The Good Dog Advice Column is a new series intended to help dog owners in our community resolve their pup's behavioral problems. For the column, community members submit their canine questions related to behavior, training, and obedience to the York County SPCA's affiliate dog trainers, Deb Byloff and Cathy Hivner. Deb and Cathy have been training dogs for two decades and have partnered with the York County SPCA for the last 15 years helping to teach our community to better understand their dogs. Ultimately, these expert dog whisperers are giving people the opportunity to build stronger bonds with their canine companions.
Read on to hear about a rescued dogs bad leash habits and how Deb recommends breaking them.
Our family dog, Dutch, has developed a bad habit concerning leash walking that I just can't seem to break. I take him on a daily walk, which he enjoys; but whenever he sees other dogs, he becomes so excited that he pulls, whines, lunges, and barks. I live in a neighborhood with lots of dogs. I've tried distracting him with high-value treats which, so far, hasn't worked. If possible, I walk him at a quiet time or change directions so he cannot see the dog. Changing directions sometimes works, but usually he's so distracted by just a glimpse of another dog that he pulls the rest of the walk. He loves meeting and playing with other dogs, but while on leash, he is an over-excited wild man.
Background info: Dutch is a 4ish-year-old lab/shepherd mix that we adopted in 2018 from the York County SPCA.
- Wendy W.
Dutch sounds like he may be a reactive dog. Reactive describes animals who respond to normal stimuli with a higher-than-normal level of intensity. Usually reactivity is fear-based. Cathy and I wrote a paper for the SPCA on reactivity.
I have a reactive dog and I walk her in a place where there are not a lot of dogs because the more I expose her to a situation she is not able to tolerate, the more fear she will have and the more difficult it will be for me to help her. By walking her in a place where she feels safe, she will gain confidence.
My dog has gradually improved in a lot of situations but others she needs more time. When I am working on reactivity issues with her, I use a very special treat such as Cesar’s Gourmet dog food, which she loves. I keep my dog at a distance at which she does not react and supply yummy food when she sees the trigger. Eventually, seeing dogs/people helps her to have a positive feeling. My dog goes to dog class with me and has some incredible accomplishments but walking around some dogs continues to be difficult for her.
Dutch is not giving you a hard time; he is having a hard time. You are wise to listen to your dog and try to help him. Reactive dog behavior will not be corrected by using negative methods or by using shock collars. Nor will simply loving the dog correct the problem. The dog needs to gain confidence and lose his fear when he experiences his triggers, and that will not happen without intervention.
Does Dutch live with other dogs? If so, it is possible the interaction he has with them could be contributing to his problem. The interaction he has with other dogs could also be contributing to the problem. Sometimes fighting and bullying can look a lot like play. Look closely at the interaction he has with other dogs, is he playing or protecting himself? Is his behavior ‘playing’ with other dogs escalating? There does not need to be a visible injury for Dutch to feel threatened. The reason it is easier for him off leash is he feels he can escape when he needs to but when he is on a leash, he can’t get away.
Dog reactivity is a very complicated training issue and requires a lot of patience on the owner’s part. You many need to get help from a behaviorist such as Pat Miller from Peaceable Paws in MD.