If your dog has something that, “sets them off,” this is often referred to as a trigger.
I’ve seen dogs go bonkers over cars, bikes, other dogs, children, adults, horses, cows, leaves, trees, surfboards, kites, kangaroos. The lot! And I hear squirrels are quite the distraction in other countries (sadly we don’t have them here. I was so excited to see my first squirrel in the states!)
Regardless of what triggers your dog, the training steps we use are essentially the same.
The first thing we need to do is set your dog up to be successful so we can start rewarding those wins! And we aren’t going to get anything to reward if the dog is too close to their trigger.
Going too close too fast is the number one mistake people make when they are working on this sort of issue.
I repeat, don’t go too close too soon!
What you want to figure out is the distance you need to be before your dog reacts. This is known as the dog’s distance threshold. It might be a few feet. Or it could be the length of a football field. Every dog’s threshold is different.
What you want to do is start working on the issue at the point where your dog knows the trigger is there but is not reacting in an undesirable way.
Then you’re going to reward your dog for calmness when they are aware of the trigger, for looking at it without tensing up or staring (a calm curious look is ok but eye-balling it is not), and when your dog focuses on you and looks to you for guidance.
You can get full training on this in the Frantic To Focused program which you can join now by clicking here.
Just check out what Lesa had to say about the program:
“This Course has been such a help to me with my reactive dog. I have never learned so much or had more success in such a short period of time! This training method really works! Thank you so much !”
Or see what Jill said:
“I LOVE this course! I have been working with Beckham for 2 1/2 years using food and never have gotten the response from him that I am getting now. It has given me more confidence and I know that is transferring down the leash to him. He loves to work and we are both having fun.”
(we teach in the program how to train with or without food and how to use food correctly)
Join now and see just what you can do with your dog today. Whether your dog is anxious, distracted, reactive, fearful or just confused, I KNOW this program can help you.
Pulling on the leash is a natural behaviour for a dog. But it’s not healthy to let them continue to pull because no matter what your leash is attached to, constant pressure on the dog can cause damage (even with harnesses and head halters).
If your dog is overly distracted as soon as you leave the house, or is reactive, pulling on leash is one of the first things you need to address.
There’s lots of leash techniques out there, such as:
Turning the opposite direction when the dog pulls
Stopping every time the leash goes tight
Mark and reward when the dog is next to you
Correct the dog when the dog is ahead of you
Nothing wrong there, but there’s a technique I love that does more than just help stop pulling and that is teaching your dog to respond to gentle leash pressure. It’s simple but I can’t overstate how important it is to teach your dog to be responsive to the leash.
Rather than a battle over who’s pulling harder, leash pressure work should flow like a dance, where you can apply the lightest touch and the dog readily responds.
Beautiful! Would you like that for your dog?
And if your dog can respond like that, it doesn’t fit in with continuing to pull on the leash. It’s teaching them the opposite.
Resource guarding in dogs – When your dog shows aggression over food or other possessions…
Resource guarding in dogs is a very common behaviour. Why does it happen?
Resource guarding is a natural trait for survival in the wild – if you don’t protect your food, someone else will take it! It hasn’t been fully bred out of our domestic dogs, so it can certainly be innate. The genetic potential to resource guard varies from dog to dog. It can however, also be a learned behaviour if the dog has learned through experience that it can lose it’s precious resources if it doesn’t protect them. This can often result from well meaning dog owners taking food from their dogs regularly in an effort to prevent guarding in the first place.
The resource being guarding may not just be food. Resource guarding can occur with food, toys, beds, spaces and commonly, owners.
What are the signs?
The first subtle sign of resource guarding behaviour is stiffening of the body. The dog will freeze and may lick it’s lips while looking towards the threat but staying closely over the resource. Next, the lips will raise to show the teeth and a the dog will start to give a low growl. Some dogs may raise the hair on their back (pilo-erection). If eating, the dog will often speed up or try to carry the object away if it’s a bone, toy or other prized possession that can be carried. If the threat to their resource doesn’t stop, the next stage is a lunge and bite.
Is it a breed thing?
No. While heredity is a factor, behaviour is specific to individuals rather than being breed specific. While food guarding may occur in specific lines of breeds, it does not mean one breed is more likely to exhibit this over another and we always need to take the learning and environmental history of the dog into account.
Is there anything environmental that may increase the likelihood of resource guarding?
Dogs that regularly have to compete for resources such as food can become serious resource guarders. This can happen if there isn’t enough food to go around when they’re pups. They can also learn to guard if other dogs or pups are constantly stealing their food or other resources and they learn to defend it with aggression. Once an aggressive display works for them once, it’s a powerful lesson. This kind of scenario can happen where the pups are bred, or later in life at a group dog area or shelter.
Where should you start if your dog resource guards?
Always remember that a dog is resource guarding because it feels a fear of losing the item. With this in mind, never try to stop or prevent resource guarding by forcibly taking food from your dog or removing it often. You don’t want your dog to view you as the person that always wants to take what they have.
From early on in life, teach your dog that you are the bringer of good things and that you’re not there to take from them every time, but most often, you are going to provide them with something great. Here’s three exercises you can try that will prevent resource guarding, and help to stop it.
Remember to put safety first – if your dog is already trying to growl or bite, hire a professional trainer:
1. Teach your dog that when you approach their bowl, it’s to give them something even better. For example, your dog has dry dog food in the bowl, you come over and toss in some steak and leave. You want your dog to learn that your approach is a good thing and results in more or even better food 2. Play the swap game. There will be times you need to take things from your dog. Instead of all take, teach your dog to swap for something else of equal or higher value. When starting the swap game, present the higher value item and allow your dog to take it first, before then removing the item they just had. Pair a command with this so your dog knows what to expect. 3. Hand feed often. This again instills the lesson that hands = good things. Especially as you raise a new pup, feed often from your hands to associate your hands as something that is pleasant to have near their mouth. Training with treats is a great way to do this with the bonus of training other commands while you hand feed.
Seek professional help
If your dog is resource guarding, it’s a serious issue that can be very dangerous. Like any behaviour problem, the earlier you get help, the easier and faster it will be to get results so I suggest getting help as soon as you recognise the guarding behaviour.
Register to my free video workshop: Stop Your Dog Barking And Lunging At Other Dogs And Enjoy Your Walks Again
Emus are different to dogs. Dogs are different to each other, all individuals. Yet there are so many things between all creatures that are the same. So in some ways, we can learn a lesson for our dogs from a totally different species. And not just for dog training, but for ourselves in our own lives and personal development.
While I’ve trained with a few species other than dogs, training emus is fairly new to me. So just a few short weeks ago, I stepped into the emu enclosure at the zoo for the first time to meet Jimmy and Apple up close and make a plan for their training.
The first thing to learn is to be careful if you’re directly in front of them, because if they lash out with their sharp claws, it’s going to be towards the front, and you’re going to be in trouble. These two emus are familiar with people and would have to feel quite threatened to do that, but just like safety around horses, dogs or any other animal, accidents and mistakes can always happen.
But I’m going to tell you what I learned about training and even about myself from meeting one of these emus in particular, Apple.
Unlike Jimmy, Apple had come from a large field where she was pretty much wild. Being moved to the zoo was a big change for her and no doubt, stressful. She’d already lived at the zoo for several months before I met her and settled in… but she was more nervous and easily stressed than Jimmy, who was quite friendly and liked human attention.
So I felt instantly confident that we could train Jimmy quite easily as she came up (Jimmy is a she) and enjoyed taking their favourite food from my hands – grapes.
Apple on the other hand, would investigate us, see one tiny movement that scared her, and start pacing the fence. She was stressed and wouldn’t take food from us. There were times that if one thing changed in her enclosure, she’d pace for days afterwards.
When I saw this, my first thought was, “I don’t think we’re going to get anywhere trying to train that emu.”
However, with patience, short sessions and hope, Apple’s progress actually happened quite quickly. For animals that were adults and had never had training before, both emus progressed well. But I am especially proud of Apple.
She started out taking one grape and dropping it, then pacing for the rest of the day and keeping her distance from us.
Now she approaches us for training, works for her grapes with concentrated effort and recovers very quickly if she does have a set back.
So what’s the lesson here?
What made an impact on me was that when I met Apple, I had immediately assumed the worst. I worried and thought that it was mission impossible.
But once I made a plan, started small and just did small sessions each time we met, results were actually FAST.
Now of course this has happened with dog training clients many times before. You might be thinking, this is a lesson you should learn earlier as a trainer, and I had.
But something about Apple’s case made me really think about it and reaffirm that even when it seems difficult, it can be done.
And I wasn’t just thinking about the client’s dogs that I meet that are nervous and seem like they’ll be a challenge to help.
I was thinking of challenges I face with my own dogs (yes, dog trainers have challenges with their dogs too. In fact we’re often attracted to difficult dogs)!
Was I in a habit of being too pessimistic? Possibly.
But more likely – I didn’t have enough faith in myself and in the results that are possible with the training skills I know how to perform.
Don’t listen to the inner negative voice that we all have (aka, the itty bitty shitty committee).
Have faith in the training process itself. All you need to do is apply it correctly – in small sessions with lots of patience. While knowing what your end goal is, focus on the moment you are in right now and find success within that moment.
Here’s Apple learning to be touched willingly for physical handling:
Here’s Jimmy with voluntary syringe work for oral medications – Apple can do this too – in fact, she nailed it first!
“Emus/ dingoes/ insert XYZ animal here, can’t be trained”
Have you ever been told that something can’t be done?
You can’t have the career you want, you can’t run your own business, your pet, “can’t be trained?”
Do you listen?
It’s not just our inner critic we need to be careful of, but the voices of others too. Often times, we need to listen to ourselves and not those around us, even when they may have our best interests at heart.
Here’s some things I’ve been told that would have been very sad, had I listened (or kept listening):
“The animal industry is really hard to get into, you should get a safe job”
“People won’t hire a dog trainer in this area”
“You can probably get one client per week but don’t expect it to be full time. Don’t quit your nice, safe job”
“Dingoes can’t be trained”
While some of those things took longer for me to build confidence in than others, I did them anyway.
When I met Apple it was my own inner voice that said, “that emu can’t be trained.”
Thankfully, I did that anyway, too.
Never, ever give up. And especially don’t give up before you even try!
This is Envy.
She is fast, agile and knows how to leap over things. But when she was a puppy, she was told repeatedly, “you can’t escape that pen.”
Now fully grown and fully capable if she tried, she still believes she can’t get out of the puppy pen. Handy for us. But don’t be like Envy in the pen. Don’t listen to anyone’s voice telling you that you can’t, even if you’ve been hearing that viewpoint since you were a small child.
Start working towards your goals today. You never know how fast you can get there.
What goal will that be for you?
Register to my free video workshop: Stop Your Dog Barking And Lunging At Other Dogs And Enjoy Your Walks Again
“I just want to be able to enjoy a walk with my dog!”
That is the exclamation of an owner of a dog reactive dog and something that I hear all the time while consulting with dog owners.
I understand how it feels to own such a dog. I have had dogs like this myself.
Owning a reactive dog can feel very stressful. It’s frustrating because you know that your dog is a good dog at home. It’s embarrassing because you feel like people are judging you for having a nasty dog lunging and barking at their dog on a walk. It’s emotionally challenging just to take your dog for a walk.
You may have tried advice from well meaning friends, colleagues and even trainers and still not found a solution.
You have probably tried countless tools and tricks like distracting your dog with food, putting your dog on a harness, or using a head halter or a check chain. Still you have likely continued to struggle.
* In this free guide, you can read an outline of the type of program that I use with reactive and aggressive dogs.
But the question still remains – WHY is reactivity so common today and even seems to be on the rise?
Usually to get a reactive dog you need one or more of these factors to be at play:
Genetics – the dog is hard wired to react to other dogs and has done it since puppy-hood or often since adolescence. Good socialisation and training can often overcome this, but not always.
A negative experience – the dog has had a bad experience with another dog/s in the past and it has since changed it’s behaviour towards other dogs
The way the dog has been raised – the dog feels privileged or confused about it’s place in the world and feels the need to defend it’s space and resources, the owner likely being one of them
On top of this, there’s the problem of of confusion and despair over HOW to actually fix the dog.
Why Is Dog Reactivity Such A Widespread Issue?
Here’s two of the big reasons I believe that this issue is so prevalent…
People are treating their dogs like furry children and spoiling them aka ruining them. Dog or child, nothing positive results from being an entitled, spoilt brat. Dogs should need rules and boundaries. Which leads me to issue number two…
People are afraid to say NO to their dogs
I have literally seen people holding onto a leash for dear life while their dog nearly pulls them over on their hind legs lunging and barking or screaming at another dog and the person (no doubt feeling quite helpless) has tried to get the dog’s attention by calling their name and begging them to stop.
Or people that are frantically waving a treat at their dog to try and get their attention back.
But any chance of getting the dog’s attention has gone out the window long before that point.
Yet, even though the dog is risking the lives of the owner, themselves and the other dog, the owner is afraid to punish the dog in case they cause the dog any discomfort or pain.
Let’s talk about something else that is uncomfortable and painful for a moment: euthanasia.
Dogs are being killed by the thousands DAILY because of this issue and other behavioural issues like it. Dogs in shelters often can’t find homes because they have this exact issue. And dogs are being surrendered to shelters or taken for a one way trip to the vet by their owners, even at the recommendation of trainers because they can’t fix them but are unwilling to use corrections.
This is not okay.
Every individual, be it trainer or dog owner, has the right to choose what training methods or tools they want to use or not use on their dog. If an owner has a difficult dog, they don’t feel great about it. The last thing they need is shaming for their choice of tool or technique.
My training program for reactive dogs is heavily based in rewards and also includes corrections.
Can you do it without corrections? It may be possible if:
You are okay with it taking up to several years to see results, with regular sessions
You are okay with avoiding taking your dog out on walks at any time you might come across another dog
When deciding on a training approach, the dog’s welfare is a high priority, but so is the owner’s. An approach that includes corrections and achieves quicker results and is clear to both dog and owner so that everyone can move on with their lives makes sense to me.
I believe that BOTH the dog and the owner should be helped as kindly and efficiently as possible. It will serve no one if the training is so long and complicated that no results are seen and the owner gives up, leaving the dog to be confined to the back yard, or worse…
We do lots of foundation training with lots of rewards to set the dog and owner up for success and then we gradually work closer and closer to other dogs using the dog’s new skills. The dog knows what to do to gain reward and then we also show them that barking, lunging, pulling, screaming is NOT allowed.
Dogs like to know what to do as well as what NOT to do. But behavioural issues such as reactivity are on the rise along with the “positive only” training movement that sends the message that saying no is off the table.
Don’t let people make you feel guilty for giving your dog rules and boundaries. Learn the right way to say YES and NO to your dog so that you can BOTH get on with it and enjoy a pleasant walk without the anxiety.
If you’d like to learn more, I can give you a free guide on how to stop your dog from barking and lunging at other dogs during walks.
You scan left to right as you slowly exit your doorway… The coast is clear, you go for it. But it may not be safe for long and you find yourself on edge, scanning your surroundings constantly, waiting, hoping it doesn’t happen. Things are progressing nicely so far and it’s nearly time to head back home. You come round a corner and suddenly you see it. It couldn’t be avoided. You tense up knowing an explosion is now inevitable…
It sounds like Mission Impossible but this is a normal walk for you and your dog. While you’re stress levels rise, your dog explodes in a frightening display, all because you’re passing another dog on your walk.
You finally make it home, feeling defeated, embarrassed and frustrated. Your dog is back to his loveable, goofy self and you’d never know that minutes ago he was barking and lunging like a guard dog. You know he is really a sweet dog, why does this happen?
Walking your dog should be an enjoyable experience for BOTH of you. But like many, you may instead be feeling anxious, worried, frustrated and embarrassed to walk your dog because your dog is reactive. This is the term we use when describing a dog that has an undesirable reaction towards their trigger, often another dog.
Why can some people walk their dogs on a loose lead past other dogs, even if the other dog is barking, while others who have a sweet dog at home, face a menacing, barking and lunging terror out on walks whenever another dog is within view?
It’s unfair, but you’re not alone.
Dog to dog reactivity and aggression is on the rise as one of the most common behaviour complaints that dog trainers are called for, including me.
In this post I will discuss the exercises I include in my training programs for reactive dogs and have great success with.
The results I aim for is a dog that can be walked peacefully on a loose lead past other dogs without reacting towards them and as always, that the dog involved is relaxed, happy and clearly understands what we expect of them.
Michaela adopted gorgeous little Hazel from a shelter. She was cute, affectionate and a joy to have around… in the house. As soon as they were outdoors, even in their own yard, Michaela felt invisible. Hazel just did not care one bit about her owner or anything she had to say or offer. Hazel would not work for food ( even steak) and chased at anything that moved – bicycles, skate boards, lizards and most of all, other dogs. She barked and lunged at them and made a horrible screaming noise that could make passer’s by think she was being beaten.
With some regular but short training sessions, we have had success with Hazel. Here’s her transformation:
Here’s some footage of another dog named Marli that has been following my program and was previously very difficult to handle and would bark, lunge and pull with a lot of strength towards other dogs. This footage is from the first lesson that we introduced another dog into the picture, and the third lesson total:
I show you these videos to show you that there is hope and reactive dogs can be trained to be focused dogs that are enjoyable to take on a walk.
Before commencing training with a reactive dog it’s important to have a training plan. The program I use to treat reactive dogs involves some crucial foundation work before training with another dog begins.
As barking and lunging at other dogs, or dog to dog reactivity, is the most common issue I see, I will be referring to other dogs as the trigger for your dog’s reactivity but please know that this training program also applies to dogs that are reactive to other triggers such as strangers, cars, skateboards etc. Their reactions can also vary. Some dogs are just over distracted, some stare and pull, some all out explode.
By teaching these foundation skills to a reliable level before adding in training around another dog, you are setting your dog up to be successful a lot more easily that if you just jump right into an environment with other dogs around. It’s important to always work with your dog at a level that he can succeed and be rewarded for.
I’ve put together a PDF guide with all the skills I recommend you teach to your dog to stop them from barking and lunging at other dogs, and why it’s important. It’s always important to know WHY you are teaching your dog something – how it relates to your end goal. You can grab your free training guide below this post.
Teach your dog all of the foundation skills so that they are thoroughly understood by your dog. Once you know that your dog understands the command or skill you can add in corrections fairly but firmly to also communicate clearly to the dog what is NOT acceptable. This is often the missing link when people are struggling to stop their dog from barking and lunging at other dogs.
If this article has been helpful, make sure you also grab the free PDF guide containing a list of all the skills mentioned in this article plus a step by step how to guide on the first skill you need to teach your reactive dog to get a polite walk, that people often miss! Just complete the form below and it will be sent to your email.
Please share this post to help others and feel free to leave a comment below letting me know what it would mean to you to be able to walk your dog pleasantly and without reactivity.
Register to my free video workshop: Stop Your Dog Barking And Lunging At Other Dogs And Enjoy Your Walks Again
Looking for information online can be so confusing as there is so much conflicting advice. In Training Matters, we explain not just the how of dog training, but the why, so that you know what to do and why to do it this way.