By Sara Reusche, CBCC-KA CPDT-KSA CVT
Q: My dog barks at other dogs on walks and I can’t get her attention.
She’s friendly off leash, but when we’re walking she looks like Cujo! Help!
A: “When friendly dogs turn crazy on leash, it is often frustration coming out,” explains Carrie Davis, CPDT-KA of Paws Abilities Dog Training.
While your dog would be able to approach and greet the dog were she off-leash, she can’t do so when she’s on the leash. That leads to the equivalent of a doggy tantrum. This is common with excitable adolescent and young adult dogs, and Davis reassures us that it’s very workable.
Davis recommends that you consider the first impression your dog gives to strangers.
“While your dog may be friendly, [on-leash frustration] often leads to growls and [aggressive-appearing] body language.” The other dog doesn’t know that your dog just wants to play, and that can lead to fear, aggression or even fights.
Training tools that humanely turn your dog away from the other dog when she lunges can help to neutralize this first impression. Davis recommends a front-attach harness or a Gentle Leader head halter.
“This equipment can decrease the ability to pull and help your dog maintain [friendlier] body language.” Some training can help, too. “Practice leash walking skills in your yard so that you and your dog find a good rhythm together.”
Training with a paycheck
On the subject of training, Davis recommends pulling out the big guns to address this issue.
“Find out what your dog’s favorite high-value rewards are.” These should be something special that your dog will only get during training. Some of her suggestions include smoked cheese, chicken, beef hot dogs, tennis balls, frisbee, or other exciting things. Try a few things to find out what’s most valuable for your pup.
Most leash-reactive dogs won’t take even their favorite treats when they’re already worked up, so Davis advises starting at a distance.
“Start by watching dogs that are quite far away – so far that your dog can see them but isn’t pulling or barking.” You may need to start by standing on the opposite side of the PetSmart parking lot, for example, or a block away from the vet clinic. If your dog is lunging and worked up, you’re too close.
Once you find your distance, teach your dog a simple rule: after she sees another dog, she gets her reward from you. Seeing another dog on leash always predicts this reward.
Davis explains that “this does a couple things. It makes your dog start to check in with you each time she sees a dog, so she can earn her reward. It also builds more attention towards you, the paycheck giver!”
Over time, she recommends that you get closer to other dogs. If your dog lunges or barks, back up a bit. You should see your dog starting to tune in to you pretty quickly with this program.
As Davis says, “dogs can’t greet every dog that they meet on leash. But they can learn to ignore them, and to check in with you for fun things.” Everybody wins.
Sara Reusche, CBCC-KA CPDT-KSA CVT, is owner of Paws Abilities Dog Training.
What questions do you have for the trainer? Email email@example.com and we’ll put the experts to work.