September 12, 2018 | Tips and Training
Does your dog bark, growl and lunge at other dogs when you’re out on a walk? There is help!
Most dogs who are dog-dog reactive on-leash have already had many chances to rehearse a potent combination of either fear/anxiety and arousal, or frustration and arousal. So our goal is to change not just behavior, but the underlying emotion, too. We want your dog to be relaxed and happy, and able to focus on you when asked.
Punishment tends to increase the dog’s arousal and anxiety, and shouldn’t be used in treating reactivity/aggression.
Starting at home, where there’s little distraction, use clicker training to teach: Watch Me . (See separate article.) Gradually add distraction, working in your front yard, then on the sidewalk in front of your house, and so on. You can then use this skill when your dog sees another dog, reducing his intensity level, and getting him working with you as your partner.
On the walk, be aware of the distance at which your dog becomes uncomfortable. Watch his body for signs of arousal (ears up, tail up, body tense, breathing accelerated, forehead wrinkled, etc.) Try to keep a comfortable distance, even if that means making a u-turn, while jollying the dog, or duck into a driveway, or behind a parked car. As the training proceeds, he will be more comfortable, and you will be able to walk him closer to other dogs. It’s important that he not have the chance to reharse the wrong behavior.
Do proceed with internal caution (scanning the environment to check for dogs, and for your escape route if a dog is too close), and external jolliness! If you are visibly tense, putting pressure on the leash or reprimanding your dog, you will increase his tension and the behavior will get worse.
Initially you may need to change your walking time or route, so that you can keep your dog successful. As he gets better at his tasks, his anxiety/arousal decreases and he builds with your help, you will be able to return to your familiar routes and times.
In-person coaching from a skilled positive reinforcement trainer will make this process faster and smoother!