The focus of this weeks post is how to manage leash reactive dogs in the presence of other dogs. It is always embarrassing when you go to the vet or on a walk in your neighborhood and your dog lunges and barks aggressively at every dog he or she see’s. One of the major factors that is put into play with leash reactive dogs is they default to the environment, and do not trust the handler. It is easy to combat this and set your dog up for success.
Start in your living room with a bag of high value treats in your pocket. When your dog makes eye contact mark the behaviour (say yes or use a clicker) and feed a peice of treat (your dog must already understand what a clicker means, if you would like to start clicker training with your dog please see our website.) Continue to do this for 5 minutes 2-3 times a day all around your home when it is calm and quite. The idea is to reinforce to the dog that this is a desirable behavior and it will get you good rewards! Once he or she is readily offering you eye contact you can pair your command with it i usually use eyes or look. Once you are getting the eye contact say “look good girl good look yes” and give her the treat. Continue this for 4-10 session depending on the dogs response. Once you can say “look” and your dogs head whips around and makes eye contact with you then you know you are on the road to her understanding the command. Next you need to generalize this command, that means start taking her to different places (still with little to no distractions and keeping her close by you) and give her the command, rewarding when she makes eye contact. If she doesn’t oh well, you can show her the treat she could have gotten and walk around waiting a minute before re commanding.
Once she is steadily responding to your command you can start slowly adding distractions. If they are to much (she doesn’t make eye contact when asked ) DO NOT GET FRUSTRATED. This is YOUR fault, you have raised the criteria too high too quickly. This is the biggest mistake that owners make and it is not the dogs fault, why would you punish her and degrade your relationship? Go back to a calmer situation and cement in her attention to you and eye contact for a few sessions, then move on to distractions again. NEVER BE AFRAID TO DROP BACK IN TRAINING. The best trainers are the ones who work on the dogs AGENDA not their own!
The eventual goal is to proof the command so that she automatically reacts in any situation no matter how distracted she is or how many dogs are around to bark at. This command and training also reinforces her attention to you and not the environment. It will desensitize her to reacting to other dogs and give you guys a good head start on the ULTIMATE relationship you would like to have!
Jennifer Culver CPDT-KA IACP