Author - Junior Watson

How to deal with “Leash Reactivity”

Imagine the following scenario. You’re happily walking your dog. He’s trotting beside you, sniffing everything he possibly can. The sun is shining, the birds are singing, and everything seems perfect! Suddenly, your dog sees Mr. Hairy Pawtter, the front neighbor’s Poodle. His body becomes tense and he immediately starts barking like a maniac. You tell him to be quiet, but it’s useless; he’s now lunging and growling. As you try to walk away, feeling embarrassed and angry, people stare at you, judging your misbehaved, unruly dog. As soon as Mr. Hairy Pawtter is out of sight, your dog returns to his sniffing duties. Why does he have to hate other dogs? Why does he have to act like he wants to kill them all?

Leash reactivity can be a complex behavior. First, we need to make the distinction between aggression and reactivity. Although it may seem like aggressive behavior, it’s simply an expression of frustration (or fear, depending on the cases). Leash reactivity usually starts when the dog sees another dog and has a strong desire to approach him; since he’s unable to do so, he becomes frustrated. As a result, the dog starts whining, pulling on the leash and may even bark at the other dog. The owner feels embarrassed and punishes the dog. After a few repetitions, the dog wishes to avoid other dogs at all costs, since he gets punished every time he sees one! Frustration has evolved into fear. At this point, the dog wants to get away from other dogs, but he feels trapped by the leash; henceforth, he may try to bite. This is the Flight or Fight response in action! Once you remove the leash from the equation, the reactive behavior vanishes, and the dog may even act very friendly and sociable.

Should you throw your dog’s leash away, then? Well, not at all. Leash reactivity is trainable, and you can improve your dog’s behavior by changing his emotional state. If you choose to treat the symptoms only, you’ll probably fail; one must address the root to be successful. First, remember never to punish your dog by barking, lunging or growling; it will only create more fear and frustration. If your dog is reacting because he’s frustrated for not being able to play with the other dogs, teach him self-control skills, by rewarding calm behaviors. If he sees another dog, ask him to sit or to look at you instead. If he does, even if it’s just for a second, reward him with high-value treats or his favorite toy. Increase the behavior’s duration, by rewarding him for longer periods of time. On the other hand, if he’s reacting because he’s scared of the other dog’s presence, you need to work with classical conditioning techniques only. As soon as your dog sees the other, offer him a steady flow of high-value treats. Keep doing so until the other dog leaves your dog’s sight, even if he’s acting hysterically. After enough repetitions, he’ll start to associate other dogs with treats and, as a result, the reactivity will decrease.

Q&A: How to stop my dog being aggressive when on a leash?

My dog is about a year old and is around 40 lbs. She goes to daycare Monday thru Friday and does well there, but sometimes I think she feels the need to defend herself or assert that I’m her owner when I come to pick her up. Other dogs will growl and nip at her and she does it back (sometimes in defense of another dog doing it first, or she does it when other dog gets to close to her face). She’s fine at dog parks and being around dogs when she’s off leash. But when we’re on a walk on a leash and another dog comes and walks next us that’s on a leash, that dog can’t greet her or she will growl and try to bite. I’m assuming she feels the need to defend herself since she’s on a leash and can’t run if she feels uncomfortable. The other dog is usually excited and gets right up to her face and this causes her to react in this negative way. However, it’s getting to the point where I have to shorten the leash, because she will growl if the get a foot or two away. Is there any way I can get her to be friendly to other dogs on a leash or is this just something I have to deal with by never meeting another dog in a leash on walks? ~Abigail 

Dear Abigail,
There are many dogs that doesn’t like when others jump around their faces, there’s nothing wrong with that. However, you can desensitize your pup to be a little less reactive, but I still recommend you to ask the owner of the other dogs to keep their pup calm, as your dog is a bit sensitive/reactive, and in training.

Let’s start with the leash problem: have a bunch of treats on you while walking on the leash. When you see a dog coming towards you, ask your dog to sit and look at you. Give her a treat, and try to maintain her attention on you with talking nicely and giving her treats. At the same time, ask the owner of the other dog to keep the dog close to them to avoid any incident. If you feel like you can’t keep up your dog’s attention, walk away from the situation. She’ll get better day by day, the other dogs can come closer and closer. When you are confident in yourself and your dog, you can do this without making her sit, and keeping her eyes on you while walking past the other dog. Just never forget the treats… And if you lose your confidence, always walk out of the situation. Every negative experience can throw back the progress.

About the doggy daycare: you said she nips BACK. Why can other dogs nip at her at a doggy daycare? The professionals at the doggy daycare shouldn’t let it happen. When someone comes to pick their dog up, the excitement rises incredibly high, so the environment should be controlled enough to avoid accidents. When your dog greets you, other dogs shouldn’t go near her face. Of course it’s not good that she nips and growls, but you can’t stop it from a minute to another, so there should be someone to control the other dog in this situation, not to go too close to her, while you are training on desensitization.

What you wrote suggests that the cause of this “protecting” behavior is some sort of insecurity. Desensitization can solve a lot, but on the other hand, she has to feel that you are absolutely in control, and able to protect her from anything. I recommend you to get into some dog sport where you have to work together.

Q&A: How to stop my Rottweiler from pulling the leash?

I rescued an adult Rottweiler and I can’t leash train him because he’s stronger than me. I’ve tried to stop and give him a treat when he behaves, but he’s very excited and couldn’t care less about them. He ends up walking and drags me to where he want to go. Nothing has worked to counter the bad behavior. I know I need to walk him everyday and eventually he’d learn. But I don’t because I can’t control him. Any suggestions? ~Ann

Sometimes dogs are not food-motivated, especially when they are excited. Treats are great as reinforcement of wanted behaviors, but when your dog is not interested, their effectiveness is non-existent.

Ideally, the size of your dog should not determine the extent of control you have over him. There are tools you can use that will increase your ability to influence your dog’s behavior by at least 50% right away. I’ll go into those in a minute.

First though, it is important that your dog is getting enough exercise, especially if he is a young, exuberant adult. He needs to run, and if this is not allowed to him, he will try to work off all that energy on your walks. That is a problem.

Second, it is important with any size dog to get him into obedience training so he can learn basic commands, like Come, Sit, Stay, Leave It, Heel and so on, and to respect you when you ask them.

You will find he will listen to you better when you use
1) a proper walking harness, and
2) a head collar or Halti-type harness.

We do not ever recommend pain-causing equipment such as prong collars or shock collars because these can cause more deeply-seated emotional issues for your dog in the longer term, and – we don’t want to cause pain to our beloved friends.

Find an ‘anti-pulling’ harness where the leash attaches to a clip on the chest, not the back (example: Easy Walk Harness). This will interfere with his ability to run straight forward. Next, use a Halti or Gentle Leader on his head, making sure it is not pulled too tightly and that you can slip two fingers under the straps. Just wearing one of these tones many dogs down immediately because the world looks different to them. If you need more control, use a second leash and attach it to the Halti, but do not use force by pulling hard on it on it – this can damage his neck. Use it to redirect him only.

With these methods you should find that before too long, your walks are a lot more enjoyable – for both of you!

Another great resource is to work with a Tellington TTouch Practitioner, or get yourself a copy of the book “Getting in TTouch With Your Dog”. They have very effective techniques to stop leash pulling.

Q&A: How do I stop my dog from peeing in the house?

I have a 9-month-old corgi (Yuki) and she was well-potty trained when she was staying with my boyfriend. She pees and poops in a designated area and pees on command every time. She rarely goes out as she’s still a puppy so she mostly pees indoors. Recently, she has come to stay with me and my parents love her so much that they bring her to potty outside at least twice a day. Initially she would pee on command on the pee tray but gradually she has stopped listening to me. She would still pee at home but she wouldn’t pee in the pee tray anymore. She will either pee in her playpen or in the kitchen when nobody is looking. How can I re-train her to pee on the pee tray again? I want to maintain the habit that she poops outside but I also want her to know that if she ever feels the need to pee/poop, she still can do so at home but only on the pee tray. I have tried not bringing her out so that she will pee at home but she just held her pee till we bring her out in the night. Help! What should I do?~Jane

Hello Jane and Yuki! I am pretty sure I can help you here.

You must have trained Yuki by offering some sort of incentive for eliminating in the designated areas. Yuki eventually learned ‘If I relieve myself here, it makes my owner happy, or I will get something. If I go somewhere else outside of the designated area, I won’t be rewarded or my owner will become upset/won’t be happy.’ Hence, your Corgi would go out of her way for what she perceived as a reward.

This regular routine changed when she moved. Her environment changed. Her human ‘pack’ family members even changed. Many dogs develop anxiety due to drastic changes like this; you’re actually lucky this is the only issue!

Peeing in the playpen or kitchen: Your main problem is your dog peeing inside. You’ll have to go through potty training again, teaching her she is supposed to eliminate outside or in your ‘pee tray’, not anywhere she feels like. Don’t scold or chastise her, but keep constant supervision. This normally requires leashing your pup by your (or your parents) side so you are able to catch accidents 100% of the time, and running her outside every single time she begins to go indoors.

Set a regular, consistent bathroom schedule, and don’t alter it. When you can’t offer direct supervision, crate Yuki. Dogs will prefer not to eliminate in close confines or where they sleep. Yuki should probably begin sleeping in her crate during this potty training process.

If you want her to pee on the pee tray, you’re going to need to offer her incentive again; reward her when she does. Whenever she is about to pee, carry her directly to the pee tray. You can’t miss mistakes here, which will require her to be leashed by your side at all times.

Dogs will also prefer to eliminate in designated areas because they smell familiar. Even thorough cleanings don’t always mask the scent; change the bedding if possible.

To sum:
Offer Constant supervision
Reward desired behavior
Don’t reward mistakes, and don’t scold excessively either
Catch mistakes 100% of the time, correct by moving to desired location
Crate when you can’t have Yuki leashed by your side (if possible).
Set regular bathroom schedule; don’t deviate
Follow this advice, and I can all but guarantee your problem will resolve itself in time. With today’s busy schedules, I understand how it might seem difficult to offer constant supervision though.

Q&A: Why will my dog only potty inside?

Buffy was doing great at our previous home in terms of going potty outside. She had a fenced in backyard and went without any issues. She had accidents inside the house, but they were always close to the door to the backyard. We had to relocate to a downtown apartment last week. She walks on her leash 3 times a day and refuses to go potty outside. There is a dog park near our apartment we take her to on these walks where she can run free, and she still refuses to go there! She will only go to the bathroom inside our apartment. She goes on walks with her older dog sister Bella. We have reinforced pottying outside by giving Bella treats each time she goes outside, and we make sure to do this so Buffy can see Bella getting the treats as reward for pottying. We are at our wits’ end! Spanking, yelling, saying no, walks, and sitting at the dog park for 30 to 45 minutes are all NOT working!~Caroline

Potty training can be a difficult task, especially with smaller dog breeds – somehow it takes more time for smaller dogs. For the owner of Buffy I would recommend to take a step back and basically forget how good Buffy was in her previous home. Use a potty pad, but do the regular 3 times a day walks, just like the potty pad wasn’t there. Put the pad relatively close to the door, easily reachable for Buffy, and make sure she feels safe. At first, if an accident happens anywhere else than the pad, put it on the pad and leave it there for half an hour before changing the pad – but clean the place where the accident was immediately.

NEVER shout and get angry with the pup when accidents happen.

Pottying is a time when the dog is very vulnerable. She is there, doing her thing, and couldn’t immediately run away if there were danger. That’s why many dogs look in their owners eyes when pooping. To make sure they are safe. It may be ridiculous to us, but it is serious to them. Give her time to get used to the new place, the new smells, the new objects, the sounds of traffic, meeting other dogs and stuff like that. Do everything you can to make sure that only good things happen on walks. If she is good with the potty pad, you can take one with you on walks, because it is familiar to her, and she may do her thing on that outside (some people won’t understand, but it’s about you and the pup, not them).

The other thing is timing. Always go on walks around 20-30 minutes after eating. On this walk, Buffy shouldn’t run and jump, because it can mess up her digestion, but this is the time it is most likely that she needs to pee or poop.

Don’t let food out for the day, there should be 2 (if she is more than a year old, one, if she is less than half, 3) times when she gets food, and if she doesn’t eat it, you should put it away. Don’t worry, in some days she will learn that this is the time to eat, she won’t starve herself.

With only this much information, these are the best advice I can give.

(Btw reinforcing the other dog when she potty outside is a very good thing 🙂 )

Q&A: How long should we use the pee pads?

We are picking up our new Yorkie puppy in 2 days! She is 8 weeks. She’s been using a pee pad in her current home and has done very well, meaning going on the pad exclusively. But this week has pooped a couple of times off the pad and out of the pen area. That’s her history. We want to train her to go outside. My question is do we train her first to use pee pads in our house and then later to switch to outside? And if so how long do you use the pee pads before switching to outside? I’m hoping you say skip the pee pads and just start training her outside right away. This has been an on-going debate in our family of four.~Heather

It is always preferable to train the puppy outside initially so he does not begin a habit of eliminating in the house. To do this you must be willing and able to take the puppy outside frequently throughout the day, ideally after eating meals, for about 20 minutes or until he goes, first thing in the morning and before bedtime. Until the pup gets the idea you will also have to take him out every hour or two. It is helpful to train him to ‘go’ on a newspaper so that he understands more easily what to do. So the first time he goes outside, slip a paper under him when he urinates so it catches some of his odor. Then next time, take the same paper and let him sniff it to get the idea, place it on the ground and keep taking him back to it until he goes on it. This will take patience and you can expect to take up to two weeks for him to really start being reliable about it. Present ‘used’ paper to him at first until he gets the idea. Then gradually reduce the size of the paper until it is no longer needed, Observe your puppy through the day so you get to know his internal schedule of elimination, to avoid mistakes.

Because your puppy has been going on puppy pads, start by placing a paper over the pad and let him use it. Then begin the outdoor training.

Puppies cannot hold their urine as long as grown dogs, so keep this in mind. He may have accidents overnight. Many people keep pups in a comfortable crate overnight as they do not like to soil close quarters. Do not let him wait too long in the morning to go out – it’s worthwhile setting the alarm at the beginning and avoiding mistakes in the house!

 

Teach Your Dog to Heel in Three Easy Steps

We’ve all seen the human and dog walking through the neighborhood that begs the question: who is walking whom? Either the dog is several feet ahead, excitedly straining at the leash as its owner frantically yells, “slow down!”, or the dog is lagging behind as the owner walks on, oblivious until the leash runs out of length and forces a stop.

A dog that strains at its leash or lags behind has not yet learned the all important “heel” command. While this behavior may seem cute in a curious puppy, it poses a great risk as dogs get older. Large breeds will be hard to physically control, while smaller breeds could become tangled under feet or in the extended leash length.

Ideally, a dog should walk next to its owner. A dog’s paws should be about even with the owner’s legs and feet, giving the dog room to explore visually while keeping him clearly within arm’s reach of the owner.

The good news is that whether you have a new puppy or a stubborn adult dog, you can teach your pet to heel! Teaching a dog to heel takes patience and confidence, but the reward of a relaxing and fun walk is well worth the investment!

Supplies Needed:
Basic Training Leash (not a retractable leash)
Your dog’s favorite treats
Safe, enclosed training space, such as a living room, garage, or back yard

Step One: Begin by placing the leash on the dog and commanding the dog to sit. Firmly hold the other end of the leash in your hand, and wrap the excess so the dog has enough length to comfortably move about 8 inches in front of you.

Command the dog to stand up. If he lunges forward or wanders around, have him sit again, and practice sitting / standing until he stands still and waits for the next command. Reward your dog once he’s mastered this step.

Step Two: Walk the dog in a large circle. If he steps forward, calmly call out, “Heel!” and stop walking. Plant your feet firmly on the ground and hold the leash. Gently tug on the leash to remind your dog to stay within reach and to call him back to you. Once the dog has mastered this, let the leash out a few more inches and practice again.

Step Three: Once your dog is comfortable walking beside you in a small space, move to a larger area and add some “distractions” – lawn chairs, stuffed animals, potted plants. Practice walking around these items while keeping the dog next to you. Remember, if your dog moves out of ideal position, call out, “Heel!”, go back a few steps, and try again.

Now that you’ve mastered this basic command, walks will be safer and much more enjoyable for the both of you. Head outdoors and enjoy the sights and sounds of your community with confidence!

Q&A: Help! My Dog is Afraid of Trash Bags!

We have adopted a rescue dog that has obviously been abused in the past. One of her greatest fears is large, black, plastic bags. It makes it difficult to walk her on trash collection days when a number of homes have a big, black bag sitting by the curb. She balks at walking past them. We need to zig zag back and forth across the street to avoid them. What is the best way to teach her that she no longer needs to fear these big, black trash bags? ~Alice

First of all, congratulations on your newest family member, and thank you for adopting a rescue dog! These dogs, regardless of breed, often have unique issues that may take time to overcome. Also, not knowing the dog’s full history can make it difficult to identify potential challenges until they arise, seemingly out of nowhere.

It’s important to remember that the reaction is based on association. Pavlov conditioned his dogs to salivate at the sound of a bell. Similarly, it sounds as if your rescue has a conditioned response to large, black, plastic bags. Fortunately, conditioned responses can often be successfully removed or redirected with patience and consistency.

For this situation, we suggest overcoming the fear in stages.

Begin by purchasing a box of the bags that affect your dog. Place the box on the ground in an area that your dog considers to be a safe location, and allow her to smell, examine, and interact with the box. Observe her reactions, and provide soothing encouragement and treats once she exhibits the behavior you desire. Repeat for several days until you are satisfied with her response.

Next, take out one plastic bag and lay it flat on the floor. Again, allow her to smell it, examine it, and interact with it (safely and under supervision, of course!). The goal is to show her that there is nothing to fear. At the same time, practice walking around the flat trash bag. Put her on the leash and practice walking past it, next to it, and even over it in the safety of your home or yard.

From there, you can progress to filling the bag, then setting up an obstacle course in your yard with several bags. Eventually, you’ll be able to progress to confidently walking the neighborhood on trash day.

Remember that your attitude and reaction are vitally important during walks. You are the alpha dog in her pack, and she will follow your lead. Exude confidence and control, and she will trust you and follow suit. Before you know it, running from trash bags will be a distant memory!

Q&A: How to stop my dog from yapping when she’s excited

I inherited an eight year old Chihuahua/Poodle mix. She has energy. She likes everyone. She gets so excited when she sees other dogs that she yaps uncontrollably. How can I train her to eliminate this behavior? ~Sally

This is a common behavior issue that many dog owners face. While there  are many people who want a dog who will bark, there are also those who don’t want them to. Barking is like so many dog behaviors, in that there is a time and a place for it to be appropriate and times for dogs to not bark. When a dog starts to bark to the point of them losing control, it’s become an inappropriate action.

To answer this question, first we need to look at some of the reasons why the dogs may react this way. All dogs have what is called a threshold when it comes to stimuli. The threshold basically is the distance the dog needs to be from stimuli to not react. Some dogs can go over threshold when they see another dog at the other end of the block, while others are calm right up until a parade and marching band goes by. Every dog’s threshold is unique, as are the stimuli that push the dog over threshold.

When a dog is pushed over threshold, they typically have three basic reactions. First reaction is to run away or flight. The second one is to try to fight it off, and the third is to freeze in hopes of becoming invisible against the scary thing.  Each dog has different stimuli that will set them off. Some react to fireworks, while others go bonkers at the sight of a rabbit. It sounds like the little dog above is stimulated by other dogs.

Your first step with this problem is to figure out how close the dog can get to  another dog before starting to bark and yap. In the beginning, it may be fairly far away, like across the park or a  few blocks away.  This will not be a problem that goes away quickly and will take lots of dedication from all members of the family. What we are looking for from the dog is a counter emotional response. Right now, her emotional response to seeing another dog is to bark uncontrollably, but we would like for her to sit and wait for the other dog to approach.

Your second step is to set up a successful interaction. Find a friend or dog trainer with a calm and collected dog. Have them hang out in a certain spot, and maybe walk around. This is where being in a park is a good thing, as they can go back and forth. Keep your dog far enough away that she does not go over threshold. It is ok if she notices the other dog. In fact, we want her to, without her barking!

You will need your dog on a leash and collar. No reason to have her on a chain collar. A flat buckle or harness are all you need. When your dog notices the other dog but does not bark, start treating her. You can use whatever kind of treats are very high value for her. Some dogs can be distracted with kibble, but most will need something better, like soft dog treats, small bites of cheese or chicken. As long as she is quiet, keep treating. Right now, the only criteria you have is quiet.

As your dog starts to look at you and not at the other dog, move her forward a bit. If she starts to bark, move back to where she was not barking. Always move her closer to the other dog during training times. The goal here is to set her up for success and not to test her limits. You can keep moving her forward and treat her for calm, quiet, desirable behavior. As she gets to where she can be closer to another dog, you can have your friend bring their dog closer and allow the other dog to sniff yours, as you treat. She is learning that being calm means good things are happening and that she still gets to meet other dogs. The only criteria to ask of your dog is that she is quiet. She doesn’t need to make eye contact or sit. Later, you can add these behaviors in when quiet becomes a default behavior for her.

If she is calm as another dog approaches, she can even be allowed to go off leash and play with the other dog, assuming this is rewarding for her. If not, treats are plenty.  It sounds like she wants to meet other dogs, but many small dogs will bark at other dogs as a defensive tactic. They actually do know how small and vulnerable they are,  but they try to intimidate other dogs to stay away.

Before you get her to this point, it is up to the handler to set her up for success. Are there times of day lots of other people and dogs are walking? Walk at a different time or take a different route. Does she sit in the window and yap? Crate her and don’t allow her to look out the window until she can handle it. Some people even have had great success with putting filmy plastic over their windows so their dogs can’t see out as well.  Finally, she may have learned this behavior out of boredom. A tired dog is a better dog, so lots of walks, training sessions and puzzle toys to help her use her mind. Dogs really do want to please, most just need to be shown how to and that there is value in doing as they are asked.

These Five Artists’ Renderings of Dogs Will Make You Want to Hug Your Pup

Man’s best friend— a constant companion at your side and a constant source of inspiration as an artist’s muse. Dogs have been depicted in art for centuries; their loyalty, strength,work ethic and love endless fodder for artists to use as both subject and symbol. Today, artists include our four-legged friends in their painting, photography, sculpture, video and drawings, each with their own voice and understanding of the animal. We’ve complied a list of five of our favorite artists who have put fido front and center in their art.

Photographer Anna Sychowicz’s photos of dogs are super saturated, dreamy portraits that are packed full of emotion. It’s the adoration and sweetness we see every time we look at our own pets, only forever captured through a photographer’s lens. She’s elevated the simple pet portrait to something more dynamic and artistic with her use of color and setting; brown dogs pop off the image against vivid purple and become moody and stoic in a darkened barn.

Yet another photographic series comes from Aaron Summerfield with Pet Peeves, albeit with a slightly sillier bent. In the series, you see Summerfield’s Boston Terrier/Frenchie mix Peeve, doing all manner of naughty things in the photographer’s house; all things the mischievous pup had gotten into at one point or another previously. Summerfield so cleverly and sweetly captures the bad behaviors any dog owner knows too well— peeing on the floor, drinking from the toilet, chewing shoes and licking everything in sight.

In a slightly creepy but nonetheless fun turn, there are Tom Campbell’s 120 papier-mache dogs. The Irish artist created these doggie sculptures for the Kinsale Arts Festival in County Cork Ireland with the help of a team of volunteers. After creating the pack of dogs, the artist and his team scattered them around the town during the festival, to the delight of locals and tourists alike. The dogs were of all breeds and in all forms— poodles running, labs sleeping and terriers playing. Campbell encouraged the public to interact with the dogs which made for some seriously funny (and weird) formations throughout the entirety of the festival, like the dog pile on the beach or the single line formation down the street.

Gloria Najecki couldn’t give herself a more fitting moniker with Gloria Paints Dogs— the woman paints a lot of dogs. Her work is straightforward and uncomplicated but with incredible depth and skill. She understands both the physical and emotional complexities of the dogs she paints, from  getting the texture of their fur just right to capturing their personalities with paint.

The only thing cuter than a tiny dachshund is a giant dachshund and author Mitch Boyer is capitalizing on this truth in his latest children’s book, Vivian the Dog Moves to Brooklyn. Currently a Kickstarter project, the book is meant to help children deal with change in their own lives, as Vivian navigates the Big Apple after moving there from New Mexico. Vivian and her owner are captures in a series of sweet, fun photos, from taking selfies at the Brooklyn Bridge to cuddling on the couch in a high rise with New York City buildings in the background. Not only is it a engaging, thoughtful way to show kids that change doesn’t have to be bad, it’s also cleverly and artistically shot with Vivian towering over her owner in each photo.

Don’t hesitate to capture your best friend in your artistic style – and share it, like the people did above, on sites that take art submissions!