Do you have difficulty taking your dog for a walk? He’s barking and lunging and acting crazy at every dog he sees. You are embarrassed to take him out anymore. You choose to keep him inside so now he’s so full of energy he’s making you nuts. He’s started barking out of the window at everyone that walks by. He’s running your fence line going insane at every person and dog he sees. What can you do? Why is this happening to you? This isn’t what you thought having a dog was going to be like!
Unfortunately, this is the most common dog behavior that I work with as a dog trainer. It seems like it’s just getting more and more prevalent these days. More people have dogs than ever before and we all want to/have to walk them on a leash. Just the pure number of dogs makes it more likely to happen. There are many reasons this behavior occurs. It can be due to genetics, stress, under-socialization or a bad experience, to name a few. It happens when we don’t expose our puppies to different dogs on leash at a young age and in a positive manner. Maybe your dog got attacked while on a walk. This can certainly lead to the behavior. Our reaction to their behavior makes it worse.
For example, say you’re walking your puppy Spike and he sees another dog coming toward him on leash. He starts whining and jumping to go meet the other dog. He’s pretty excited because he wants to go meet her. But, what do you do? Most likely, you’ll pull him back, maybe yell at him, ask him to sit, sit, sit… all the while he is completely ignoring you. Then you get embarrassed because you don’t have any control over your puppy and maybe need to make sure your neighbors see you as a more competent dog mom. So, you start pulling back harder and yelling angrily to scare your pup into doing what you want him to do. Sound familiar? It is, unfortunately, what most people do.
What happens when you do this is that you start changing your puppy’s association with dogs approaching him while he’s on leash. A once excited puppy now feels a little worried because his human got really strange and mean to him when he saw that other dog. It happens again. Now he’s really starting to worry. Why is my human getting so crazy when another dog approaches us when we’re on leash? It must be a really bad thing that that dog is coming toward us. Hmmm…maybe if I bark and lunge at it, it will go away. Look! It worked!
So now your puppy has learned that if he barks and lunges in a mean way, that other dog will go away. Not realizing the dog would go away anyway, Spike thinks he’s done a pretty good job. Then he realizes that he can also bark and go crazy when he sees a dog walking past the window. That dog goes away too. Thank goodness…you never know what could have happened if he would have stayed. This becomes Spike’s defense mechanism. Sadly, these daily occurrences when walking or seeing others from the window are stressing your puppy out and raising his cortisol levels. It becomes a never ending cycle and only gets worse unless you seek the proper help and work with it. Find a certified positive, force-free dog trainer who knows how to work with this behavior. Do NOT hire a dog trainer that will put a shock collar, e-collar, choke chain or prong collar on your dog to try to solve this. It will only make the behavior worse. Think about it.
What is happening is an emotional issue. It isn’t cognitive like Sit, Down, Come. Your dog’s actions most likely stem from fear. Your pup is afraid of the other dog approaching, therefore has to demonstrate his defense mechanism. This is why he doesn’t pay attention to you when you ask him to sit, or stop, or whatever you are trying to get him to do. His emotional brain is flooded right now and he doesn’t have the wherewithal to respond with his cognitive brain. If you use a shock collar, choke chain or prong collar on your dog when you go on a walk and then proceed to shock or choke him every time another dog comes up to him, what do you think is going to happen? He will start being even more afraid and have an even more negative association with dogs coming toward him.
What you can do right now to help your dog is first of all, try to stay as calm as possible if you do encounter another dog. DO NOT yell, pull on or do anything that will be upsetting to your dog. You want to have empathy for him. He’s afraid, right? If you were afraid of something, you wouldn’t want someone yelling at you about it. You’d want them to be understanding and help you through it. Be patient. Calmly get him out of the situation however you can. Distance is your friend.
In subsequent posts, I will be going more into this leash reactive behavior and tell you how you can work with it to make it better.