You finally have taught your dog to walk without pulling on his leash and all seems fine…until he spots that squirrel across the street. Suddenly your relaxed, well-behaved dog has been transformed to some sort of barking, lunging, animal that feels like he is pulling your arm off as you try to hold him back. Your dog’s trigger may not be squirrels, it could be rabbits, or other dogs, and the actual causes are varied, but the suggestions that follow should help you teach your dog to deal with these triggers in a way that will still allow you to enjoy your walks.
First, what is causing your dog to go crazy like that? Usually, it is from two main causes; fear or what is commonly referred to as “prey drive”. If your dog is barking at another dog or a person that he has spotted, it is usually (but not always) a fear reaction. To their owners, a dog that is barking loudly and pulling at his leash to get to something across the street certainly doesn’t seem like a reaction caused by fear, however many dogs exhibit fear in this way in order to send a loud and clear message that “I am uncomfortable with you being near me. Stay away!”. Alternatively, some dogs will have a seemingly uncontrollable need to chase after any squirrel or rabbit that they spot. This “prey drive” instinct varies in intensity from dog to dog and from breed to breed. I have two dogs and lucky me, one has a classic fear reaction to other dogs and people, while the other loves other dogs and people, but is driven to chase after rabbits and squirrels. Unfortunately, when I am walking the two of them, if one gets excited about their own trigger, the other always has to join in with the excitement. Now as hard as it may be to control one dog that is lunging and barking at something or someone, imagine what it is like with two medium sized dogs going crazy like that. I have to admit that before I was able to get things under control, they were able to knock me off my feet on more than one occasion.
How does one deal with this? I will be going over several different methods, starting with the ones that should work with mild cases and then continue on to other techniques that should work for more challenging dogs. So if my first or second suggestion does the trick, you obviously don’t need to keep trying the other methods. Also remember, the path to resolution for this type of a problem is a process that could easily take weeks. But that really isn’t such a long time when you consider the years of pleasant dog walks ahead. Finally, if your dog does lunge enthusiastically, you should definitely consider using a harness to clip his leash to instead of a standard collar, as this may avoid injuries to your dog’s neck.
For starters, some trainers say that it is up to the owners to project a strong positive attitude. The feeling is that if your dog is afraid of dogs or people, but sees you confident and in control, he will follow your example. I have had success with this strategy when I had one dog that had fear issues, so by all means give this a try. Don’t dwell on past behaviors and get stressed when you see a potential “trigger” approaching. Simply stand up straight and project confidence and a positive attitude while shortening the amount of leash so you are more in control as you continue your walk. When the “trigger” situation occurs, keep your positive attitude and let out a hearty “Let’s go!” as you guide your dog through the situation. You want to project a “Not to worry…I’ve got this!” attitude towards your dog. If this doesn’t work, because your dog’s reaction is too strong, there are other strategies.
Taking things up a level, there a couple of behaviors that you should start working on, and allow at least a week for your dog to really “get it”. First, it will be helpful for your dog to learn to be calm when the trigger is off at a safe distance. Once you see the squirrel (or whatever your dog’s trigger is) and you are far enough away that your dog is still calm, have your dog sit. Of course this assumes that your dog has learned the “sit “command. Now keep him distracted by giving him small treats as long as your dog is relaxed. The idea is to have your dog associate the trigger with getting treats and calm behavior. Don’t bother with treats if he is clearly anxious, he probably won’t take them under those circumstances anyway. When you think your dog has done the best he can, finish up by walking away from the trigger. It’s important to end on a positive note. As time goes by, you should be able to safely get closer to trigger without your dog getting anxious. Doing just this may not resolve the problem, but it is a good start. Don’t be surprised if you find that you can only get so close to the trigger without your dog starting to get anxious no matter how slowly you built up to that distance. Just keep that distance in mind in the future when you are walking your dog near potential triggers. fenbendazole stage 4 cancer