“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.
Related Article: Dog Reactivity: 7 Skills Your Dog Should Know
* In this article, 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.