Is your dog reactive to other dogs while on walks? You know what I’m talking about. That sweet, furry love of your life, who turns Cujo-like when he sees certain dogs (or all dogs). You aren't alone, it happens much more often than you realize. When it happens to you, tho, it seems much louder, much worse than when you see another dog react. This is normal because you aren't emotionally invested in someone else's dog but your dog can skewer your heart with this behavior..
You ARE emotionally invested in your dog and this affects how YOU react to your dog's reaction. Embarrassment, nervousness, fear, shame...these are all normal feelings. That's when we typically begin to yell, cajole, threaten, plead for the dog to behave. "It's no big deal" "STOP IT" "C'mon, you know better than to act like this" "ENOUGH already!" Maybe throw in a prong collar or e-collar for good measure to punish the behavior in hopes that it will fix the situation.
Instead, tho, the behavior eventually begins to escalate, getting worse. The first step in addressing the behavior is not punishment or bribery but identifying what the dog is trying to tell you. What they are trying to say is usually either “I’m so excited I don’t know how to control my behavior” or “I’m scared and need some space”. Either way your dog is over threshold which means that learning is not going to happen. Trying to yell or beg or bribe will not affect how the dog will react next time
So what is a frazzled handler to do? Take a deep breath, step to the side and say “lets go” while turning around and heading the other direction, increasing distance to that which they were reacting to. Once the dog has calmed down and giving you good attention you reward this behavior. Now it is important to make a plan that avoids these situations until your dog is ready and able to handle them.
Contact a professional who is experienced and educated in science based methods to work with you and your dog. One who understands that the research is very clear on how to best address the challenges for best results long term and has the experience to teach you and your dog. No flooding, no forcing, no punishment. Solid behavior help instead. Your average dog trainer is just that, a dog trainer. They aren’t educated or experienced in dealing with behavior issues in the best and most modern ways possible. This isn’t about cookie pushing but in timing rewards so that counter conditioning occurs by changing the emotional response to the stimulus (the other dog). Timing is everything, and must occur at precise moments with a high enough value reward while at the same time preventing over threshold or flooding situations where learning does not happen.
If you can’t afford a behaviorist there are also online resources, such as CARE For the Reactive Dog, that can help the dog owner learn skills to address their dog’s challenges. Beware of any trainer promising fast fixes…these fixes typically require use of punishment which may suppress the behavior but does not fix the emotional response. This can lead to even more challenging and dangerous behaviors later because the dog is still reacting but with a new level of fear added on.
If a friend tries to help you because something worked with their dog remember that not all dogs are the same. Educated and experienced trainers and behaviorists have spent countless hours learning about animal behavior and how to address these things in the best and safest way possible. While your neighbor or friend may mean well, they haven’t put their heart and soul and wallet into learning the best methods to make your dog better.
With the warmer weather (or on rainy days) your dog may not be getting as many walks or even playing in the yard as much. Adding mental stimulation (also called enrichment) to their day can be a big help in curtailing unwanted (and often destructive) behaviors that can be caused by boredom. A few suggestions:
Teaching your dog the "find it" game is an easy one to do. Initially you'll do this while the dog watches from a "wait": toss a few treats on the ground and then say "find it". As the dog gets the point of the game hide a few treats in easy to find spots. Then up the ante and hide the treats in harder to find spots and move the dog out of the room. You can also do this game with a favorite toy.
If you have a "stufficidal" dog that can destroy even the toughest of stuffy toys this works great: Use paper towel or toilet paper cardboard inserts. Put a couple of treats in them and then fold
the ends. You can also use small boxes or paper bags for this.
Lick mats and Kongs are great. We fill them with kibble or treats
and then put peanut butter or plain yogurt (be sure it's not sugar free
as the sugar substitutes can be dangerous to dogs) and then freeze or chill them (soft drink kosies are great to hold them upright so they don't make a mess in your fridge). This makes the Kong experience last longer.
Freezing ice cube trays or cookie cutters filled with mixture of plain yogurt, canned pumpkin, broth, canned dog food, even blueberries in water are great treats in the heat and interesting to the dog.
Hide and seek. One person hides and then the other tells the dog to go find. When the dog gets to the person hiding be sure to ask for a sit before rewarding (in this case you are the reward with big praise and attention.) In addition to alleviating the boredom this also helps your dog learn to give wanted behaviors even when excited.