.

By the end of the session, Whitaker was spent. He laid not he floor like a lump of coal as I offered his guardians some final instructions.

Whitaker 3

The more they assume the leadership position, the less reactive the dog will be when encountering other dogs. In time this will allow Whitaker to meet and interact with them without reacting in a negative way. In time, he may even learn to make some new dog friends.

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