It can be so frustrating when you are taking your dog for a walk, but need to battle with them every few minutes because they are barking or lunging at other dogs.
It can also be perplexing if your dog is well-socialized and has few problems with other dogs when off-leash. If the dog you’re walking is barking at another dog, what should you do? And why do they act this way?
If your dog exhibits this type of behavior, it is usually a sign of fear, which can be exacerbated by the fact that they are on the leash, and therefore, have no way of getting out of this situation.
As with everything, to change this instinctive reaction, your dog will require training. They will need to learn to associate encountering other dogs while on the leash as something fun rather than something scary.
To get you started, we will go through exactly why your dog responds in this way to other dogs while on the leash, tips for walking your dog to minimize the likelihood of this happening, and how you can train your dog to have a new, more positive response.
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Why Is Your Dog Responding In This Way
While there are various reasons why your dog could be responding in this way, by far the most common is fear.
They have encountered an unusual dog that they don’t know, and because they are on the leash with you, they have no way of escaping the situation if this other dog challenges them.
Dogs have learnt through experience that behaving aggressively keeps other dogs, and humans, away.
With their fight or flight instinct limited to fight in this situation, they try to scare the other dog away as a precaution to protect themselves.
Their fear in this situation can also be exacerbated by the way that many of us walk our dogs. Dogs consider walking directly towards another dog as both rude and aggressive.
As we walk our dog on the footpath, directly towards another person walking their dog on the footpath, we put them in an aggressive situation.
Fear is not the only reason why your dog might bark and lunge at other dogs while out on the leash.
The second most common reason for this behavior is frustration, as they want to play with this potentially exciting new friend, but they are frustrated in fulfilling this desire by the leash.
However, you can usually tell by the character of your dog’s bark, and also their behavior in general, if they are fearful or looking for fun.
If they are ready to play, they will probably also start playfully jumping at you to try and get you involved in the game.
Too often dog owners see this as the cause of their dog’s behavior, wanting to see the best in their pooch. But in reality, in the vast majority of cases, the cause of the behavior is fear.
Walking Strategies To Avoid This Behavior
You can significantly reduce the likelihood of your dog engaging in this type of behavior by engaging a few simple strategies while out on your walks.
First and foremost, by avoiding all other dogs while out and about would be both challenging and difficult, you can avoid putting your dog in the direct path of conflict.
This means avoiding walking on sidewalks where they are likely to pass other dogs head on or changing your route, if you often encounter a dog that triggers this kind of behavior in your dog.
It is also a good idea to simply stay alert to other dogs approaching your path, and then changing the trajectory of your walk to both give a little bit more distance and avoid approaching them head on.
Anxiety is contagious, so it is also important that you stay calm when you see other dogs approaching.
If encountering other dogs when out and about is also a fear trigger for you, either as a result of earlier life experiences or the behavior of your dog, your dog will pick up on this fear and anxiety and it will exacerbate their own.
Staying calm will help your dog stay calm and give you the presence of mind to better manage the situation.
For many of us, our natural instinct when we start to approach other dogs is to shorten our dog’s leash.
We then often pull on the leash in order to get them to stay close to us, especially if they are lunging. Both of these actions can make the situation worse, as again, we are showing our dog that the approach of another dog is a moment to be feared, and that can result in negative activities.
If your dog is a lunger, it can help to get a no-pull harness to limit the negative impact of this behavior.
Avoid The Sit Command
When you see another dog approaching, you may also be tempted to order your dog to sit and stay, keeping them close as the other dog passes.
But this can increase their anxiety, as again they are powerless to act as this threat is in the vicinity.
A better approach is to distract your dog with other activities, such as a training game. If they are engaged with you in a fun activity, this other dog will seem significantly less important.
Keep Your Walks Challenging And Fun
Keeping your walks both fun and challenging can also distract your dog from the potential threat of other dogs as they will be too busy focusing on you.
Mix up your speed, make circles and backtrack on yourself, pass through different terrains, and engage with obstacles. All of these activities will help keep your dog’s attention on you and not on other potential threats.
Be Aware Of Arousal
It is also a good idea to be aware if your dog is in a heightened state of arousal that is likely to exacerbate their fear response.
Adrenaline stimulating situations such as a recent negative encounter with another dog or even just playing with other dogs in shared spaces or barking at passers-by from behind a fence can flood your dog’s system with adrenaline.
This can stay in their system for a few days and make them more likely to respond with aggressive fear when encountering other dogs while on the lead.
If you suspect your dog is in a heightened state of arousal, pay extra attention while out on a walk. It can also be a good idea to limit their exposure to these kinds of adrenaline raising situations in general.
Train Your Dog To React Different
As well as modifying the way that you walk your dog in order to limit their likelihood of engaging this type of behavior, you can also proactively train your dog to respond differently to the same situation.
The key to this training is to teach your dog to associate seeing other dogs while out on the leash as a sign of something positive or fun, rather than a sign of something negative or threatening.
Training will involve taking your dog into the vicinity of another dog. At first your dog should be able to see the other dog at a safe distance.
The other dog, however, should not be approaching your dog directly or circling them. Both of these are threatening behaviors that will overwhelm your efforts to train your dog.
While at this safe distance, allow your dog to notice the presence of the other dog and command them to stay calm if necessary.
As they watch the other dog in a calm state, call their attention to you and give them a treat to reward their behavior.
You will need to call their attention and reward them several times within the few minutes that they are observing the dog, so make sure to break the treats into very small pieces.
The frequency of giving the treat is more important than the size of the treat. As they grow in success, you can start to replace some of the treats with praise.
When you have been successful, it is time to move progressively closer and repeat the activity.
Don’t move too fast, as a major setback might see you starting again from scratch.
Using this process, with time your dog will start to associate seeing other dogs while out on the leash with praise and reward rather than negativity and fear.
Working With Our Lab Mix, Linus
Linus was our reactive dog and he had a fear response to other dog’s when we were out on leash.
We did all of the walking strategies in the above section which were all successful to an extent. However, it wasn’t until we started working on getting Linus to react differently that we saw some improvement.
When we worked with Linus we created our own training situation by bringing in a well behaved dog to work with during our sessions.
We started by having Linus walk on one side of a residential street and the other dog (we’ll call Buddy) walk on the other side of the street. Linus did not react to Buddy from this distance so we rewarded and praised.
As Linus was successful we progressed increased the difficulty by having Buddy a little closer during our walks. Over time we were able to get Linus to not bark at Buddy when we were out on walks. I believe it took us about 5 training sessions.
When training your Lab it’s important to try and have a controlled situation like we did with Linus. If you’re just working in the general public then you have no idea how other dogs might react. A negative reaction from other dogs could set you back in your training.
Stopping your dog from barking and lunging at other dogs while out on the leash is a matter of awareness.
Avoiding situations likely to trigger your dog’s fear response and also training them to associate encountering other dogs while out on the leash with positive interactions rather than negativity and fear is key.
However, even the best trained dogs can give into their fear instinct in some situations. If a significantly larger dog starts lunging and barking at them, it is unreasonable not to expect them to give into their fear instincts.
When your dog is caught up in fear and reacting on instinct, the best thing you can do is get your dog to a safe distance where the pressure and anxiety is lifted and they are better able to respond to and hear your commands.
How about you guys?
Does your bark at other dogs?
Have you tried any of the techniques mentioned in todays article?
Tell us about your experiences in the comment section below.
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