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Nervous Dog, Aggressive Dog? Here's What To Do.

Updated: Apr 29

Dream Dog becomes a Nightmare Hound

When Lauren phoned me about Arthur, her three-year-old Dachshund, she said she was feeling desperate. ‘My dream rescue has turned into a nightmare – and yet I don’t want to give up on him.’ Three months into the rescue, things were not going well. Arthur had already been through several homes, and Lauren absolutely did not want to have to take him back to the pound.

Lauren works as a delivery driver and Dartmoor is her patch. Arthur goes to work with her and gets fantastic walks all over the moor. It should have been perfect – but Arthur was constantly nervous in the van, panting and shaking, and whimpering whenever she got out to deliver a parcel. He would also stop and shake and refuse to walk on if he heard any loud vehicle, such as a tractor or bus. The rescue centre had told her to pick him up to comfort him when he was scared.  

On top of his fearfulness and separation anxiety, Arthur was also behaving aggressively with other dogs, barking and lunging – particularly at big dogs. Lauren began to avoid places where he might meet other dogs. His behaviour also was not good with people he didn’t know. He would bark and growl at new people coming into the house or near the van. Lauren said that she would be in tears by the end of each day.

Fear and agression go together

The whole story was all too familiar. When a dog doesn’t feel safe, it’s very stressful. They can’t relax; they can’t be on their own. Everything can be scary. Yet still they try their best to protect their owner from ‘dangers’, such as other dogs and humans, and this shows up as aggression. I like to remind my clients how their dear dog is always doing its best, in what it is experiencing as a scary world.

Reassurance can make things worse

Lauren had been doing her best to help Arthur feel safe. She had been letting him sleep in her bed, and giving him lots of cuddles and fuss, and reassurance – especially when he was anxious or aggressive.  

Kind leadership to help Arthur feel safe

My recommendation was to completely change tack. No reassurance, less fuss, less worrying about him, no picking him up. Lauren needed to show Arthur that she was fine, the world was fine, and he was fine. Knowing that her dog was healthy and safe, she was able to ignore the shaking and whimpering, and carry on with confidence. This was a great way to show Arthur that everything was OK – much better than reassurance, which can just reinforce the scared behaviour.

Lauren needed to show Arthur that she was a good leader and that, with her in charge, the world was a safe place.  

A challenge for the human

Arthur was no longer allowed on the bed or sofa, or on the front seat of the van. This was hard for Lauren at first, but I explained how it can be really helpful for the dog: it’s another way they can understand that we are the good kind leader who can keep them safe. In the dog world, the leader takes the higher ground, and we copy this to create a world that makes sense in ‘dog’ and is reassuring and calming. I assured Lauren that calm cuddles were still fine.

The change began the next day

Arthur responded really well to the changes Lauren put in place. He began to settle down as soon as she started the work. Over a week or two, his fearful behaviour just faded away. So did his barking and aggression to other dogs and new people. He was feeling safe and could relax. He began to listen to her commands, get things right, and look to her for guidance. 

‘Life is a breeze now – I can take him anywhere, and we’re both so much happier,’ declared Lauren after a few weeks. She found so many ways to love being with him – from just being together in the new calm way, to having wonderful walks and quiet cuddles. 

Good for Lauren! After a difficult start, not only she didn’t give up on Arthur, she also turned it around completely to happy dog, happy human. So if you see a lovely lady with a well-behaved Dachshund, in a white van, delivering parcels on Dartmoor… you’ll know the whole story. 

This post originally appeared in Dartmoor Magazine. Please see the magazine for Judy's regular feature: Ask The Devon Dog Lady.

Please phone me if you want to chat about your dog: 07967 735067 or email:

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