My Puppy Is Dominant, Fearful, Reactive, Stubborn

Shelter DogI get a variety of clients.

I work with people who have never before owned or spent time with a dog.

I work with people that have had dogs for 50 years.

And, I get everything in between.

It seems in the day of the internet and the ability to look up and diagnose oneself; people are also using this to look up and diagnose their dogs.

And, I am certain, as many doctors find, this can be helpful in a few rare instances but often times it is also a hindrance to the education and knowledge that comes with experience and time.

We certainly saw people in the veterinary hospital like this, who wanted to skip diagnostics tests and jump to an automatic diagnosis.

And, I often find clients of my own who jump to conclusions regarding their dogs.

The Internet is Confusing

I happen to have cold as I write fight

I am pretty sure it is a run of the mill, cold/flu type of normal cold that every human being has suffered from at one point or another.  Cough, chills, fever, exhaustion, interrupted sleeping pattern, sore muscles etc.  but when I plug in my symptoms to the internet… it actually came up with the “Bird Flu”.

Now I suppose, there is a chance that I could have the “bird flu”.

But I am pretty certain I don’t.

However, if I was a worry wart or hypochondriac, I might jump into my car and run to the doctor certain that the internet has just saved my life and looking for life saving techniques and medicine.

When the truth is, that I probably need to drink lots of fluid, medicate with over the counter cold and fever medication, and get as much rest as my body wants.  I think my body simply has to work it out on its own.  After all, we all get a cold every now and again.

If I don’t get well after an average amount of time; or I get severely worse I will go and see my doctor and let the run tests.  But I won’t be suggesting “bird flu”.

I think dog owners are even more susceptible to this because they can’t talk to and ask their dogs about symptoms and behaviors.

So I Get A Call

As a dog trainer and writer here, I also supplement my income by doing in home training and behavioral assessment and modification.

So I get this call from a terrified puppy owner.  Her puppy is 12 weeks old.  She has had puppies for generations and feels adept at dog/puppy ownership yet she can’t get her puppy to lie down.

“He must be dominant, or fearful, or reactive” She says, “maybe he is just stubborn”.

As a trainer, hearing symptoms or conditions over the phone, I suppose is almost like a doctor hearing symptoms over the phone.  Without seeing a dog, I really can’t diagnose what I think the problem is!  Especially since “behaviors” aren’t really “symptoms”.

So I made an appointment to come over as soon as we could, so I could meet her little terror.

I came to the house and was greeted by a very confident puppy, for his age.  His body posture and countenance told me that he thought he was pretty special.

And, in fact he was!  He was very intelligent and learned very quickly.

We worked on teaching him focus and extending the duration of good behaviors.

And, yes, he scoffed at lying down; even for me “The Great Dog Trainer”.

You see, I don’t have a crystal ball or a magic wand.  Sometimes I can get a dog or a puppy to do something that the owner can’t and sometimes, well, I just can’t either… without a lot of trouble.

The last thing I want to do is body slam a puppy to the ground, or choke him and yank him down.

I finagled him around and he didn’t enjoy being touched on his pressure points, and he also wouldn’t fully lie down when lured.

And, you know what?

It wasn’t a problem!

  • He wasn’t dominant or trying to control the world.
  • He wasn’t fearful.
  • He wasn’t aggressive.

Although he didn’t really care for being touched, I wouldn’t call him reactive, just intolerant to touch and doing something he didn’t understand.

And, you know what else?

He wasn’t stubborn!Young Woman Giving Pit Pull A Treat

You see for a dog or a puppy to be stubborn he has to refuse to do something he KNOWS and understands how to do under all circumstances when you ask him.

And, this puppy didn’t fit that mold either.

He simply had never learned HOW to lie down on command.

How Then

So how then do I teach his mom to teach him to lie down?

After all, lie down on command or cue is a very critical skill in dog training right?

I taught her to teach him to do all kinds of other things by shaping his behaviors for more on that click here.

Shaping, not luring or forcing behaviors is like a game!

And, games are addicting.

If the owner waits and free shapes behaviors she will soon be able to shape the “down”.

After all, all dogs lie down at some point right?

Puppies and dogs lie down when they are tired and want to nap.  Why then can’t we reward the behavior when the dog shows it?


Typically, if you learn to shape behaviors; the dog will begin to show you a gamut of behaviors during training and shaping sessions.  One of these almost always is “down”.  It is usually how I teach my clients how to shape behaviors during the first session.

But for some reason this puppy didn’t want to, or had a bad experience with “down” (I am guessing she had been trying, unsuccessfully to force him to down for a while), so the owner can wait.

He will eventually lie down, and she can click and jackpot.

If, every time the pup lies down, she clicks and rewards… the puppy will soon be offering the behavior and soon after that it can be put on command or cue!

My Other Recommendation

My other recommendation, to this owner, is that she handle this puppy OFTEN!

He didn't like being touched when he didn't want to be touched, and THAT needs to change!

Dogs get sick, they get ear infections, they get dirty and they need to be handled.

Ideally dogs should let us clean ears, feet, bodies, teeth and clip nails.

A puppy that is not tolerant to regular manipulation and touch will be a problem later in life!

So carry your puppy, pick him up, handle his feet and his ears, look in his mouth and touch his teeth.

Teach him that touch isn't always bad, by clicking and rewarding him for being patient!

Touch should never be a bad thing!  It should always be accepted and be a good thing.

Don’t Be too Quick

Don’t be too quick to “diagnose” your dog.  Or label him or pigeonhole him!

Don’t be too quick to “force” behaviors.

Let behaviors happen, and shape them and your dog into the dog you want!




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  1. Rhona Haley says:

    Good advice


  2. Tracy says:

    My 6 month old chihuahua/jack Russell cross has a mind of his own at times but he will sit when asked, I have made a point of handling him all the time and now when he comes in from outside he automatically goes in the bed he shares with my other dog and waits for his feet to be wiped as this has been routine since day 1. He will allow us to brush him, clip his nails, even check inside his mouth without any pulling away or snapping. Like children, the more they get used to routine, the better they accept it and it becomes second nature to them. We even stroke him and play with his tail while asleep so he gets used to it and therefore is less likely to snap when the young children come to the home and touch him.


  3. Cheryl says:

    I have a puggle that is almost 2 years old ! Love him but he has some bad habits that I ignored hoping it would just go away ! Treat him like One of my boys . Most the time it seems he just wants attention but it’s negative attention he shows us … Bites out sleeves feet and growls . I feel like he wants to play bit my husband feels differently !


    Minette Reply:

    He is not getting enough exercise or training and this is his way of telling you. Provide him with physical exercise, stimulate him mentally! He, otherwise, will do things that entertain HIM


  4. Pradeep says:

    My puppy shitzu needs her potty and urine trainings. Kindly help

    Best regards


  5. Jenny says:

    I absolutely agree with you excellent thank you


  6. Carmen Curttis says:

    Hi Chet, Love your training video and your emails, I tried the clicker with my Maltese Misty, she comes every time I use it. One day I called her to her pad, held the treat over the pad and when she had 2 paws on the pad clicked and reward, I did it maybe 5 times. then she wouldn’t get off the pad, I stood up against the wall ignoring her, waiting for her to leave the pad then she came and stood by the wall with me, so I repeated the process and it worked great, now every time I click, she comes running.
    I have been playing with her now she biting a lot , how to teach her the difference, she also growled at the vet , I touched her a lot, I can touch her paws, back side don’t know what to do about the growling. She is three months old and weights 3 lbs


  7. Sandra Hender says:

    Well, I have a 3 year old Brittany Spaniel that is completely UNTRAINABLE. I have raised dogs for years and never had a dog like her. She is the most LOVING dog; loves to be hugged, and held, and will drive me nuts for a hug when I am trying to do something else. But, she is a THIEF. She STEALS. She knows it is wrong; whenever I catch her in the act, she takes her loot and runs like hell behind the rocker where I cannot get at her. She will steal food that she can reach and steal food you swore she could NOT reach, but does, she is very smart. She knows how to get what she wants. If you leave your lunch too close where she can reach it, she takes it. She will get up on tables and take things that she is not allowed to have such as shoes, etc. Yes, we have had to pile shoes and everything else we don’t want her to destroy up on the dining room table and any other high place; so our desk, tables, backs of chairs are all covered with stuff we can’t leave where we want it or she will tear it up. She is not trainable no matter what anyone says. We do not punish her though; we simply take away the loot and tell her NO….but it does no good. She will take the same item again and again and again.


    Minette Reply:

    She doesn’t know it is wrong, you are anthropomorphizing her behaviors. Dogs don’t have that cognitive ability. She does it because she is bored and it is fun, simple.

    She steals your lunch, because you leave it out and have never taught her not too… plus stealing food is rewarding in and of itself.

    Destroying things is fun.

    Any dog is trainable, but with this attitude and blame I see why you are having problmes.

    She needs exercise. It is simple, she is entertaining herself because she is bored and these things are pleasing and fun!


  8. Lisa Hadley says:

    I have a Coton who is now 2 bt has been exhibiting more agrees I’ve behavior with children when they get near him and some other dogs. He is very social but does not live being touched either.


    Minette Reply:

    Look into a veterinary behaviorist and our aggression coaching course.


  9. Can a. G says:

    Its crucial to touch puppy at an early age. All my pups have grown used to having ears, nails& teeth checked daily. I don’t use treats to do this, just praise. I’ve enjoyed being a big gsd owner and rescuer for several years. Don’t let your dog try to be in charge! Never forget who is running the show! Got a video on fb of my late Sammy pulling a crack kernel!


  10. Jone says:

    I need advice on how to teach a three year old staffordshire to play with others with becoming aggressive and hurting the other


    Minette Reply:

    He is telling you he doesn’t want to play!!! Stop forcing and read this


  11. Nancy says:

    My 5 yr. old Maltipoo thinks she is Queen over all. If she is lying against me on the sofa or chair or next to me in bed (any hour of the night) and I cross my legs, turn over, move in any way that she can feel, she growls and will actually snap at my hands or feet if they are near her. It comes across as, “how dare you disturb me.” This is her only probolem.She is otherwise a very sweet and obedient dog.How should I best handle this? I say “no” but it continues.


    Minette Reply:

    Would you accept this if she was a 200# Rottweiler?

    A dog like this with aggression issues does not deserve to be on furniture!


  12. i have 2 rescues…an alpha min-pin and a tibetan terrier. toby’s tail is always in the aggression position ..while the other little guy is EXTREMELY docile.
    so consequently toby is marking HIS territory. Then the other one uses the same P-mail…i have tried p-pads..regimented pee times…deodorizers…distributing food pellets..diapers…treat rewards..shaming…
    ANYTHING that is inadvertently placed on the floor (grocery bags, etc) WILL get peed on..i have had them both for 4 years and paid for ‘doggy’ school and NOTHING WORKS!…i can keep them kenneled…that is the ONLY way i can stop the territory marking. is it a lost cause?!


    Minette Reply:

    You can try belly bands or make a conscious effort to keep them on leash and teach them not to


  13. Louise Height says:

    We had the same problem with our three month old lab pup. A normally agreeable and sweet fellow would be very distressed at being touched or being made to lie down. After many training fails and realizing how exhausted he was after play, we decided to take him to the vets who suggested an xray. Long story short, this dear fellow had no socket where the ball and socket should have been in his hips and was in constant pain. Lying down in any position except flat on his side was a misery to him. Two hip replacement surgeries and six months of rest later, this dear soul will do anything you ask. The “take-away” here is that not every training problem is a mental one. An expensive fix, yes and worth every dime as this dear soul continues to be a joy in our lives.


    Minette Reply:

    wow! 3 months is extremely young and many times it is difficult to even diagnose hip dysplasia etc because they are growing so rapidly


  14. Christina Easton says:

    Yes very excellent common sense, kind, advise.
    if my Yorkshire Terrier, Misty does not want to listen I pick him up and show him what I want him to do. I talk to him and give him a kiss. What i want him to do, for instance is to come inside the house when he has had his wee at night and not stay out there, he does come in now after a few nights of patience with him. He comes in the house instead of exploring the garden for hours.
    I can then go to sleep so can he.
    he is a rescue dog from SPCA here and no one wanted him. They asked me if i would take him. he looked so thin and was so gentle, I said yes. I told him i would be back , he followed us to the gate and had a good look at the car. I was told he was wondering the streets and kept himself alive by killing pigeons hunting for anything to eat. When I first adopted him he still killed at least 2 pigeons a day in the garden. He is well fed so he decided on his own he didn’t have to do this. He even sucked the juice out of the feather membranes. How about that for survival instinct. He is so intelligent he practically trains himself and has settled into our family very quickly. He can actually say Mum now and believe it or not he can say quite clearly Don’t do that, if i do anything he feels he doesn’t want me to do.Like putting a tile over the drain as he was hunting something down there which was a bit dangerous in the washing yard.
    My daughter heard this come out of his mouth and we were so surprised. He says something now and then with great effort bouncing as he says them. He is the loveliest little chap. he is so observant and interested in his environment utilizing every bit of space on the furniture to watch us from.
    Thanks for all the amazing advise greatly appreciated as here in South Africa
    They still use choke chains and old methods.Their attitude to dogs is in this country is in general disgusting. you are a breath of fresh air.


    Minette Reply:

    Thank you so much for your kind words, you made my whole day!


  15. Evangel says:

    I have a 3yr old Pomeranian..She can jump off of the couch but will not jump up…and the car the same thing..I had her since she was 3months and i have been picking her up for everything.I think she is spoil, but i think she is scared to jump up…What can i do.She is old enough to jump up but will not


    Minette Reply:

    put her food or a super good treat in the car/etc. she only gets it if she jumps!


  16. Nige says:

    1. Did you rule out any physical problem that could be making this dog reluctant to lie down?

    2. When the dog naturally lies down, how comfortable is it in getting to that position? & HOW does the dog achieve this position?

    3. Sometimes the way we want to lure a dog down is uncomfortable due to medical issues.

    4. Is there ANY such thing as a “stubborn dog”?
    Mostly, I find that owners are inconsistent and in particular, have failed to “proof” a particular behaviour against Distance, Duration, Distractions.

    It’s MUCH easier to blame the dog rather than examine the inadequacies of your training.


  17. Lesley says:

    I have a gorgeous, 4 year old cross husky/retriever. She is mostly obedient and very good at home but her recall when outside is not good. She is confident, independent and, although she will come back, does so in her own time (after she has investigated whatever else she finds more interesting than us!) With stock and roads all around, this just isn’t good enough and so we can only let her off lead in secure, fenced areas. How can I improve this recall? I can’t compete with a squirrel. I don’t want to tell her off when she comes back – because she’s come back! – and I do give her treats if she comes back reasonably quickly. Do I have to accept that this is a trait of her breed or is there anything else I can do?


    Minette Reply:

    Read this to understand why


  18. Suzaina Cage says:

    Haven’t ever owned a better dog. The only problem is he is six pound Shorkie who has what seems like separation anxiety. He immediately transforms into a crying, growling high-strung puppy the moment he suspects I am going outside, or is left in the car. Oftentimes I simply need to make a bank deposit, fetch the mail or take in the groceries. I adopted him from the former owners when he was 14 1/2 weeks, which means by that time he had left his breeder, the shoppe from where they purchased him and his first owners before I took him home from 1/2 way across the country. Otherwise he is the most loving, obedient, playful and trainable pet I have ever owned. Please help us ease his severe anxiety. He sometimes stays with family if I need to travel and they are likewise concerned. We all want to help relieve his suffering.


    Minette Reply:

    you need to crate train and you need to do it while you are home and can reward the dog


  19. Vecelia miller says:

    I have Pekingese that will be 3yr in April 2016 problem I have She has abandoned issues if I leave she barks, screams and poop/ pee and if anyone leave the house , and she want to go she will poop/pee by the front door instead of letting you know she need to go out. She is a rescue dog had her for 15 months. I can let her out before I leave and she still poop/pee. I don’t know what to do please help.


    Minette Reply:

    A dog or a person can only poop so much. If they have pooped a normal amount it is safe to know that they don’t have go anymore.

    I would also recommend a crate read this


  20. Rose says:

    Hello dog lovers, I have a 9 month old female puppy she is brindle pit, terrier and dalmatian mix I can’t get her to stop chewing everything up from shoes to my son’s PS3 games.! I put her in time out and let her know she can’t chew on them and show her she can chew on her toys she will be good for awhile then she does it again a few days later, I know she knows what she did was wrong because when I ketch her she puts her self in time out then tries to swindle her way out but crawling drards me making her I’m sorry face. I’ve tried getting her the rubber tire toys and she chews it up and eats it she has a taste for rubber and blastic and I’m afraid it will harm her so I only give her stuffed animal toys because she will not tear them up she takes really good care of her stuffed animals. She is also very smart although my fiancé dose not think so. LOL She see”s me tuck my son in to bed every night and give him a hug and a kiss now she come up on his bed a swindles her way in between us and give my son and I a kiss and lays her head on my son then goes to her bed and bushes her blanket and won’t go to sleep till I tuck her in and say goodnight. Does anyone have any suggestions on how to get her to not chew or tear stuff up .?


    Minette Reply:

    She needs more exercise. You are not meeting her needs for exercise and mental stimulation in the form of training.


  21. Liz Ewaniuk says:

    I have a yellow lab pure bread puppy a year and 3 months old he is a very happy dog we took him to beginner classes I think he didn’t learn much as he was very hyper but got the basics to a point .Did the clicker training he responded fairly well but does not want to do it anymore we have a very hard time with him when visitors come to the door he is all over them. we put him on a leash or put him in his kennel all he does is bark! How do we correct this habit now?
    Please help


    Minette Reply:

    He needs more constant training. If he doesn’t like the clicker anymore… you aren’t doing it right.

    Read those


  22. teresa says:

    My 2.5 yr old poodle poops and pees in his crate. He hates it and sometime shakes. He’s also afraid of the leash, the newspaper, and the other day my friend picked up a little board and his whole body stiffened. He is a rescue puppy and well trained otherwise.


  23. Taruna says:

    My cocker 7 months is very scared of coming for walks. My golden retriever which is 6 months and it loves walk. So I wondering is it because of some health issue or is it natural? I have even tried with his favourite treats but he doesn’t even come for 100 mts. Can u please give me a solution?


    Minette Reply:

    ask your vet


  24. Jackie says:

    Please can someone help? Tried everything my 8month old maltipoo is terrified to have a collar on. Tried short spells tried days tried leaving it on for a week. Will not drink,eat, play or move with it on, cowers and scuttles across the floor it is so sad, can’t take her for walks. Collar is very light and of course not too tight never seen anything to this extent ever.


    Minette Reply:

    I recommend you see your veterinarian, that is not normal and your dog may need behavior medication.


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