I am perplexed as to what type of aggression “Barley” has. He has tried to bite both my husband and I when we tried to lead him by the collar. After researching collar anxiety, I thought it was this. He responds well to positive reinforcement but if my husband or son shout at him he barks back forcefully. I have felt that he is a bit of a bully and we have to stand our ground.
Ah, my esteemed colleague Dr. Google. Take it from your local veterinary behaviorist (me): There is no research supporting the concept of collar anxiety. There is, however, fear-related aggression.
Like all dogs, Barley understands that he earns resources by his behavior of the moment. If you consistently praise him when he is good, give him a treat, or pet him, he will happily work for you. What gets rewarded gets repeated.
The flip side is no fun for anybody; fear can overwhelm trust in a split second. When a much bigger creature (any human) stares at Barley, approaches, leans over, quickly reaches for his head or neck, and then drags him by his collar, he’s trapped. He has panicked and bitten defensively. But you can teach him to deliver what you want.
Leave a 6 foot leash attached to Barley’s collar whenever he is inside. Be ready by wearing a treat bag, loaded with tasty snacks. Squat with your side turned and then show your good boy a treat. Then tell him to come as you tug gently on the leash. When he shows up, give him the treat, tell him he can be president of the United States, and then pet him. Rather than reacting out of fear, Barley will choose to come when called without the fear of being grabbed. Repeat hundreds of times.
Dogs innately watch their leaders for opportunities to earn good things. That’s why Barley responds so well to positive reinforcement. He isn’t trying to dominate anybody; he already knows he’s your subordinate. No one needs to stand their ground or shout at somebody who was named after a grain. The poor guy has barked when he’s scared. All of you, including Barley, can let that go.
For help with behavior problems, you can sign-up for a Zoom Group Conference on my website, drjeffnichol.com.
Dr. Jeff Nichol is a residency-trained veterinary behaviorist. He provides consultations in-person and in groups by Zoom (drjeffnichol.com). Each week he shares a blog and a video to help bring out the best in pets and their people. Sign up at no charge at drjeffnichol.com. Post pet behavioral or physical questions on facebook.com/drjeffnichol or by US Post to 4000 Montgomery Blvd. NE, Albuq, NM 87109.