Well nothing is wrong with that dog that cannot be fixed.
What do I mean – how can I say that…the dog is bad isn’t it? No the dog is not bad…it simply has never been offered other options, no one has told it in a language that it can understand what else it should do.Most dog to dog or dog to people reactivity is simply a symptom of insecurity and fear. The dog has not had the support it needs to be a happy, psychologically well balanced canine. Sometimes this is compounded by the fact that the dog has suffered abuse as my Boxer Robbie did, abuse and neglect. Neglect is not just failing to provide adequate water, food and shelter; neglect can also be failing to meet the dog’s psychology needs and physical needs including exercise. But let’s be fair, failure to meet the dog’s psychology needs so often occurs unintentionally – it just happens because people do not realize that they are creating a problem.
And by the way – most of my client’s dogs are not a fraction as bad as the client thinks the dog is. Usually the reactivity is primarily show and when the issue is properly addressed resolution is rapid!
A – Your dog may have been attacked and physically harmed by another dog or visa versa;
B – Your dog growled at another dog (or visa versa) and you pulled your dog away and quickly left the scene;
C – Your dog was playing with another dog – the other dog was rough and persistent, you dog was intimidated and you became fearful, no one told the other dog (in the right way) to calm down, you pulled your dog away and left the scene upset;
D – You never had the opportunity to socialize your dog with other dogs and when you tried your dog was to ‘enthusiastic’;
In any case you were likely caught off-guard. You probably became emotional – upset, fearful, stressed, excited- anxious, even angry. You may have pulled your dog back or picked it up if it was a small dog. You probably separated the two dogs and parted ways while everyone was still upset. As our dogs look to us for direction your unintended reaction reinforced your dog’s state. You led by example – the wrong example. Not your fault – it is natural for people to do this. It told him my human feels the same way I do so I am justified in feeling that I should be excited, aggressive reactive. Everyone parted in a less than balanced state-of-being. The situation was not resolved back to calm socialization – normality. Your dog now feels a sense of insecurity and associates other dogs with that feeling.
Or you may have an adopted dog that arrived with this issue…
E – You have a rescued dog that was neglected, not socialized and/or physically or psychologically abused.
SECOND – IT IS VERY IMPORTANT TO UNDERSTAND THAT SYMPTOMS NEVER EXIST IN ISOLATION
What do I mean? Well reactivity of a dog towards another dog is only a symptom of a bigger issue. The issue is usually lack of leadership in the dog’s life, which results in fear and insecurity. There are normally other symptoms too – many people just don’t realize what those symptoms are. A symptom can be as simple as any one of the following:
A – your dog bolting down the stairs in front of you or bolting out the back door to the yard;
B – your dog grabbing food as it drops to the floor, food you did not want it to have, but you can’t take the food away as your dog ‘does not like that’;
C – your dog owning the door and guests as people arrive to visit;
D – your dog destroys – owns – kills its toys;
E – your dog habitually pulls on the leash;
F – your dog will not allow you to clip its nails, clean its ears, etc.
G – the way you and your dog step out the door to go on your walk. Your dog may be excited the second you pull out its leash, it may be pacing and panting and jumping. You snap the leash to the collar and your dog is pressed against the door as you lean over to reach the door knob. As you do your dog pulls you out the door and down the steps. You have just set the framework for who is in control of the walk; you have just lost your right to leadership.
There are many, many other symptoms that may be present one or multiple, but every symptom feeds the next symptom…and each must be addressed to truly cure the issue. Dogs require leaders who can coach and mentor them from a state of fair, firm, clear and directive communication. By doing so we enable the best in our dog as we lead by the real example we want the dog to follow. Dogs, just like people must be socialized, and shown ways to navigate through situations in a way that they can feel safe, normal, calm and confident. If you are dominating, angry, tense, aggressive, fearful – emotive rather than engaged in calm, confident logic you simply confirm to your dog that the situation calls for reactivity.
You should also understand that the way that a dog assigns respect is not that different than how a person assigns respect. Dogs do not like hypocrisy any more than people do.
THIRD – IT IS IMPORTANT TO UNDERSTAND THAT A DOG IS ALWAYS WILLING TO CHANGE ITS WAYS
Because dogs live in the moment it is easier to change a dog’s ‘bad habits’ than it is a human’s. Humans carry grudges, dogs do not, they form associations with places, things, animate and inanimate objects. Dogs are very forgiving and treat each day, each experience as a new beginning. It is only with difficulty that we are able to convince, permit and allow ourselves to do the same.
I use this extensively to work with dogs who are in various states of psychological stress, I train their people to do the same.
When we take courage and decide to meet a situation head on with logic and common sense rather than emotion we lead by example and not only help ourselves to grow but give others the opportunity to have courage too. We normalize the experience and learn to thrive on challenge rather than crumble in the face of crisis and stress. We learn to take one step at a time and refuse to be overwhelmed…we gain courage we learn how to strategically react as opposed to just being reactive.
Of course we cannot always react in the first immediacy of an event with perspective. Our mind may take seconds, hours, days to go through the fight, flight, avoid, submit process…but overtime we can learn to evolve our habitual response to crises from a primarily raw reactive state to a considered state.
Patience, persistence, determination and will are key to success.
To rehabilitate a human who has acute anxieties, fears or phobias they must be allowed to face their fears, they must be shown a method to cope so their fears can be neutralized. The same is so for dogs.
For example, if a dog had a bad experience at a certain place and left that place frightened he will always associate that place with a feeling of fright. If you work with the dog you can change how the dog associates and reacts to that person, place or thing.
This builds a dog’s confidence and reduces insecurity and fear. When we do the opposite, avoid dealing with the situation we enable insecurity – we so not foster normalization and we support psychological damage.
Observe yourself and your dog when it starts to react (bark, growl, pull) when it sees another dog. Who started this? Was it you that triggered the reaction – are you tense?…is the other dog reactive? If you are tense you are creating the situation. If you are not tense than is the other dog reactive (excitable or a little aggressive) – if it is, your dog is simply reading the energy of the other dog and reacting to it.
Irregardless of the cause you need to address the situation. If you are the cause you now know what to do – relax! If the other dog is the problem – then coach your dog. Disagree the second she barks or growls. Do this by a) be calm, confident b) touch her neck firmly, quickly and say ‘no’ c) then tell her what you want her to do instead…i.e. ‘sit’.
SIXTH – DOGS HAVE SEVERAL TYPES OF ENERGY
I always say that dogs have two types of energy;
A – their daily quota of energy, and;
B – if they have not had enough exercise on a regular daily basis they can have stored energy in addition to daily energy;
They can also have a third type of energy – anxious energy! If your dog has anxiety issues it may also have nervous energy which results in chewing objects or itself, scratching itself, etc.
Dogs need to expend their energy to feel relaxed and calm. You cannot expect a dog with unspent energy to be focused and ‘reasonable’, happy or balanced. Dogs need to expend their energy on a regular (daily) basis.
Just as we would find it difficult to settle down if we were revved up, so to do dogs – even more so. Unspent energy can lead to frustration making a dog more reactive.
Just imagine how upsetting and frustrating this is for the dog. Yet the dog has never stopped trying…even though it was often reviled by its humans for being bad!
In the absence of direction the dog has little choice but to make up its own rules.
I never use prong collars, but I do use martingale collars to ensure that a dog is never put in danger of slipping its collar. Should you be near traffic or the dog be very reactive (i.e. dog and human aggressive) you want to make sure that the collar does not come off and the dog be put in further psychological trauma via lose of control leading to physical harm. I would not use a harness on these guys at this point. Use a half check martingale collar (with chain) or soft pull martingale collar (depending on the dog) or a double collar. If you are unsure what these collars look like just follow the link imbedded in the collar type – these types of collars are available at many pet stores.
I always bring extra martingales with me when I go to a client’s home for a session with a reactive dog – most people use standard side release collars that may accidentally slip off their dog’s head. If they use a prong collar with their dog, I take it off and work with a martingale. I then teach them to work without ever using a prong again.
THREE – I can tell you that from my point of view the #1 tool, the first place to start is with psychology of the dog’s humans.
I usually spend the first 30 minutes to 60 minutes of a four hour session just dealing with the human’s issues – which trigger the dog’s issues. When we humans start to accumulate nervousness pertaining to our dogs in certain situations (i.e. our dog going up to another dog) we teach them to associate that situation with tension, nervousness, fear, insecurity…this is why dogs become reactive. Our dogs read our body language…our thoughts translate directly and instantaneously to our bodies. The second you feel tension, your body shows it…compression of your lips, tension around your eyes, your shoulders – your dog knows how you feel before you are aware of how you feel! You must relax and normalize so your dog can too.
FOUR – I teach the person to make the future different than the past. You must let the past go – must not anticipate that the past will and must repeat itself – let it go from your mind (to all intents and purposes…respect it but leave it|). This allows them to stop tensing, this allows the dog to stop tensing. This allows the human and the dog to leave the past behind and its unpleasant associations and move forward.
FIVE – Ensure that you provide full leadership to your dog within your house.
If you do not have your dog’s respect in the house (a relatively controlled environment!) you are never going to have control of your dog when outside. Leadership in everything is important – leave a gap and it will grow!
SIX – Please use the right leash length! No 6′ foot leashes, no extensible leashes – those are for dogs that are in a balanced state! Use a 3′ to 4′ leash. This provides enough slack to be comfortable and hold the leash in a firm but relaxed manor. A 2′ leash is just anticipating trouble – it tells the humans to be nervous, which tells the dogs to be nervous.
SEVEN – How you go out of the house with your dog matters! You must have control of your dog at every step of the way. This sets the framework for behaviour on the walk. So…
A – Your dog needs to be, calm and quiet before you secure its leash to its collar;
B – After you attach the leash and are ready to go, stand-up straight – your posture should be upright, confident, not tense – check your shoulders, arms and how you hold the leash in your hands. If you are gripping the leash with tension, if your arms and shoulders are stiff with apprehension and tension you are giving your dog a message – you are communicating that you are not in control of yourself and therefore you cannot be in a leadership position with your dog. You are enabling stress, anxiety, insecurity on your dog.
C – Your dog is behind you before you open the door;
D– Your dog stays behind you as you walk out the door (and down the steps);
E – Your dog is either behind or beside you across the lawn (pathway) and out to the sidewalk.
EIGHT – Learn to observe and read your dog. Don’t anticipate but you must strategically address when behaviour starts. If you anticipate you will spark the incident. Instead just observe your dog’s body language. If you see that your dog is starting to fixate – disagree before the behaviour escalates.
To disagree – be calm confident and touch your dog quickly, firmly with the tips of your fingers at its waist or neck (this is giving the dog a quick nip to to say ‘I want your attention’ and don’t do that’) after reinforce by saying ‘uh’, ‘no’, ‘shh’, hey’ which ever vocalization works best for you. Make sure the intensity of the touch and your voice matches the intensity of the dog – but do not match its state…be calm, self-aware, self-restrained, self-disciplined, grounded = deliberately directive in the right way.
NINE – Timing is everything. Catch the behaviour early, before it escalates, provide direction once and be consistent.
A – Learn to catch your dog’s attention, correct and redirect before your dog’s behaviour escalates. If you are addressing a dog to get its attention and redirect/correct it before it starts to fix its attention on another dog. Observe your dog, if its gaze is casual that is fine, but the second your dog’s gaze intensifies – disagree! Don’t wait until your dog has completely fixated and then escalated. You do not need to use as much energy as you would if the dog had already escalated to barking, growling, pulling. If the dog has already passed that point and is reactive you will need more energy behind your action to stop your dog’s behaviour.
B – You have to disagree with behaviour the split second the behaviour occurs. Dogs live in the moment – if you try to address the behaviour 30 seconds after it has occurred you make it very difficult for your dog to understand what you are disagreeing to.
TEN – Consistency is very important too. You need to be consistent about addressing the behaviour – don’t let any unwanted behaviour go undressed as this leads to the elastic band scenario…’I got away with it this time so I can do so again…in fact I was able to exhibit the behaviour four times before my human said anything’. And when you did take action it was only to say ‘uh’ and you said ‘uh’ or ‘hey’, etc. four times before you got serious about it. And the next tie I exhibited the behaviour my human didn’t bother to say anything. The following time my human got off his butt and said something. So your dog knows he can maybe get away with the behaviour at the very least until you have repeated yourself four times….elastic band.
ELEVEN – Match your dog’s intensity but not your dog’s state. Don’t ever match your dog’s state – emotion on emotion creates more emotion and can create fire! Be the polar opposite, disengage your emotions. Never, ever try to stop aggressive behaviour from an angry or tense state of being – you just reinforce the aggression in your dog as you are in the same state as the dog. Do not look to dominate your dog, but instead to coach and mentor it. To coach and mentor you must be calm, patent and confident.
TWELVE – Engage your working mode. Working mode must be calm, confident, assertive, directive…no emotion, no anticipating and imagining that the dogs will behave badly. Instead you must feel with every fibre of your being the expectation that your dogs will listen to you…that is leadership.
THIRTEEN – If you or your dog is not calm – STOP. I see so many people keep moving forward when their dog is not calm, when they (the person) are not calm. Stop, get your dog calm and then continue moving. If your dog is reacting and you keep walking you are telling your dog it’s OK to behave as you are. Stop regain control and then move forward. Techniques for calming and redirecting are noted below.
FOURTEEN – Don’t, engage in an argument with your dog and don’t whine! If you expect trouble you will get trouble…your dog can feel if you are anticipating an argument, instead remember to think I direct, my dog listens and that is it! Be 100% committed – your dog knows when you are not. Your dog knows when he has an edge to manipulate and control. Be fair, but be determined.
Tugging and pulling, yelling – it’s all an argument. This is a psychological test of wills – make sure your will is greater and comes from a place of confidence and strength of commitment.
Don’t dig your heals-in. If you rely on physical force alone you will not win and your dog will shut down – not listen to you. Work with your state of mind – psychology is more powerful than physical force. If you don’t believe me look at it this way…
I am 5’-4” tall and do not weigh very much. I walk 10 dogs at a time all leashes clipped to my leash belt. If the dogs see a squirrel, a fox, a deer pass by in front of us there is no way I can physically restrain them. I have been weight lifting for years and am in good shape…but there is no way I could even hold back two of the German Shepherds, let alone the Boxer if they fixate and want to go. My control over them has to be primarily psychological – earned as respect from a position of true leadership. State-of-mind is everything! Size does not matter.
SO, NOW YOU SHOULD BE READY TO START
Every dog and its person are individuals so every case is different. What works for one dog may not work for another. There are some dogs whose senses are flooded/over-whelmed by voice so using your body to communicate works better for them. There are some dogs who see touch as engagement – an invitation to fight, be hyper, for them voice may be better or simply herding them or taking over their space.
- I may (at first) get the dog I am working with to sit as the other dog walks by.
- Calm and redirect…I may block and redirect the dog by turning his nose away from the other dog (with my hand). I ‘block’ to reset the dog’s focus-redirect-correct. Blocking and refocusing is done with touch and position of my body, sound (snap of my fingers, click sound made by my mouth, ”shh’ etc.). It depends on the dog and what works for it. No tension on the leash, no tension in my body, no tension in my mind. Repeat all until the dog I am working with changes his association of another dog = tension & threat, to another dog = normal, acceptable. I may walk the two dogs together to get the one dog to work with the other to change the association.
- While doing all of this my client watches and sees that their dog can behave in another manner if coached/mentored by their human to do so = dogs human must learn to stop being tense, stop being fearful, stop anticipating bad outcomes, stop feeding and nurturing the situation…be calm, direct, correct, follow through, normalize.
- Your dog need’s to leave the situation:
- One – not having dominated the situation;
- Two – calm and behaving in a socially acceptable manner;
- Your dog will start to understand that:
- One – reactive behaviour is not acceptable;
- Two – that the outcome will always be the same – calm, social interaction will be accepted, any other behaviour will be addressed and corrected.
- Remember patience is very important – be patient with your dog and yourself!
If a dog is extremely/dangerously reactive as my Boxer Robbie was then you really need to enlist the help of a professional. Please do not go to some one who ‘trains’ dogs with treat rewards as there sole solution to everything, please do not go to someone who uses domination as their primary method of correction. Please seek the help of a professional that works with the psychology of dogs and humans to resolve the problem.
The tools to rehabilitate your dog’s behaviour should include: psychology (human and canine), state-of-being in combination with a collar that will not accidentally slip over and off of your dogs head and that is it. This works well for me. It is also a very powerful motivator for you as you will see what is possible with a little understanding and the right communication. I find that most dogs that are reactive are simply like that as they are misunderstood and miss communicated to. I have a lot of success turning this around in one four hour session with the dog and its humans. Cases that may look very bad are so very often very simple. Changing the human’s habits is the biggest challenge!
There are, of course dogs whose condition is worse (like Robbie’s was) in which case adherence to great patience, persistence, commitment, sensitivity, insight and instinct over time is key…change may be slow to start, but builds exponentially.