Thursday, July 14, 2011

Leash reactivity.

Dogs instinctually greet one another in a “C” shape or side by side. It gives them the ability to smell each other’s behinds. This is accepted behavior in the k9 world. It is considered rude and offensive to meet face to face or stare at one another. In the modern doggie world leashes hinder their natural greeting instincts. This can lead to frustration in many dogs.

For example - a dog will see another from a distance. Perhaps it’s across the street while out on their walk. They will look over to see who that “intruder” is. Unfortunately the dog isn’t able to interact with the newcomer. They can only see the other dog. Their natural instinct to be able to go over and smell the other and have a more close contact has been restricted. The “intruder” may look over at the dog. In some cases this can lead to a “stare down”.

The inability to have a more close and personal greeting may make your dog begin to feel insecure. Being “stared” at may kick in their instinctual dislike for such behavior. Your dog finds the staring rude and offensive and pulls forward on it’s leash. Feeling the restriction of the leash brings on frustration. The dog may attempt a couple more tugs but quickly realizes that it’s not accomplishing anything. After some time this frustration begins to build up in your dog any time they see other dogs while on their leash. This is known as conditioned frustration or leash reactivity.

It’s important to remember that just because your dog reacts this way it doesn’t mean they have a dog aggression issue. If your dog is able to play off leash then this is on leash behavior. It is a direct result to the frustration of not having freedom to introduce themselves in a manner more natural to them. Another important thing to point out - this is a dog issue not a breed issue. Any dog Pit Bull or not may react this way.

This can be prevented.
The key is to reinforce a different behavior. This means that your dog is taught to focus on something else instead of the “intruder”. This can be accomplished a few different ways. Commands such as “sit” or “watch me” can be used. If it’s easier to have them perform an action while directing their complete attention on you then a “down-stay“ could be used. Another successful technique is to continue walking while having your dog’s attention focused solely on you. Doing this avoids a possible stare down with another dog.

Timing is crucial.
Avoid stare downs completely. By distracting your dog it eliminates the frustration and anxiety. If you wait until the dog is already showing signs of frustration, lunging, pulling or any other reactive behavior it’s likely your dog will not hear you. Even “look” or “watch me” would likely be ignored at this point.

Good leash manners are key.
Classes designed to teach both dog and owner how to prevent these frustrating situations in the future can be helpful. You will find that the various techniques taught serve very helpful within every day routines. Be sure you have established leadership with your dog. This is an important building block. When your dog feels that you’re in charge it gives them a sense of security in uncomfortable situations. Teaching your dog to listen and react to only you will help keep them calm and focused, even if the other dog is showing signs of reaction. Not only does this better bond the dog owner relationship It’s an impressive example of a dog ambassador in public.

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