This is a guest post by my friend Ines Gaschot. Ines is a professional dog trainer, blogger, and dog owner. Ines learned firsthand about the difficulties of life with a leash reactive dog when she adopted her dog, Loker. However, because of positive reinforcement training, Ines and Loker have made a ton of progress. Ines now helps other people with leash reactive dogs by helping owners learn to manage their dog’s behavior and by helping them teach their dogs better, alternative behaviors.
We’ve all seen “that dog.” You know, the dog that goes absolutely berserk when another dog or person walks by in the neighborhood. Lunging, barking, pulling on the leash, and generally making a huge commotion. The silly dog that thinks he needs to scare everyone off. Well, did you know that if you aren’t careful, your dog could become “that dog?”
The slope to leash reactivity and aggression can be a slippery one. Dogs put two and two together very quickly and one wrong move on your part could lead to anxiety or frustration for your dog. I know, because it happened to me.
I adopted my dog, Loker, when he was two and a half years old. Loker had grown up in a no-kill shelter and had already been returned twice. I took him on as my first dog, but also as a project dog. Supposedly he was destructive in his previous homes, but the only issue I’ve had with him is leash reactivity. Loker would bark and lunge at other dogs that were within a fourth of a mile. When I adopted him, I was a huge Cesar Millan fan. I had used those techniques successfully on many other dogs, but Loker brought that to a screeching halt – thankfully!
You read that right, I am extremely thankful that Loker did not respond well to those techniques. Loker forced me to look in other directions for different training methods that would work better for him. I happened to hear about clicker training and positive reinforcement and had a local trainer that took me under her wing. She has taught me many things, but most importantly she taught me how to handle Loker’s leash reactivity and aggression.
Since then, I’ve used these ideas and techniques to help my own clients, as well as my online clients through my Leash Aggression Classroom. I help people with leash reactive and aggressive dogs, but I am also committed to helping people use positive training to prevent leash reactivity from even beginning in the first place. Many times, owners accidentally act in ways that cause their dog to become frustrated or fearful, both of which can lead to leash reactivity or aggression.
Preventing Reactivity in Your Dog
I wanted to share my story with you so that you would understand my background and experiences. In the second half of this post, I’ll share some training tips that you can use to help prevent your dog from becoming leash reactive.
I know you and your dog probably sometimes see reactive dogs walking in the neighborhood or in the park. Let’s go over some training tips and management tools that you and your dog can use in these situations to keep your dog calm and relaxed and to prevent your dog from even thinking about starting to bark, lunge, or react.
First things first:
• Don’t approach – Maybe your dog is Friendly Fido who loves to play with other dogs. That doesn’t mean every other dog out walking in the neighborhood wants to meet your dog. If you don’t know the dog and owner, it’s probably best to keep on walking.
• Cross the street – So here comes “that dog,” barking at your dog and pulling on the leash. Get out of the way! Cross the street or park your dog in a sit off to the side. This will help your dog stay calm and give the other owner a chance to pass by.
• Basic training – Take the time to teach your dog basic behaviors such as sit, stay, and focus. These can really come in handy! If you don’t know where to start, find a positive trainer in your area who can give you a hand.
Here comes a reactive dog. Now what??
So, you’ve crossed the street and are out of the way, but your dog is eyeing the reactive dog pretty intently. Try choosing one of the following exercises:
• Jackpot! – Make reactive dogs a fun experience for your dog. Jackpot your dog for looking at the reactive dog. You can either click and feed multiple treats or just feed treats while the dog passes by.
• The find it game! – Simply say the words “find it” and toss a treat on the ground. Sniffing on the ground is often a popular calming signal in dogs. I specifically teach this exercise in the Leash Aggression Classroom because it mimics calming signals. Calming signals are signals that tell the other dog “I mean no harm.” This is a good game to play with calm dogs and reactive dogs.
• The positive interrupter! – Instead of telling your dog “no,” this is a great alternative that has a positive connotation to it. Make a kissy noise and follow through with a few treats one after another.
If you want to use the Find It Game or the Positive Interrupter, I encourage you to practice at home first before using either of them on your walks. These are all examples of ways you can use positive training while out and about with your dog. When you encounter a reactive dog, it’s about making sure the whole experience is a good one for your dog while helping the other dog feel more comfortable.
If you have a friend who has a leash reactive dog, make sure your friend checks out the Leash Aggression Classroom.
About the author: Ines Gaschot is a crossover trainer who has transitioned from correction based training to positive reinforcement based training. She is the dog trainer behind the Leash Aggression Classroom and the Crossover Trainer Blog. She currently lives in Austin, TX where she runs All Positive Dog Training LLC. She is the author of two books: Dog Training –The Easy Way and The Crossover Trainer’s Guide to the Theories and Applications of Positive Reinforcement Dog Training.