How Do I Walk This Crazy Dog?
This is the second installment on how to understand your leash reactive dog. In my last article, “My Dog Freaks Out When We Go On Walks!“, I talked about dogs that act crazy when they see other dogs when you take them for a walk. I discussed some reasons why it happens and now will try to advise you on some things you can do to help. My first and most important piece of advice is to find a good certified force-free positive dog trainer that is experienced with this behavior. Here are some things you can start on your own.
It’s important to try to eliminate the leash reactivity as best as you can. The more your dog practices this behavior, the better they get! It’s like you practicing the piano. Each time you practice, you get better and better at it.
Here are some things you can do to help
Don’t walk him with a collar only! Find a properly fitting harness to walk him with. Teach him loose leash walking. Try to keep the leash as loose as you can. The tightened leash can cause stress and trigger the fight or flight hormone.
If your dog barks at dogs that are passing by your window, you’ll want to make sure he isn’t able to do that anymore. Either eliminate access to that room or cover your windows. There are many options for window film that you can either purchase online or at your local hardware store. If you see him doing the behavior, calmly get him and try to remove him from the situation.
If he is in the back yard and he starts to bark at the passersby, you’ll want to go get him, calmly, and remove him from the situation. The less he does this, the easier if will be for you to work on it.
Try to keep his stress levels low. Keep track of what his stressors might be around the house. A stressor is anything that might worry him. Stress raises cortisol levels. Cortisol is the body’s main stress hormone. Otherwise known as the “fight or flight” hormone. Cortisol levels can stay in the system for a while. Maybe he went to the vet yesterday, this morning the washer repair man came, later in the afternoon there was a thunderstorm, which he was afraid of. One stressor after another happened. Then he went outside and lunged and went crazy at the first dog (trigger) that he saw. He had too much stress going on to be able to deal with that first dog. Keep track of all of these things.
I tell people to start a journal of what is going on. Maybe you took him for a walk this morning and he reacted to the first dog he saw. Think about what may have happened over the past day or two and write it down. You want to become a detective for your dog. If you can figure out what might be causing him undue stress, you can do something about it.
There are a couple of products out there that can relieve stress that you can also try. There is a product called D.A.P. or Dog Appeasing Pheromone. You can get it in a plug-in or a spray. There is also the Thundershirt or Thundercap. Some people have had great success with these things. They may work for your dog.
Here are some things you can do to manage this behavior when you are out on walks. Keep in mind, these things will only work if your dog does not see the dog yet, or is able to see it and isn’t reacting. Also note that these are only things to do to manage the behavior, not fix it. You’ll also want to make sure you begin practicing these techniques at home, and on walks when there isn’t a dog present. You don’t want these techniques to predict that a dog is in sight!
- Turn and walk the other way. This one is obvious and I’m sure you’re already doing it. It’s best to be as calm as possible, talk to your dog in a sing-song voice and just go in the other direction, if you can, without yanking on the leash or alerting to the other dog.
- Watch Me. Teach your dog to look at you in your eyes. Start out by saying, “Watch Me!”, then put a treat in front of his face and then in between your eyes. This will make his eyes hit your eyes. Say, “YES!”, and give him the treat. As with any cue, make sure you are not repeating “Watch Me” over and over. You only say it one time. Do it that way several times, then try without the lure. Put your treat behind your back and say, “Watch Me!”. Wait a few seconds to see if he’ll look at you. If he doesn’t, put the treat in front of his face and between your eyes like before. Say “YES!” and treat. Continue until he starts automatically looking at you when you say, “Watch Me!”.
- Find It! or Get It!. This is easy. Throw yummy treats on the floor in front of him (make sure he sees you doing this) and say, “Find It!” or “Get It!” at the same time. This will be a fun game for him and will hopefully keep his mind off of the dog walking by.
- The Jolly Routine. This is a fun and amazingly effective approach. When you see a dog coming, start talking excitedly to your dog. “Who’s a good boy?!”, “Aren’t we just having a great time!?”, anything that comes to mind as long as you are loose and happy and using high pitched baby talk.
These are a few things that can help you manage this behavior in your dog. In the next portion of this blog, we’ll discuss triggers and thresholds, and also the best ways to actually work to make things better.