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On Leash Reactive Dog

October 13th, 2010, 04:23 PM
Hi all,

I adopted a senior dog about one year ago and he is the most wonderful companion, HOWEVER, he is very reactive to other dogs when on leash. It has become increasingly difficult to walk him. I am constantly scanning the neighbourhood to make sure no dogs are walking in our direction. It's frustrating and sad, both for him and for me.

Can anyone please offer some guidance with respect to this behaviour? What techniques have worked - positive vs. negative reinforcement?

Many thanks!

October 13th, 2010, 05:02 PM
How old is your dog? What exactly do you mean by "he is very reactive"? What does he do? Is he this way towards all other dogs or, just a select few? What do you do?

Do you understand the difference between positive reinforcement and negative reinforcement? Do you mean to ask 'positive reinforcement vs positive punishment'?

Here's a site that provides links to important definitions. Please read the ones titled Positive Reinforcement, Negative Reinforcement, Positive Punishment, and Negative Punishment so that we can understand what your last question means.

October 13th, 2010, 05:43 PM
For best results you really should work with an experienced trainer who can see your dog hands on and work with you to show you the proper techniques and perhaps point out things you're doing you're not even aware of.

Internet advice is all fine and dandy but it's no substitute for a trainer. Your portrayal of the situation could be missing out important details, you could be applying the techniques some one recommends incorrectly, and things could very easily go from bad to worse. In some cases corrections will help, in others they will create more conflict. Same goes for rewarding the dog with treats, if your timing is off or the delivery is incorrect you could just as easily be encouraging further bad behaviour. Reactivity and aggression are very delicate issues to work on.

Where are you located?

October 13th, 2010, 06:34 PM
Thank you for your comments.

Luckypenny, I was advised by shelter staff that the dog is approximately 12 years old however they can't be sure as he was found abandoned in a house with no records. He is in good health and has plenty of energy.

This is a typical scenario: when we are walking and he sees a dog his posture automatically changes. His head rises, his ears move forward and his breathing deepens. As the other dog passes, my dog barks and lunges at the passing dog. This happens with virtually all dogs - small, large, all breeds.
I keep him on a tight lead (I'm sure this does nothing to help the problem).

I worked with a trainer who uses corrective methods, i.e. choke chain corrections, however I was unsuccessful in implementing proper corrections. It seemed to only exacerbate the problem. I felt very defeated, and counterproductive, trying to use this method.

Choochi, I am meeting a trainer this weekend for a consultation. He uses treats as motivation - and yes, I do not the help of a professional, particularly for the timing. I am located downtown Toronto.

Thanks again.

Floppy Dog
October 14th, 2010, 11:50 AM
I keep him on a tight lead (I'm sure this does nothing to help the problem).

You're right on that score. It's quite possible that the short leash and your body language (probably tense?) is telling your dog that you are scared of other dogs. It's possible that he thinks he's protecting you by "scaring" the other dogs away with a bark and lunge. Your trainer will be able to confirm this once (s)he sees you and your dog together.

As for training techniques, my personal experience with my dog, American Cocker Spaniel BTW, is that reward/treat training works way better than correction training. Personally, I also found it much easier to be consistent with rewards/treats that with corrections.

Please let us know how it went with the trainer.

October 14th, 2010, 02:08 PM
Thanks Floppy Dog. I need to work on my own confidence in addition to addressing the unwanted behaviour. I became so discouraged with the corrective methods that I guess I kind of just gave up and tried to deal with the situation as best as I could (primarily through avoidance).

I am (cautiously) optimistic about my meeting this weekend. I'll let you know how it goes.

Dog Dancer
October 14th, 2010, 02:20 PM
Hi Senior. Thank you for rescuing a senior dog. They truly have so much love to give. I agree that the dog could be reading your nerves and protecting you from the other intruders also. Good on you for bringing in a trainer. Make sure you are totally comfortable with the trainers suggestions though. It should always be a good thing for the dog, no negative training should be employed. I don't think you've mentioned what size/breed your dog is. I have a 10 year old lab X who barks at dogs and jumps all over if I don't catch her before it starts. I use treats with her and I put her in a sit when I see a dog coming that I can't avoid (she only does this with strange dogs though). Once she's in a sit and I have her attention I make her earn her cookie bits. Shake a paw, down, sit, by the time she gets rewarded the dog has passed us and we can carry on. It's not a perfect method, but it's what I've finally come up with. I also walk with a second dog who is very dog aggressive due to a prior attack, so I believe my lab is picking up on her stress and mine and reacting this way to protect and warn us. That said, she doesn't react to other dogs at all when my husband is with us! She respects him far more than she does me and I guess she feels he'll protect us. Please let us know how it goes. I wish you the best of luck.

October 14th, 2010, 03:25 PM
Thanks Dog Dancer. Adopting him was one of the best decisions I have ever made. Despite the hurdles, I am commited to working together to address this issue. I was told that he had dog aggression issues before I adopted him so I knew that there were going to be some bumps in the road. It does not make matters easier that he is considered a 'pit bull' type breed (AmStaff cross) in Ontario. By law, I have to have him muzzled at all times, which compounded with his behaviour when on leash toward other dogs, can really scare many people. I know that he was severely attacked by another dog at the shelter and he is also blind in one eye (not a natural blindness). I wish I knew more about his past. It's really interesting though - if a friend comes over with a dog, he sniffs it and then goes on his merry way. Can't be bothered.

I love him dearly and you are absolutely correct in saying that I have to be comfortable with the trainer's suggestions. Although the previous trainer himself had success with my dog, I did not (probably because the methods were not right for me). I'm going to use your sit/earn cookie method on our walk tonight!

December 14th, 2010, 04:03 AM
Hi Senior,

How did the new trainer's suggestions work out? I have a dog with a similar problem, and I'm not quite sure what to do.

The only thing that worked a bit for me is that when I see other dogs (before my dog sees them), I start talking a bit to my dog or trying to communicate with him by having him do basic commands like sit/lay down, etc. Then I keep doing that while trying to ignore the other dog is coming. When my dog notices the other dog, my dog slowly starts to lose focus and doesn't pay attention, etc. I just try to stay calm then watch my dog carefully. After, I ask the other dog owner if my dog can sniif, and warn them that my dog is undersocialized and very hyper. If they say yes, I let my dog sniff. Sometimes my dog sniffs nicely and everything goes well. When that happens, I give my dog a high-value reward, like scrambled egg. Half of the time, my dog becomes extra sensitive during the sniffing (either the other dog gives him a stare or something sets him off) and he barks and lunges. My dog is small so I usually pick him up, turn around and tell him sternly, "no bark" and he will quiet down but is still upset and growling a bit. I know this is probably bad technique, but I don't know what else to do.

Of course, nothing beats the advice of a trainer, but currently I'm having a hard time looking for a quality trainer because most of the trainers in my area didn't have such good customer reviews. Seems like finding a trainer that suits the owner's personality is a challenge.

December 19th, 2010, 01:05 AM
I teach a class for reactive dogs. The only thing that will cure/fix/manage your dogs behaviour is constant redirection. Somewhere down the line he's had a negative association with dogs while on leash, your job is to re train him to instead look at you when there is a dog around.

How to: Have you heard of clicker training?

Practice alone with the clicker before you go out and work with the dog.

HAVE TREATS and LOTS of them. Remember the higher the distraction the higher the reward (treat) must be. Baked turkey or chicken usually works great! (no store bought cookies, they don't work for this type of training).

At home work with your dog on 2 commands LEAVE IT and FOCUS

The “Leave It” Command

The "Leave It" dog obedience training command is a very useful behaviour to teach your puppy or older dog. You'll be surprised how often you find yourself calling on this command.

When your dog is concentrated on another dog, person, ball or any other stimulus simply, call your dogs name “(dog’s name) leave it!” when he or she looks at you (this may take a couple tries) CLICK then treat, then verbal reinforcer "Good Boy/Girl!”. Soon your dog will come to understand that yummy treats come from you when they hear those two words and will offer the behaviour 100% of the time.

Have your dog on a leash, put a piece of food on the floor (do NOT let your dog get this), he or she will struggle to get this yummy treat, when he or she stops struggling as much say,”(dog’s name) leave it!”, when he or she looks, CLICK, give a treat then verbal reinforcement “Good Boy/Girl!”

The “Watch Me” (Focus) Command

Have your dog beside or in front of you and say,” (dog’s name) watch me!”, if the dog does not respond, make a noise (kissy or whistle, something to get their attention, sometimes just time will work) once the dog looks at you,CLICK, treat then verbal reinforcer “Good Boy/Girl!” Try this anytime.

If you are having a hard time with the dog looking up at you, put a treat in your hand and wave it in front of the dog’s nose and lure up to your eyes, say “watch me!”, CLICK as soon as they look in your eyes ,TREAT then “good boy/girl!”

Always be positive – If you feel yourself getting frustrated take a time out and go back.
Always use your dog’s name before any command (but never for “no”)

Once you have mastered this, asking 10 times and your dog performing it flawlessly 10 times, go outside and work on people walking by (small distractions) then once he has that and is responding move to dogs walking around.

When he's lunging or barking at a dog, never stop walking or stand still, you want to KEEP WALKING and "(dogs name) Leave it!" if you say it 4 times and he FINALLY looks, CLICK ....treat.....GOOD BOY!!!!!

If you notice a dog coming before your dog does, ask your dog for a "watch me", if he breaks the watch me to look at the dog,"DOg's name LEAVE IT!"

This type of training takes consistency, I obviously cannot see if your dog is acting this way out of fear or just over excitableness, but depending on the severity of the problem it could take a week to start working or months. But it does work!

December 19th, 2010, 02:15 AM
Thank you so much for the advice. I'll shop around for a clicker and practice "Leave it" and "Watch me" to see how it works. Is there any effective substitute for the clicker? Like a particular sound I can quickly make that works just as well?

December 19th, 2010, 01:48 PM
Sometimes you can use a clicking pen (it's a quieter click for dogs who are sensitive to the loud click). You can have a whistle, or anything that is completely distinctive noise that you most likely will not hear in normal day to day activities - as this can confuse the dog.

The noise has to be consistently the same everytime you mark. Plus the clicker costs $1-2 lol. Cheap!

December 20th, 2010, 02:55 PM
I'm on the boat with stinkycat! But I'm a visual person, so I thought I'd send these along.
Here's a good clicker intro ( I think all of her videos are excellent)

and here's a good example of someone working with a leash reactive dog

hope these are helpful :)