Dogs Reactivity on Walks

Dog Training Center - Woof in the Woods

The burden of a dog owner…walking your leash reactive dog We have all seen it, and many have experienced it…that dog that starts to bark, growl, lunge and generally lose his mind when he sees another dog approach on the walk.

First you have to understand that this is your dog’s way of communicating a message. One interpretation could be…your dog may just be that dog that does not like it when other dogs get too close,
to you or him. It’s his way of saying… ”hey buddy, I don’t know why you are coming so close to me and my family, but I don’t like it one bit, get the heck away from us”. Then, once you pass that dog, your dog chills back out and enjoys his walk again.

In another scenario, may your pup see another dog and she get over the top excited, squeals and barks with glee, thinking it is play time. She sees another dog and that usually always means she gets to play and sniff and make a new friend. The big question is does that other dog have any desire to meet your dog…maybe not! The sight of another dog should NOT trigger and overexcitement response in your dog. Teach them an ON and OFF switch.

In both scenarios, your dog’s body language is communicating with you and the other dogs, conveying a
message about how they feel about the situation. The leash plays a major role in both too. Dog’s natural
greeting is to approach, dance around each other, sniff a little backside to greet and sum up the other dog, then decide if they want to engage in play or run in the opposite direction. The leash holds the dog back from doing ANY of that. We always advise owners NOT to allow dogs to meet face to face on leash. This scenario sets up an unnatural way of greeting, and in fact often enhances tension with a face-to-face meeting, while the owners hold back the dog by pulling on the leash…. that ups the stress factor tenfold for most dogs! A far cry from the butt sniff to say hi.

So, what do you do instead of “encouraging” the tension? Work with your dog to be the center of their world during training sessions. Learn how to get your dog to pay attention to YOU instead of anything but you. Be interesting, know what they like and use it to get their attention. Use the Name command (aka LOOK, WATCH, etc.) to get your dog’s focus back on you. Teach the TOUCH command to give them a job to do when they are nervous about another dog approaching, instead of letting them glare into the eyes of their nemesis. Whip out their favorite toy or treat to turn focus back to you. Keep moving to get past their distraction. Reward the successes.
In some cases, you might need to create space from the other dog. Do what it takes to get their attention and build up their confidence instead of allowing your dog to build up their fear, anxiety and distrust until they explode on the other dog. YES…. you must advocate for them, especially when they are asking for your help. If you let them keep reacting like that without changing the process you are letting them, even encouraging them, to create bad habits, making that their go to behavior. Walks should be about your dog, not you, and what they need to be fulfilling and build confidence.

Put down your cell phone, take one dog at a time, be prepared to have to help them focus back on you, advocate for your dog, no one else is going to help them but you!

If you need help addressing your dog’s reactivity on walks give us a call at Woof in the Woods!