Does your dog’s behaviors leave you scratching your head? Feeling like you’ve tried everything and nothing has worked? Why not ask an expert? Animal Wellness Magazine has teamed up with the Association of Professional Dog Trainers to bring you a Q&A that’s all about training! Just leave us a comment on Facebook. The APDT will address several questions every week! Answers posted on Thursdays.
Q. I have a 4-yr old GSD Mix, and two other dogs. My GSD is extremely leash reactive. She gets along fine with our two, but she would literally kill any other dog we meet. Going for walks is terrifying. We have obedience trained for three years, but this behavior gets so bad that we had to stop doing anything in public/around other dogs. We have also worked with behaviorists with no success. On the other hand, I can release her around other non-leashed dogs and she plays well with them. Help! -Christine
A. Hi Christine, you’re describing a pretty common problem. Many dogs become reactive on leash because they feel frustrated with the leash holding them back and this causes them to aggress, where without the leash they seem perfectly okay with other dogs. There is a great little booklet on this called Feisty Fido by Patricia McConnell and Karen London and it goes through all the steps on how to work on this behavior. It’s available on websites like Amazon.com. This is a much more detailed process, but in a nutshell, you want to work on teaching the dog to focus on you so that when he sees other dogs, you can give him a cue such as “watch me” and he will focus on you while the other dogs pass by.
It also involves some desensitization to other dogs’ presence, which means rewarding him with something he really likes (food, toys) when in the presence of other dogs, but he needs to be “under threshold” which means at a distance where the sight of the other dogs doesn’t stress him. Every dog is different so it could be 5 feet, 10 feet, 20 feet, etc. It’s obviously much more detailed than this, so I would recommend getting the book. You can also see if there is anyone in your area (use www.apdt.com) who runs a type of training called “Feisty Fido” or “Reactive Rover” that actually focuses on this specific behavior.
Q. Our dog (found living alone in a forest) has no idea about play and doesn’t respond to treats or food as rewards. How do you train a fellow like this? -Barb
A. Hi Barb, dogs like this, and I’m assuming he’s an adult, are harder to train because they lacked socialization to people during their crucial learning periods as a puppy. You need to work on finding what motivates him, and it may take some time to do that and for him to get used to you. It might involve being really creative, such as seeing if there is a toy he likes, or a particular game, like chase, or petting, or being brushed, or going for a walk.
For some dogs like this it does take some time and it’s important to be patient. I had a dog that I adopted from a shelter that took about two years to finally play with toys, and we just allowed her to become comfortable at her own pace. Since you want to do training, you may also need to find things that are very basic to the dog’s life, such as getting to go through a door or going out. You can also always work one on one with a professional (go to www.apdt.com) who can observe your dog in person and see if there are some options that could be tried out.
Q. I have a 3-yr old black Lab and he’s aggressive to other dogs, especially males, but he’s a sweetheart with everyone else. Are there any techniques to help with that or is that just his personality now? -Sheila
A. Hi Sheila, while it is unlikely he will get to the point of loving other dogs, he can certainly learn to be calmer when in the vicinity of other dogs (how close he can get depends on the trainer, the training, and you). While it can take time, it is certainly worth it for many reasons to address this issue. Aggression is not something to ever address on your own – please contact an experienced professional who has successfully resolved dog-dog aggression issues. Ask to speak to past clients who they have worked with.
Options for training include one-on-one private consults or group classes specifically designed for reactive dogs. Please use our trainer search http://www.apdt.com/petowners/ts/default.aspx to look for professionals who offer Reactive Rover, Feisty Fido, or other dog reactive dog courses. Trainers skilled in what is known as BAT should also be able to assist you (http://functionalrewards.com/certification/find-a-cbati/). You might also look here: http://iaabc.org/consultants Again, be sure to speak to past clients for referrals – and good luck!