Let's Be Friends!
Categories: Pet Tips
A trigger for a reactive dog can be anything from another dog, to strangers to cars or vacuum cleaners. The reaction can be out of fear or excitement and yes, sometimes it is aggression. Whatever it is that has your dog reacting, there are some things you can do to try to work on it.
- Don’t “mother” a fearful dog. This one is the hardest for me, because I have a fearful dog who is big and brave at home, and a big wimp in the real world. It’s hard not to tell him that everything is ok and give him a big hug when I see him getting scared. The problem is, if I do that I am just reinforcing that “THAT THING” really is scary. So to train him, I had to train myself not to react to his reactions. That means if a person is walking past us and he starts to get scared, I ignore that reaction and just keep walking like there’s not a care in the world. That way he sees that “THAT THING” didn’t bother me, so it shouldn’t bother him!
- Don’t force your dog to make friends. Forcing a dog to be friendly can backfire fast. Always go at your dog’s pace. Some dogs just don’t want to share or make friends. Making them go to the dog park or making them sit next to people can just make them even more frightened. That, in turn, can make them even more reactive.
- Work on desensitizing to people and other dogs. Unless you have an extremely stubborn dog and you’re fine with being his/her whole world, don’t turn your dog into a hermit. Take your pup on car rides, on walks and to the pet store when possible. Figure out how far away you can be from a person or dog before he starts to react. From that point, ask your dog for a behavior he knows like a sit and then reward. Take a few steps forward and reward again if he’s not reacting. The goal is to gradually get closer and continue to create positive associations and reinforcements.
- Move at your dog’s pace. There is nothing wrong with taking a few steps back and starting again if your dog starts to react to “THAT THING.” This does take patience so be sure to pack plenty of it!
- Use the same redirection at home. Whether your dog is barking or scared of visitors, if you see that behavior popping up call your dog to you. Once again ask him to do something he knows (like sit) and reward. Rewards can be treats or praise, whatever works best for your dog. The goal here is to show your dog that he can alert us to things outside the house in a calmer manner AND get rewarded.
The bottom line is reactive dogs are NOT bad dogs. They just had some bad experiences or just happen to be painfully shy. Although our dogs have their loud barks, we are truly their voices. We have to be willing to ask people not bring their dogs to close, or to walk the other way when necessary. We have to be able to ask people not to pet our dogs or to ask them to wait until our dogs are sitting and being nice before touching them. I know with my shy guy, it’s my honor to be his first line of defense. When he’s ready to make new friends, I’m ready to let him!
The Animal Defense League of Texas has a certified dog trainer on staff and offers low-cost dog training and free puppy classes. For more information please click here.