“Ask the Trainer” Feature
This page is dedicated to some simple Q&A’s about pet behavior, and potential resolution. Please remember that there are many ways to work with your pet, and there is no single, magic way to resolve every issue. You may need to try a few different ways and methods until you get to the key of what works for your pet in particular- but here are some great suggestions about some typical issues:
Barking on a leash? How to manage…
as told by Johanna Perri, of Good Dog Training and Management; email@example.com
One of the best rewards of having a dog is the long, pleasant walks we get to take with our furry friends. As great as that can be with a well-trained dog, it can be that much of challenge with a dog who struggles with confidence out in the world.
There are all kinds of reasons this could happen. The lack of socialization – of acclimating a puppy to be comfortable with seeing all the things he or she is going to see out in the world, is one of the most common reasons for a dog to react with fear to things he’s never been introduced to. They may have had a guardian that didn’t understand the difference between fear an aggression and was less than kind when they were scared of something. They even might have been subject to repeated scenarios in which they were uncomfortable in efforts to try to make them “get over their fear”. This may strike you as odd, but it’s really not that important to try to discover the “what’s the reason?” of the behavior. Lots of us who choose to rescue dogs will never have that information and that’s okay. Our focus is the behavior that we see in front of us every day. It’s time to become a detective!
There are certain things you want to record when you notice this behavior. In the broadest sense, what is the criteria surrounding the vocal outburst? Is there another dog approaching head-on? Is the other dog on the same side of the street or across the street? Is there a man, a man with a hat, a man with sunglasses, a man with a beard? Is there a pregnant woman, a stroller or a child? Are there crutches, a walker, a cane, a wheelchair? Are there hoods or umbrellas, bicycles or skateboards? How early in the episode do you begin to notice your dog shifting from a leisurely walk to a stressful encounter? How am I holding the leash? Do I begin to hold my breath? Do I pull the dog backward in efforts to control lunging before it even begins? etc. etc. Once you start to notice the pattern, you can be armed with the ability to manage the situation and maybe even correct it.
The first thing to remember is that the reason a dog repeats a behavior is because there’s a reward. As silly as this may seem when your Rottweiler is trying to eat Mrs. Smith’s well-groomed poodle, the dog gets what he wants: an increase in distance. When a dog is uncomfortable or stressed, he’s learned that barking and lunging are either enough to make the “scary” thing go away or to get mom or dad to remove him quickly from the “scary” situation – whether it was a situation he was uncomfortable in or to get his guardian to stop yanking at his neck.
First and foremost, consider a commitment to use a front-clip harness from now on. A leash is strictly for the dog’s safety, not a means to control. When a dog starts to associate a leash with collar-jerks, the end of sniffing, the end of fun at the dog park, pain around his neck and choking off the esophagus, a leash becomes an unpleasant trigger to frustration (at best), or mild to severe physical discomfort. The worst association a dog can ever develop is the association between pain and what he’s looking at. The dog can’t understand that the pain is coming from a collar that’s attached to a leash, that’s attached to an arm, that’s attached to a person who’s scared the dog is going to bite. No. He can only associate the pain with what he’s looking at. Remove that pain! A harness might cause some frustration in the beginning, but that’s something we can easily work with.
Second: once you have logged the criteria, manage the situation as best as you can to avoid it for the time being. If you notice the dog is uncomfortable with a stroller or another dog, cross the street or do an about-face and take your dog in another direction before he starts to get agitated. There will obviously be times when the guy with the beard will pop around the corner. So what do we do? Even if the dog reacts, resist the urge to use the leash as control his movements (if it’s possible), or reprimand the dog. This form of punishment will only serve to reinforce the idea in the dog’s mind that “not only does that other dog cause pain, it also makes mom unpredictable and scary.” The hardest part? Once the dog breaks from the all-consuming focus on the other thing, give him pets and love. “What!!???, you ask?” Always remember, in training animals you always reinforce the LAST things they did!! They broke the focus. That deserves praise! Don’t let the evil eye of your neighbor deter you. Maybe even share with them what you’re doing so they can practice the same with their dog.
Another thing we can do is be armed with the yummiest of yummy treats; little things about the size of a baby aspirin that stink to high heaven and grab the dogs attention. (My most successful to date is bacon that’s so dehydrated in the oven that it crumbles easily in your hand. Turkey bacon is great because it’s mostly protein, dries almost completely and breaks into tiny pieces. If you concerned about calories, substitute part of the dog’s diet to include the treats on training walks.) When you find yourself in the situation that can’t be avoided, whip out the yummy treats, use your fun/happy voice, tell the dog that they are the best dog ever and give the little treats out until the “scary monster” has passed. The minute that happens, the treat-tote closes for business. Over time, the scary things become a predictor of treats and love! How exciting!
One of the most important things to remember is not to rush the process. The dog could have a perfect walk this time, so you might be tempted to get closer to the subject of your dog’s discomfort next time. Resist the temptation! Your rescue might have had years to learn this behavior so give them plenty of leeway to reestablish a pattern that’s pleasurable and fun.
If you have additional questions or want to know about other subjects, please ask!