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Having A Hard Time Walking Your Dog?

Part One of Our Reactive Dog Series

What Is Going On??

When you walk your dog, does he go nuts when he sees people or other dogs? (Or even bikes, kids, rollerblades, runners, etc...)? Are you at your wits' end and don't know what to do?

Having a reactive dog is disheartening, sad and difficult to deal with. The puppy that you thought would be your ideal walking partner is not turning out how you expected. Your neighbors think your dog is aggressive and are afraid of him. You are frustrated and have no idea how to deal with this. You can't even walk your dog anymore. To make matters worse, everyone is an expert: "Put a shock collar on him!", "You need to show him who's boss!" Or, "You should just take him to the shelter, he's never going to be normal". Though you may feel helpless, there is hope. Leash reactivity can be worked on and made better. Your dog may never be a social butterfly, but with the proper protocol and consistency, you may be able to happily walk your dog again.

Leash reactivity is the most common behavior issue that we work with. So many people have dogs and walk them these days. We walk them on sidewalks and narrow trails which force them to approach each other head on. Dogs are not particularly comfortable with this. In the doggy world, they would rather meet in a less linear way--nose to tail, preferably. In addition, being on a leash and pulling toward another dog can look pretty scary to the other dog. It could be perceived as threatening. That perceived threat can activate the amygdala and send all of those stress hormones into action, creating the fight or flight response, which is what creates this reaction.

This behavior is not something that your dog can control. When your dog is reacting, it is a spontaneous response to something. They are not thinking about the fact that they're barking. The Oxford dictionary defines Reaction as, "an action performed or a feeling experienced in response to a situation or event". The sight of another dog, or whatever the trigger is, creates an involuntary behavior. It's like what might happen if I throw a spider at your face. You won't be thinking about your next step, you may possibly scream and run away without a rational thought in your head. To some, it's irrational. But to you, that spider is your nemesis and you don't want any parts of it.

This reactivity is mainly a fear-based reaction that your dog has developed due to multiple reasons. Reasons vary from genetics, under-socialization, a bad past experience, or simply, just a normal doggy response that we make much worse in the way that we handle it, as in my example below.

What often happens is that your happy puppy or dog is just REALLY excited to go up and meet the person or other dog walking towards them. But, now, picture it -- Pups, is jumping up, barking and going nuts when he sees this very exciting person or dog . What do you do then? Well, most people don't know how to handle this craziness and don't react well when they see their dog acting like a fool. You will probably get embarrassed, angry, and frustrated and might yank on the leash and scold or yell at him to stop. It's not your fault. Jerking on your pup's leash and scolding him is YOUR reaction to this behavior. What else are you supposed to do?! You gotta get this dog under control or your neighbors are going to think he's a menace!

But, when you do this, your dog starts wondering what in the heck is wrong? Why are you being so weird and yelling at me when a dog or person approaches us? Then, it happens again. Now, your pup is beginning to think that something must be bad about people and dogs coming toward them, because every time he sees people and dogs, his human seems really worried, and even angry. The more it happens, the worse he feels. After a few walks and more of this, it snowballs into full blown leash reactivity. This is when your dog starts going insane barking and lunging at dogs and people. He also realizes that his reaction really works! Every time he barks and lunges at the dog or person, they go away. Shew!

See, dogs do what works for them. Always. If it doesn't work, they won't waste the energy doing it. So, say Pups sees a dog walking toward him. He barks and lunges. The dog walks away. Job done. He doesn't understand that the dog would be walking away anyway. As far as he is concerned, his behavior created the consequence of the dog leaving. Consider all of the stories that you have heard in your life about the dog vs the mailman. This is because the mailman comes to your house multiple days a week, your dog barks and goes crazy every time he comes, and the mailman then leaves. In your dog's mind, he made that happen. And he'll continue doing it because it works for him.

Stay Tuned. Next time, we'll discuss what to do, and what not to do...

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