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Spring is almost here, and with the dawn of spring comes longer days, warmer weather, Tiger baseball (it’s gonna be our year!) and lots and lots of opportunities to get outside and enjoy the nice weather with your dog.
Just picture it. A leisurely walk with your best pal by your side, enjoying the sights and sounds of a warm, spring day...
Until reality hits. Another neighbor…and another…and another…all apparently have the same “first walk of spring” idea. As their dogs walk past yours, first one dog barks, then another and before you know it your peaceful walk has turned into a doggy bark and lunge-fest. And your dog is unfortunately a very active participant in the altercations. By the time you get home you are exhausted and embarrassed and not liking your dog very much. You tell yourself you won’t try THAT again, at least not without some training. Or…at least not until next spring, after you’ve had yet another winter to forget how awful walking your dog really is.
Dogs who bark and lunge at other dogs when restrained by their leashes are pretty common. In fact, I have only had two dogs in my life who didn’t give a good woof and lunge at dogs passing by. As such, I’ve gotten pretty good at the whole “walking a lunging dog” routine.
Those of us with leash reactive dogs have a few options. Which option is best for you and your dog really depends on you and your dog. If your dog is super intense and you are at risk of being pulled down or your dog has redirected and acted aggressively towards you – you may want to consider seeking the assistance of a professional dog trainer. One who specializes in reactivity/aggression. A terrific resource to locate a qualified trainer is the Association of Professional Dog Trainers (apdt.com).
Prevention is always excellent medicine – and it plays true here as well. I used to walk my reactive dogs very early in the morning or later in the day. I picked times where it would be least likely that other folks would be walking their dogs. If we didn’t pass any dogs during our walk, my dog would behave. Problem solved. Well, not really. I mean, it works, but it’s not a fix.
The very best fix is to teach your dog to be comfortable when he’s on a leash and another dog walks by (or is behind a fence, or at a picture window, etc.). And the very best way to do that is to change how your dog feels when he sees another dog. To do that, most dogs benefit from pairing awesome tasty, treats with the presence of the other dog.
The concept is simple…walk along on a leash…see another dog…get a bunch of cooked chicken. See a dog, get some chicken. See a dog, get some chicken. So…if chicken = happy and other dogs = chicken then other dogs = happy.
Sounds easy, right? But there’s a catch. The only way this training works is if you deliver the chicken/reward to the dog when the dog is unemotional. That is, timing is everything. You can’t give the chicken to the dog once he is barking and lunging. As most of you with barkers/lungers know, even if you try…dogs in that distressed emotional state won’t take the treats from you anyway. So that leaves you with a pretty significant challenge. How do you give the treats BEFORE your dog gets emotional?
Most dogs have a “safe distance.” That is, a distance where they can see the other dog and still be calm and ok. It’s at that specific distance where you start to effectively give the chicken/reward. The more you practice, the more you’ll see the safe distance shrink. Just take your time. But at first, maintaining that original safe distance is critical – and at times nearly impossible. Because other people…well, they don’t know. They don’t know you need lots of room to help your dog behave and be comfortable. They don’t mean it but they walk too close or don’t understand that when you appear to be avoiding them – it’s nothing personal!
The good news is that help is here! For dogs who need a little extra space, there’s an initiative called “The Yellow Dog Project.” Simply tie a yellow ribbon around your dog’s leash to tell friends and neighbors that your dog needs to swing a little wide around other dogs and people. The more we spread the word, the more folks will understand the meaning behind the yellow ribbons. For more information on The Yellow Dog Project, visit facebook.com/TheYellowDogProject/.
And help your dog put his best paw forward this spring by wearing a lovely yellow ribbon.
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