Brownie, a shy shepherd cross with the kindest eyes, was one of those foster dogs that you just don’t ever forget. She was so perfect in nearly every way, except I dreaded taking her out for walks. As soon as another dog came into view, she switched on the drama. That is to say, Brownie’s response to the innocent passersby included vicious snarling, relentless lunging, and aggressive barking.
Sometimes I think that dog training would be so much easier if we weren’t caught up in worrying about what other people think. But our dogs do have a way of making us feel varying degrees of embarrassment, don’t they? Therefore, I succumbed to feelings of mortification, and I wondered what my neighbours thought about me and my ‘bad’ dog. I wanted to chastise Brownie so they would at least see me doing something about her undesirable behaviour. After all, the typical and expected response is to follow with a verbal barrage of ‘no!’ and ‘bad dog!’. However, I did the exact opposite. There I was, rapid-firing treats into her mouth and singing her praises while receiving more than a few strange looks from my neighbours.
Why was I rewarding ‘bad’ behaviour? Counterintuitive as it may seem, I was by no means reinforcing her barking and growling response to other dogs. So, let me explain my bizarre response to Brownie’s barking using a step-by-step guide for you to follow.
FOUR STEPS TO CHANGING YOUR ‘BARKING-BROWNIE’S’ REACTION TO OTHER DOGS
- Set-up practice scenarios with friends and family who already have a social and friendly dog.
- Keep your Barking-Brownie under-threshold.
- Use behaviour modification activities like ‘Look at That’ to create an appropriate response towards other dogs.
- Keep training sessions positive regardless of your dog’s behaviour.
step 1: Set up practice scenarios with friends and family who already have a social and friendly dog
Set up scenarios with someone who already has a
step 2: Keep your barking-brownie under
Keep a comfortable distance between Barking-Brownie and other dogs while you work on modifying her reactivity. This is called keeping your dog ‘under threshold’, and here are some tips to help you identify when she is under threshold:
- She has
looseand relaxed body language.
- You are able to call her attention back easily.
- She is still taking treats from you.
Here are some tips to help you identify when she is over threshold:
- Her body language is stiff.
- Her mouth is closed and tight.
- She is staring at the other dog.
- She may already be lunging, barking, and growling.
- It is challenging or impossible to get her attention back.
- She is no longer taking treats from you, or she is taking treats with a hard mouth (this is a good indicator that your dog is stressed).
It is nearly impossible to modify behaviour when your canine is already over
step 3: Use
behavior modification activities like ‘Look at That’ to create an appropriate response towards other dogs
Time to put an exercise called ‘Look at that’ into play. When Dog A looks at Dog B, mark this behaviour with a ‘yes’ and then quickly follow up with a high-value treat. When I say high value, think pea-sized pieces of steak, chicken, hot dogs, cheese, etc.
If you say ‘yes’ and your dog does not immediately return her gaze back to you, you can place the treat in front of her nose and use it to lure her eye contact back to you.
After 10-15 sequences, give your dog the opportunity to look back at you without immediately prompting her with a ‘yes’. If she looks back at you, great! Mark the behaviour with a ‘yes!’ and treat. If she doesn’t look back at you within 3 seconds, prompt her as you did previously.
Is she is reliably offering ‘automatic eye contact’ after looking at Dog B yet? Good! Try taking 1-2 steps forward. The goal is to very gradually close the gap between Dog A & Dog B, but this could take multiple sessions. Don’t rush it. The end result is worth it.
step 4: Keep training sessions positive regardless of your dog’s behaviour
Okay, admit it – you’re probably thinking that my advice is all well and good until you suddenly find yourself faced with your neighbour and her perfectly well-behaved G
Do your best to stay calm, and move Barking-Brownie in the opposite direction. Distract your dog as much as possible during your exit – using praise and treats as you briskly walk or jog away.
Above all else, we want our canine companion to see that other dogs predict good things. Regardless of the
Also read: Facilitating Safe & Successful dog-to-dog intros.
Thanks for stopping by!
Love, Sammy & Bear