You’re walking on a trail, and your dog sees another dog up ahead…
What do they do?
Bark? Lunge? Growl?
If that’s the case, you’re dealing with dog-dog reactivity.
It’s a common problem, but it’s one a lot of owners don’t know how to address.
It’s anxiety-provoking because you don’t know how the other dog will respond…
And you might be self-conscious about what the other owner thinks of you.
So what do you do?
I’ll tell you what a lot of owners do…
In the heat of the moment, they tug on the leash, repetitively tell the dog to sit, or engage in other frantic behavior.
When you respond frantically, you’re teaching your dog to freak out when another dog’s around.
And that’s the opposite of what you’re after.
So, what should you do instead?
Well, one major tip you can start doing today is increasing your praise and reassurance.
Sound too easy?
I think of training at 3 different levels.
When the stimulus is absent, ignore them.
When the stimulus is present, and your dog is reacting, reassure them.
When the stimulus is present, and they’re not reacting, praise them.
Praise is a form of reward.
When you’re out on a walk and you see a dog, instead of trying to avoid the dog right away…
Get your dogs attention.
Call their name and talk to them in a silly tone.
“Hey, Buddy. What are you doing? Why you getting so worked up? Everything’s going to be okay.”
Whatever you do…
Don’t get worked up along with them.
Then as soon as they stop reacting, give them praise.
Tell them “good dog”. Rub their head. Give them a treat.
It’s really that simple.
A lot of owners are afraid to praise their dog when they’re reacting, because they think they’re reinforcing the reactive behavior.
Your dog is reacting likely out of fear or anxiety.
Giving praise reassures them.
Then once they stop and are rewarded, they learn that being calm and collected when other dogs are around gets rewarded.
Give it a try.
This is one of many techniques I teach in my online training academy.
I like to pull back the curtain and reveal science-based principles and techniques of dog behavioral training.
Let’s dive a bit deeper here … What do you do when you think your dog is not enjoying their walks any longer? When the anxiety has just gotten to be too much?
Fortunately, there are things you can do! Maybe walks just aren’t right for your dog … and that’s ok. You can still get plenty of mental and physical exercise for your dog.
There are some activities such as dock diving, agility and barn hunts that your dog may enjoy. While these are typically done in classes, you can contact local trainers to find out if solo classes are available.
Teaching your dog scent work is another really great option, especially if you have a dog with a breed history for scent work! This is a great resource to get you started: https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/training/how-to-teach-your-dog-scent-work/
Really, anything that lets your dog use their nose or lets them lick is great enrichment! Lickimats are another great option here! https://amzn.to/3cv9mQQ
There are also service that let you rent space to let your dog run, even off leash. Check out Sniffspot to see if it’s available in your area. Training facilities may also let you rent out their yard, so you can check locally there as well!
While it’s pretty typical to expect to walk your dog regularly. the reality is that this isn’t the best option for every single dog.
Work with the dog in front of you.
I hope these tips help! Feel free to post or reach out if you have questions or need additional advice!