A growing problem among dogs and their people is their reactivity toward other dogs when they are out for a walk,. Most of the private training that I do involves dogs that bark and lunge at other dogs on their walks in their neighborhood. The puzzling thing for most people is that many of these dogs have had a lot of socialization with other dogs, and are often fine off leash. So what's going on ? Why are they ok sometimes and act aggressive and uncontrollable at other times ?
I have found that there are at least two different types of dogs that are reactive toward other dogs. One type suffers from a lack of early socialization and experience with other dogs and their aggression stems from a fear of the unknown. They don't understand other dogs and don't know how to communicate with them. The best offense is a good defense and so the result is a dog that barks and lunges when it sees other dogs hoping that those dogs will go away. Sometimes this category of reactive dogs has had some socialization as a puppy but upon taking a good history I have found that this socializaiton was not ideal. These pups were particularly shy during their puppy kindergarten experience for instance. Their owners took them to the dog park on a regular basis but stopped after a short while because all they did there was hide and act miserable. Their pup got along ok with a relative or neighbors dog and so the only experience this pup got was an ocassional visit with a dog that wasn't really that interested in them.
Good socialization comes in the form of actual contact with other dogs and people. It's not enough to take your dog to new places and make an effort to be around new dogs and people on a regular basis, he or she actually has to interact with the new people and dogs and have fun. This is not always possible with a scared pup without the hlep of a professional. A pup that is too scared to socialize with new people and dogs needs help right away so that he can begin his journey toward behavioral normalcy. Good social experiences are essential in order to raise a dog that is behaviorally healhty and does not grow up with social problems. This is a challenging task with a scared puppy but it can be accomplished with the right guidance and coaching.
The other type of dog that is reactive around other dogs is not as serious. These dogs are implulsive and though they have had a lot of social expeirence they react to other dogs on leash out of excitement and over stimulation. This might start out with the bad habit of barking at the sight of other dogs or pullling on their leash and vocalizing their exictement at the sight of other dogs. They go to the park and see dogs and start carrying on, barking, lunging and vocalizing , trying to get to the other dogs. Oh, he's just excited you think at first and let him go. Well, other dogs don't like to be rushed at by an out of control exuberant dog and one day another dog tells him off. Not being all that dog savy, he reacts back and is involved in a minor altercation that if he is lucky does not result in blood shed , but does leave a very bad exprience worth remembering. Serves him right you think and move on, not realizing exactly what your dog has learned by this experience. You may not realize you have a problem until 6 mths from then when you let that leash go and your dog runs down another dog and attacks it. The victim is usually a puppy or other inexperienced dog and you are mortified by his behavior. He's never done that before you think, what is his problem ? Scared and embarrased you apologize to the other dog's owner and call me. I have seen this problem so many times, I've lost count. This problem which has turned into an aggression problem is not nearly as serious as the handler usually fears but it does need training in order not to go further down the road of aggressive interactions with dogs. In a nut shell this type of reactive dog needs to be taught some better on leash manners, he needs to learn to control his enthusiasm in public and he needs to be resocialized in a controlled environment where his play can be redirected and interupted as necessary to make sure that he is neither bullying or being bullied. These dogs are treatable and do quite well with the right training plan but it does take time.
Training is always an investment in the future and though problems like reactivity are not going to go away quickly, with the right tools and coaching handlers can greatly improve the way their dogs behave around other dogs on leash. Being able to take a walk with your dog without being embarrassed by his behavior will only benefit the both of you as you continue your journey together !
If you have a reactive dog and would like some help in acquiring the right tools and coaching look no further ! Canine University offers private consultations to evaluate and develop a training plan as well as one on one coaching to help you implement that plan in real life. We also offer our very popular Rowdy Rovers Class for handlers that want to practice the skills they have learned in a group setting. We will be offering this class throughout the year and giving you the opportunity to take it multiple times as you and your dog gain more skills and learn to work through the issues.
Next Rowdy Rovers class starts 2/17 at 6:30pm. Cost is $125 for 4 wks . Call or email for more details 781-324-3722 or firstname.lastname@example.org.