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Find Peace in Training Your Aggressive or Fearful Dog

Letting go of control can be one of the hardest lessons to learn and yet it is one of the most paramount lessons when dealing with an aggressive and fearful dog.  As a Salt Lake City dog trainer, I see many of my clients striving to push fast to their end goals without acknowledging their dog’s behavior.  It is not only ineffective, but also extremely dangerous to push a dog past their limits.

In my personal life, choosing control over my dog, my husband (at the time) and my daughter has created nothing but tension between us.  When my daughter didn’t want to brush her teeth and I forced her to endure, she fought and screamed.  When my dog didn’t want to get in the car and I wanted him to come over right away because I felt it was important to leave now, he ran away more and his obedience decreased.  When I wanted my husband at the time to stop being an addict and constantly reminded him how I didn’t like his behavior, he used more.  A great saying is what you resist, persists.

When training an aggressive dog with people, I sometimes use a technique called counter conditioning. We pair the sight of the person with something desiring to the dog such as food.  In time, the dog begins to associate the person with good things and his emotions begin to shift.  We also start at a distance away from the person and gradually decrease this distance as the dog is ready. His behavior shifts to feeling more relaxed and happy.  When dealing with dog training, Salt Lake City clients of mine want to push their aggressive or fearful dogs to feel more peaceful and calm before the dog is actually ready to experience this emotion.

These clients tend to want to control the situation rather than allowing the emotions of their dog communicate to them.  The owner is likely to decreases the distance between the dog and trigger too quickly and the dog will become stressed and may react intensely.

Letting go of control is an important aspect of dog training.  Salt Lake City is full of my clients that are learning this aspect.  As these clients learn this important concept they decrease the distance slowly and watch their dog for relaxation signs.  As the dog becomes relaxed, the owner then decreases the distance between the dog and the trigger.  This is called systematic desensitization.

The aspect of letting go of control requires you to look within.  Even if you are moving slowly and reading your dog’s behavior to determine the next step, it can be easy to mentally want to go faster.

Here are some techniques to become more relaxed and peaceful through the SLOW training process:

1.) Meditate as you train.  Be in the moment.  Feel the treats and the clicker in your hand.  Feel your feet on the ground.  Take in the now.

2.) Slow down your breathing.  Breathing through your belly is very healing and can support you in being in the moment.

3.) Journal your thoughts about the training you just had.  Become aware of the thoughts that go through your head.  See them and become an observer of those thoughts instead of letting them run your decisions.

4.) Practice frequently.  If you train your dog often, you will definitely progress faster than someone who only trains once or twice a week.

5.) Fill yourself with compassion and understanding.  Put yourself in your dog’s shoes.

6.) Release any intense thoughts and emotions.  Do some great self compassion meditations.

8.) Remove the blame off your dog and take responsibility yourself.  Your aggressive or fearful dog is not the source of your stress, fear, anger or pain in your life.  Your dog “is likely partnering with you to have you be more aware of deep wounds under the surface that have not been attended to.  These incompletions are likely from early childhood trauma or generational residue from family and ancestors.”  Your dog “is only a trigger and he is not responsible for the upset and the instability you are experiencing.” – Jordan Sunne East

7.) Receive regular and consistent support. Get the support of a professional Salt Lake City dog trainer.

As I dive into my clients pain, I hear in addition to changing their dogs behavior they want to experience more peace with their dog.  So I will leave you today with this quote: “My worrying will not solve” my dog’s “problems, and it only creates problems for me. That leaves today, this moment for me to live, love, work and enjoy.  All I have is this moment. Today I will live in the NOW.” – Today a Better Way from Families Anonymous.

Your Turn

How do you attempt to control your dog?  What did you learn from this post so that you can accomplish your goals with your dog and let go into the now?


Johanna Teresi, Professional Trainer and Owner of Four Legged Scholars LLC Dog Training, Salt Lake City

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Britnie Sorensen
Britnie Sorensen
18:11 06 Apr 24
This is our second round of training with Johanna! Our Bullmastiff Abbi is different from our previous dogs, and we knew Johanna would be able to help us. We reached out and were in excellent hands! Johanna was able to redirect our training efforts, majority of sessions were held virtually and supported with videos of us training Abbi. We will keep using Johanna no matter where life takes us. Her love and compassion for our puppy, and us, come through in every interaction. We are in a much better place and understanding of Abbi after working with Johanna!
Roberta Bonnell
Roberta Bonnell
01:37 24 Mar 24
My Australian Shepard had moderate separation anxiety and Johanna was able to help me get him to a point where I can see him being able to be home alone before the end of the year! Very grateful for all of her training expertise.
Karen Mara
Karen Mara
21:19 21 Jan 24
I recently met with Johanna for help with my rambunctious teenager, Roger. We worked on coming when called, leash walking, and staying calm around other dogs when on leash. After two sessions, Roger made huge improvements, and he continues to improve as we practice on our own. Johanna really understands dogs and is very good at communicating with people. She knows how to make dog training fun. I've worked with other trainers, and Johanna is by far the best.
Wendy Nighswonger
Wendy Nighswonger
18:47 08 Jul 23
I have known Johanna for 13 years. She has helped me with several dogs, but she recently helped me train my new black lab puppy, Raven. I have moved to another state so all of my training with Raven was done online via Zoom. I believe that the one-on-one training I received through Zoom was more personalized and thorough, especially with the way Johanna placed every ounce of training and recommendation on a board through an app that I can refer back when I need. Johanna is very intuitive and knew when stress was on overload for me, therefore tailoring my training for that day around making Raven feel good while simultaneously taking my stress load down. Johanna has years of experience and while her knowledge is a gold mine, it is her gentle patience and love for her clients that make this training so perfect. I would hire her again and again. She is a true canine whisperer. Thank you Four Legged Scholars and thank you Johanna!Wendy N. ~ Oregon
Christina Richards
Christina Richards
18:13 10 Feb 23
Johanna at Four Legged Scholars is great. She tailored my program to fit my needs and was easy to work with. My puppy responded very well to what she taught us together over Zoom. She's patient and understanding. We're still utilizing the things we learned and he's a well-behaved puppy. Thank you!
Karyl Bennion
Karyl Bennion
19:49 05 Feb 23
I adopted Frida as a companion that I could travel, walk and hike with. She loves to hike and walk but pulled on the leash and jumped at distractions. I learned how to be calm and talk in a non threatening way to her. She responds to this much better than yelling at her. The click and treat method that I learned works so well in getting her attention as well as the "target" training. Frida has improved greatly with these methods. I will continue the knowledge I have learned with her. I did the live on-line training and it was very successful. I am so happy we signed up.
Rachel Giddings
Rachel Giddings
02:57 12 Dec 22
My dog was abused in his previous home and has always been afraid of strangers. I wanted to train him and help him to be more confident, but I didn't know how to do that if he was afraid of his trainer.Doing online training with Joanna was perfect for both of us! Joanna helped me learn how to read my dog and understand his triggers. We then worked together on BAT training, which taught him self-soothing behaviors and showed him how to confidently and safely handle difficult situations. I never thought I would have fun doing homework with my dog, but he and I benefited from it tremendously. Working with Joanna via Zoom was perfect for my dog and me.
Shawn McMillen
Shawn McMillen
02:09 24 Oct 22
My 2 year old doodle was struggling with people walking by the house, barking incessantly, tugging on walks, improving recall when off leash and , for me, how to be a better more engaging human for my buddy. The personalized, online sessions exceeded all my expectations. The review of video homework sessions was awesome. We saw improvement in each of the priority areas and I developed real, tangible, lasting skills/tools to be a better pet person. Thanks Johanna!
Courtney Daniels
Courtney Daniels
19:59 12 Sep 22
12 years ago I got a puppy and quickly realized I was in over my head. I wanted to have a good, well trained dog, but I was overwhelmed by methods and my puppies behavior.I joined the four legged scholars puppy training with my little 4 month old puppy Bowie, and saw immediate understanding with the clicker work. It gave us this incredibly ability to communicate and she excelled.We went on to take several courses that established general obedience, helped me turn a STRONG leash puller into a loose leash master (I took that course twice because it was a huge issue for us and I NEEDED help and reassurance from Johanna that I could do it) as well as skill class, that helped solidify a beautiful relationship between us. Learning clicker shaping allowed me to confidently teach complex and unique commands on my own as well, like waving hello and closing kitchen cabinets.My Bowie has climbed to the top of mountains for me staying right by my side never pulling on her leash. I've targeted her off trails to protect her from startling a mama moose and her baby. She's loved on my kids without jumping on them and knocking them over. She's allowed the neighbor girl who has always had a fear of dogs to walk her without pulling at whatever pace she was comfortable with. She shows off with all her fun little tricks Johanna gave me the tools to train my dog into an amazing companion.I feel so lucky to have found your training program and to have the relationship I do with my Bowie girl. These courses have a profound and lasting impact on the lives of families and their pups, thank you for that gift.
Megan Pond-Maxwell
Megan Pond-Maxwell
16:02 18 May 22
I am so grateful to have found Johanna. She was with us every step of the way as we tackled separation anxiety training and reactivity training with Daisy, my Mini Australian Shepherd. As a first time dog owner, I felt at a loss about how to manage my very vocal, scared, stressed, yet loveable dog. She had all of the typical puppy behavior, such as jumping, nipping/biting, leash pulling, as well as barking. On top of that, she was also not able to be alone without feeling terrified, as well as vocally and behaviorally reactive to other dogs, adults, and kids. I felt completely overwhelmed and Johanna created programs that felt manageable and doable. Each training session, I felt understood and empowered working with Johanna. Over the course of our programs, I felt that we accomplished the steps of the training process, strengthened the dog-human relationship, and increased my own awareness of my dog's emotional cues so that I could better work with her. My dog can now be on her own feeling relaxed and playful, her problematic puppy behaviors have significantly improved, she can walk on her leash loosely, listen to commands, and she can better tolerate other adults, dogs, and children as compared to where we first started. Our online experience was very positive. I look forward to continually implementing the tools and skills we have learned along the way to move forward in a positive direction that strengthens our human-animal bond and reduces distressing behaviors and emotional stress and overwhelm. Thank you Four Legged Scholars! I highly, highly recommend working with Johanna.
Emily Harward
Emily Harward
03:36 24 Apr 22
Our rescue dog is sweet and playful with us, but her behavior around other dogs and people could be unpredictable. She would act aggressively around adults (lunging and barking), and would sometimes be aggressive toward other dogs. We chose to do online training with Johanna. I was skeptical that online training would work, but it ended up being very effective. Johanna taught me the skills I needed to train my dog, and provided resources that I could use throughout the week as I worked on the assigned tasks. I was also able to send her videos of me working with my dog, so she could provide feedback and help me improve. Johanna personalized the program and made changes as needed to ensure that I could meet my goals. Since working with Four Legged Scholars, neighbors have commented on how much better behaved my dog is, and I don't have to worry about her lunging and barking at people or other dogs when we are out for a walk anymore. We still have a lot of work to do with our dog, and I feel like doing the personalized online sessions with Johanna has given me the knowledge, and resources to continue training my dog.
Angel Lanoy
Angel Lanoy
15:22 16 Jun 21
We have a large family, including three big dogs. So when our biggest dog Obi, the Rottweiler, started showing aggression we panicked. The vet suggested we put him down after an experience in the office. He then said we could also try training and gave us Johanna's business card. Just a phone call with her made us feel like there was hope. We signed up to do the online sessions with FourLeggedScholars. The process from the first contact to the last was well oiled and very helpful. Obi gets to stay with our family now and we feel like meting with her has given us the guidance and knowledge we need to keep our family, friends and him safe. I was a tad worried about doing the training online, but it really worked out great and we were able to fit such a big task into our busy schedules. I feel like she set us up for success from the very beginning. Thank you.
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  1. Jesse Webb

    I love these tips, Johanna! These are great for dealing with people as well as dogs – this gave me some good tips for my relationship with my boyfriend! 😉

    • fourleggedscholars

      That is awesome! Yes they apply to ALL aspects to life! It is wonderful to hear you found them useful! Namaste!

  2. kathiegregory

    Great post. There is so much focus on the dogs, that we sometimes forget that we need to look at how we behave too. We try to control the situation for various reasons, and when it comes down to it, how important is it to walk down the lane without stopping, or get in the car straight away? You are completely right about rushing to the end, and feeling we must get there, but if we use your steps and work in the moment, there is no pressure to ‘achieve’. Fantastic advice.

  3. Horling Wong

    Great insights, thanks for sharing! It is really as much about ourselves as it is about the dog. I do believe that animals reflect back to us what is going on within ourselves.

    • fourleggedscholars

      That is so cool that you have that awareness. You will get far in life knowing about reflection! Namaste!