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Advocate for Your Dog

One of the most common issues that clients come to us about is their dog is reactive to other dogs or people. What this means is that when you go for a walk with your dog, if your dog begins barking, lunging, pulling, or growling at someone or another dog that they encounter. If you have experienced this, I have two things to tell you:

1. You are not alone!

90% of the clients who come to us for training describe this type of behavior when walking their dogs.

2. There is a way to stop this behavior!

Like with all training, there is no immediate miracle cure, or a magic tool, leash, collar, harness, or device that will repair any type of undesireable behaviors. With time, and a lot of consistency, you can improve on almost any unwanted behavior.

Using a few simple concepts, you can begin to make major improvements on your dogs ability to make better decisions in any situation! Before trying to change your dog's behavior, we always recommend taking a little time to really identify why your dog is demonstrating the behavior to begin with.

Why does my dog bark at other dogs or people?

The most common reason a dog is barking or lunging at other people or dogs while out for a walk is some form of "fear." Now fear in dogs can take many forms, such as phobias of specific things, lack of confidence or general uncertainty in certain situations, fear resulting from trauma or repeated negative experiences from the past, or a category we'll just call "other." The most prevelent, and the category we'll discuss today is the lack of confidence/uncertainty form of fear.

Most trainers can pretty easily diagnose behavior problems as a result of lack of confidence, but we have found that they don't really have a good way to address the issue. I've had trainers recommend obedience training, (which absolutely is helpful) but it doesn't actually address the underlying cause. Others have recommended agility training and trick training to build confidence, but although it is a lot of fun to do, it also does not get to the root of the problem.

"Fear trumps Obedience"

A fearful dog may know what they are supposed to do when they are given a command, but fear will conquer obedience every time. I can tell a dog to sit, and that dog knowing that if he sits he may get a reward, and if he doesn't he may get a correction, but if there is something he fears more than a correction he'll choose to act out of fear instead of obedience.

Repair the Relationship

This is where I want to begin discussing what it means to advocate for your dog and why obedience won't help in fear situations. As my dog's handler/owner, I want to teach my dog that they can trust me, and that I will never put them in an unfair situation. For an example, if I have my dog in a command, such as "sit", or "place", I will not allow anyone to approach or pet my dog. If someone asks to pet my dog, I will first give my dog the release command, "Free", and tell my dog that she can "Go say 'Hi'". This means, that if she wants to, she can approach the person, or she can choose not to.


My dog may not know the person who wants to meet her, and while she is in a command, she must remain in that command, and if she doesn't want this person to pet her, she now doesn't have a choice. You wouldn't force your child to let strangers touch them, so why do it to your dog? Now, my pup loves people so she is happy to go to most people and receive the loving! But the importance is that she knows that she has the choice.

What does this have to do with what happens during our walks?

When your dog is barking or lunging at a person or another dog on a walk, he is basically telling you that he is unsure about that person or dog, and they could possibly be a threat, and he doesn't quite trust that you are going to handle the situation. Or, you've demonstrated in the past that you may have put your dog in some unfair situations previously.

So, the most common thing we see recommended or people try on their own is to tell your dog to sit and let the other person or dog pass, and if the dog breaks, they get corrected or they are forced to sit again. This method works, if you already have a solid trust relationship between you and your dog. If your dog knows that you won't let anything bad happen to them, then when you tell them to sit, they will remain in the command until you tell them otherwise.

So, how do we advocate for our dogs?

It all starts by truly knowing your dog. The first time I had a fearful dog, I brought him everywhere and told everyone to pet him so that he would get use to it and realize that people just want to love on him. This was actually a horrible idea and very unfair to my dog. And this is likely some of what contributed to his later serious behavior problems. So what should you do?

Its okay to say "No."

When someone approaches you asking if they can pet your dog, if you know your dog is somewhat shy, it is perfectly acceptable to say, "No, you may not pet my dog." You can choose your words any way you want, but the goal is to do what is best for your dog. Even if your dog is generally friendly, its always better to allow your dog to choose if your dog wants to meet the stranger or not. My pitty loves people, but I always let her approach them if she wants to be pet. Everyone once in a while, she decides she doesn't feel like meeting them, and I just tell the person, she doesn't want to meet you today, sorry.

Teach your dog that they can trust you to handle it.

Show your dog that you are in charge of keeping everyone safe. What that means is if a dog is approaching your dog and you don't want the two dogs to meet, place yourself in front of your dog to stop the other dog from approaching your pup. What does this tell your dog? It means "I won't anything harm you." What I see all of the time is a strange dog is coming towards someone's dog, and that person then pulls their dog back. If another dog is approaching my dog, they are in the wrong, and my dog is doing exactly what I have asked of them. Why would I then yank my dog's leash? If a person reaches and tries to touch my dog without asking I will physically place myself between that person and my dog. This is basically saying to your dog "Don't worry, I've got you."

If your dog doesn't have a good track record at the dog park, or getting along with friends' dogs, your dog may just not like meeting new dogs, and that's okay! Not every dog wants to make new friends at the dog park. I've had the strange experience of people walking their dogs approach me with my dog and asked if they can let our dogs meet, and I said no because my dogs don't like unfamiliar dogs.

The most important relationship you dog should have is with YOU! I don't care if my dogs don't like strangers, or other dogs, or even my friends or family, because I need my dogs to trust that I won't let any one or any other dogs do anything to harm them. This is the best way to teach your pup that "Don't worry, I've got this" in stressful or disconcerning situations.

Want to know the best ways to teach your dog to trust you? Talk with one of our trainers and we can help!

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