3 Tips to Make Walking your Lunging, Barking Dog Less Stressful
Does your dog bark, lung and pull when it see another dog coming or approaching people or at anything really? In the dog training world we call that leash reactive. What does that mean? Reactive means an overreaction to stimuli. Why does your dog react like this? It’s often a result of being scared and this behavior being reinforced because when he barks and lunges at something it often goes away which is what he wants. For us owners this can be stressful, frustrating and embarrassing. When we go out with our dogs we are now stressed which the dog can feel only making his reactivity worse. But what can we do?
Teach your dog “look at me”. Being able to get your dog to disengage from what is triggering him can reduce his fear and your stress. Start off slow and be patient. In a low distraction place like your living room gather up some high value treats and leash up your dog. Use a treat to lure your dogs eyes up to you by putting the treat in front of his nose and then move it up to your face, when you get eye contact say “look” and treat her(see video below). Practice this daily for about 5 minutes until your dog looks 10 times in a row the instant you say “look”. Add walking around getting your dog to look. Slowly start adding distractions, move to your back yard or quite outside place. Practice until your dog looks at you instantly 10 times when you say “look”. Then add “look” on command while walking. Now it’s time to take this on the road, again go slow, feel out with your dog where his thresh hold is, by this I mean how close you can get to a trigger before he starts reacting. When you see a trigger in the distance start your “look” training. Slowly move closer, saying “look” and treating when she looks. If she stops looking at you or starts reacting you’ve found her thresh hold and you need to step back until she starts to look at you again. As you continue to practice this you will be able to get closer and closer to your dogs triggers. But work slowly and if your dog gets too amped up it’s time to take a break and do something calming for a while and start again the next day. Eventually your dog will automatically look at you when they see a trigger. Slowly start replacing treats with praise and pats. By doing this your dog will not only learn to disengage from his triggers but he will develop a positive association to them. Instead of “oh another dog approaching is scary” it will turn into “Oh another dogs approaching great treats and pats”. This process can take quite some time, especially if your dog has been leash reactive for awhile so be patient and take things slow. In the mean time add U-turn to your training.
Learning U-turn can quickly get you and your dog out of sticky situations and away from triggers. Start somewhere quiet, like your living room, gather treats and leash up your dog. With your dog beside you, you might need treats to lure him there, walk forward. With a high valued treat in one hand and the leash in the other, hold the treat in front of your dogs nose and turn around and start walking in the opposite direction using the treat as a lure for your dog to follow as he follows say “this way” give him the treat and praise him. Once he is seamlessly turning with you 10 times, without having to hold the treat in front of his nose, move to a little more distracting area like a quite road or your back yard. Keep practicing and moving up to a more distracted area. The goal is to get him to follow your turn and be able to give him the treat after once the trigger has been diverted. But what if there is nowhere to turn to? You’re walking down a trail and come to a dog walking towards you and a jogger has run up behind you both set your dog off. Scatter feed.
Scatter feeding is a good option if there’s nowhere to go or the trigger is going to take a while to move along. Start in a low distracting area, like a quiet road or your back yard. Gather up some high value treats and leash up your dog. Drop a few treats in front of your dog and say “find it”. Walk around, stop and drop more treats saying “find it”. As the dog is sniffing around looking for the dropped treats praise him. Dogs generally pick this one up quickly but will need to be practiced through greater distractions. If your dog won’t look for the food your too close to a trigger and need to step back and practice more from a distance. Take things slow and be patient.
Bringing these tricks and trips out with you once you and your dog really get them will help make walking less stressful for you and your dog and make walks more enjoyable like you imagined. Keep practicing and take things slow. Always give commands with a calm cheerful voice and do what you can to keep your own stress level down while you’re walking because your dog can sense it and feed off of it. Happy walking. If you live in the Victoria area and need help working with your reactive dog go to GoWalkdogtraining.com.