Tips for Lunging and Barking at Other Dogs (Leash Reactivity)

Does your doggie morph into a snarling dragon when he’s on a leash and sees other dogs?  Its a very common behavior.

There are things you can do to change the situation. But, you will need time and patience, and you may need training help if your dog has been doing this for a while or if he has become scared of other dogs.

Teach your dog what you want him to do.
Some dogs think that the way to greet other dogs is with an excited full-on out of control run. Many dogs learn to do this at dog parks or doggie day care, for example.  The remedy is to teach your dog how you want him to act on leash when he sees other dogs (and you need to be more specific than just saying “no.”) Practice slow calm approaches to other dogs, and require that your dog sits and looks at you before meeting another dog. Practice this with a familiar dog first, and at times when your dog is not desperate for play. You need to teach this behavior in low excitement situations and build up to meetings when your dog is excited or meets unfamiliar dogs. Be sure to teach your dog a release cue like “say hi” so that he can leave his sit and meet other dogs. When you want to meet new dogs, the dogs should have a chance to observe each other, walk side by side and sniff and greet first. Learn how to introduce your dog to other dogs. If your dog is reactive because he is too excited about other dogs, you may want to train your dog to expect that play does not happen on leash, but only in the yard or other safe area.

Change your walks.
Think of walking as driving. Be aware of everything going on around you. Know which houses have free running barking dogs in their yards. If you haven’t got your training going, cross the street, go the other way, or move off to the side when another dog is coming. When you know how far you need to go from other dogs so that your dog can focus on you that is where you start training. Or, you can walk so that you don’t see other dogs — at night, for example. Or, consider walking your dogs less and exercising your dog in other ways. Teach fetch, hide and seek, tug, and other games that will keep your dog exercised so you are less focused on walks.

Socialize with appropriate dogs only.

Don’t expect your dog to like or want to meet all other dogs, especially if he is already an adult. Be choosy about who your dog meets, greets and plays with. That means avoiding socializing with unfamiliar dogs.   Don’t let other other owners let their dog walk up to yours without permission.  If you have a little dog, I suggest you do not socialize or meet and greet big dogs if they are even the least bit rough.  (See my post on little dogs http://santamonicadog.org/little-dogs-lunging-barking-dogs/) If your dog likes playing with other dogs and is out of control on leash because of frustration, find and arrange suitable play and exercise outlets for him with familiar dogs where you can also practice good meet and greet skills.

Change your dog’s emotional response to other dogs.
If your dog is not sure about greeting other dogs, or is selective about the dogs he meets, he probably learned to be sacred of some or all other dogs.  Help him get over this.  Your dog should feel that that seeing another dog is great.   Do not force him into meeting them or try to talk to him him and tell him that the other dog is nice because that  won’t work or will backfire.  Instead, give him chicken or steak or something he loves every time another dog appears. Do this 20-30 yards away from other dogs to start (more if you need to, your dog should be able to concentrate on you).

Give your dog a new routine around other dogs.

Having a new, fun and safe routine will calm him down.  Your new routine may be crossing the street, or turning around and walking the other direction, or going to the side and sitting. Pair a great treat with all of these for maximum effect.  You can also use games to bring down your dog’s excitement or fear (and you your own stress) about another dog being near with games like “look at that,” “find it,” and “touch.”

Become a better handler.
The way you hold the leash, your voice, and your body language and breathing are all part of how you communicate with your dog. It takes skill and practice to hold a leash loosely when your dogs is walking, but this is critical because it will help your dog feel more relaxed, and not trapped, when meeting other dogs. Developing a routine and shared expectations about what you do when other dogs are approaching will make walking easier, too. If your dog learns that when another dog is approaching he moves away, sits, and he is fed his favorite food when other dogs pass, you are on your way to a manageable and well-mannered dog. Your dog will feel protected by you and be able to relax if he knows you will protect him and wont force him into unpleasant situations.

Learn to communicate with your dog.
Remember communication is a two way street. Learning to read your dog’s communication (body language, etc.) so you can tell in advance when your dog is getting excited or worried will help you immeasurably. For example, learning to notice when your dog has started staring at another dog of tensing up his body will help you know when you are too close and need to change. Knowing these cues will also help you know how far away from other dogs your dog needs to be so that he can be calm and sit or watch you while other dogs are passing. Adding a marker to your training tool kit (either a clicker or a word like “yes”). It will allow you to be very clear with your dog about what you want him to do when other dogs around.

What if my dog is too much to handle?
Using the right equipment to walk your dog will help. A head collar will give your more control, and properly used it can help you get your dogs attention and improve your training.  A front clip harness or martingale collar can also help you manage your dog better and prevent the dog from slipping out and getting loose. If you think your dog may actually hurt another dog or person I suggest you teach your dog to wear a muzzle and consult a trainer or behaviorist.

Is my dog scared, upset, or frustrated?
How you address leash reactivity will depend on understanding if your dog is upset by other dogs, scared or other dogs, or simply frustrated to the point of aggression. A trainer or behaviorist can help you figure this out. Having a clear idea of your dog’s motivations
will help you speed up your results and choose the right training program.

Additional Resources:

Reactive Rover, is a great short book and DVD by Kimberly Moeller and available online

Patricia McConnell has a great short book that you can download and read in a flash http://www.patriciamcconnell.com/store/Feisty-Fido.html

Improve your handling with exercises from Dr. Sophia Yin. http://drsophiayin.com/blog/entry/reactive-dog-foundation-exercises-for-your-leash-reactive-dog

A great video on dog communication is The Language of Dogs by Sarah Kalnajs http://www.bluedogtraining.com/videos-dvds.html

About Laurene

Laurene von Klan is a Certified Professional Dog Trainer serving West Los Angeles
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