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How do I get my dog to stop worrying about other dogs?
April 30, 2014 6:13 PM   Subscribe

Help me train my dog not to bark at other dogs while we’re walking.

My dog Charlie likes to pull towards and bark at other dogs while we’re walking. I’m new to dog ownership and not well-versed in dog modification methods. I’ll try to give relevant information without writing a novel.

1.) She’s a rescue dog, somewhere around 9 years old. She’s been with me for the past three months.
2.) She’s part rat terrier and part potato, very sweet and submissive, a goofball, and quickly came to believe that I hung the moon and stars.
3.) She came pre-trained for most things like sit, lay down, stay, wait, go, no, ball, etc. and I feel that I haven’t had any issue modifying or reinforcing these inside the home.
4.) She has a great interest in me and what I’m doing, a pretty good interest in my girlfriend (who is a grand dispenser of affection), and a general interest in other human visitors to my house.
5.) She has practically zero interest in other dogs. I have confirmed this through both conversations with her previous foster parent and a play date with another friend’s dog who is a champion play date dog.
6.) Her primary motivators are fetch (tennis balls) and belly rubs. She’s not terribly interested in food. I would wager that if I were holding cooked chicken in one hand and a ball in the other that she’d be staring at the ball and waiting for me to throw it.

If Charlie is off-leash at the ball field and we’re playing fetch she will gladly do whatever it takes to outrun any other dog on the scene so that she can get that ball. If the other dog wants to run alongside, fine. Charlie doesn’t care. She will, if pressed by the other dog, do the barest of butt-sniffing formalities and then come right back looking for the ball. She will snarl or attempt to get snippy if she feels the other dog has too much interest in her or the ball.

If Charlie is off-leash at the park she will frequently run around like a nutso, once again taking the barest minimum time to meet any other dogs she comes across. Only once has she run off barking at some other dog - it came too close to me so she chased it back to its owner, barking the whole time. All other interactions have been met with the barest minimum of interest on her part.

The problem is when we’re doing our daily walks on-leash. If another dog 10 yards away turns to look at her with sufficient interest (meaning not just head turn but alert body posture) then Charlie’s hackles go up and within a second or to she’ll start barking, lunging, and jumping. This is the behavior I wish to correct, or at the least minimize. If the other dog doesn’t even look at her then she usually goes on her way, or maybe raises her hackles but then keeps walking. Her aggressiveness is directly correlated to how much attention the other dog is giving her.

I have tried:
1.) Asking her to sit quietly until the other dog passes and then giving her a treat for good behavior (either dog treats, which she doesn’t have a huge interest in, or belly rubs). Sometimes this works. Sometimes she looks at me patiently and quietly right up until the point where she loses it. This isn't how I'd prefer to do it, though, since my neighborhood is dog-heavy and if we stop for every dog we pass we'll be stopping all the dang time.
2.) Doing my best to guide her several yards away which works until the other dog looks and pulls in her direction at which point she flips out.
3.) Shortening the leash so that she can’t get towards the other dog - this clearly worked against me as now when I shorten the leash for any other reason she starts to get a bit defensive thinking something bark-worthy is coming.

I am unsure what to use as punishment when she acts out like this. I would rather correct this behavior through rewards but the concept of rewarding an absence of behavior is harder for me to work out. I have, when frustrated, tapped her on the head while telling her she’s a bad dog, and it’s clear that she knows this is a physical punishment - she gets extra submissive and pitiful-looking. If she flips out towards another dog and I make her sit and look at me while I tell her she was bad eventually she goes into a bow like, "oh man I’m so sorry let’s just play please play!" and this is the only time I see her do play-bowing so I know she’s trying to say, "Look! I’m good! Let’s just drop that whole thing!"

Hopefully this should be sufficient information to help you diagnose my dog as well as diagnosing me, and for you to prescribe some way to correct her behavior and mine. I’m open to any suggestions that aren’t about beating or otherwise hurting this dog.
posted by komara to Pets & Animals (10 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
 
"1.) Asking her to sit quietly until the other dog passes and then giving her a treat for good behavior (either dog treats, which she doesn’t have a huge interest in, or belly rubs). Sometimes this works. Sometimes she looks at me patiently and quietly right up until the point where she loses it. This isn't how I'd prefer to do it, though, since my neighborhood is dog-heavy and if we stop for every dog we pass we'll be stopping all the dang time."

It may be frustrating but this is exactly what you should be doing.

You should also try taking that adorable potato terrier to obedience classes. It will teach you other methods to redirect her when she displays this behavior. Call around your area describing you and your dog. You should be able to find the right trainer to fit both of your needs.

Please please please do not punish her, it will not help the situation at all.
posted by Requiax at 6:54 PM on April 30 [1 favorite]


#1 is basically the "leave it" command. It's a tough one but you're on the right track.

I'd experiment with some really smelly treats to use just for training - someone at the pet store can help you pick some different ones.

It sounds like she came with a good set of basic obedience skills. Have you thought about taking her to maybe a Level 2 training class? I was actually really impressed with the course my dog and I took at Petco. It was only like $100 for 6 weeks but we learned a lot and I highly recommend it.
posted by radioamy at 6:58 PM on April 30


Wait, you're in New Orleans right? I took my dog to the Petco on Tchoup. If Lee is still there, she's great.
posted by radioamy at 7:01 PM on April 30


Aw, what a cutie. I'm seeing more eggplant than potato, but with mutts its always hard to tell.

A few suggestions: "Watch me" (self-explanatory) and "touch" (dog touches your open palm with their nose) are good commands to teach (and very easy for most dogs to learn). You want to have a command that gives the dog something to do/someplace to look/engage their brain focusing on something besides the other dog. Google those two for specifics on how to get started training the commands.

Start working on these two commands in a distraction-free environment. When your dog can consistently focus their gaze on you and hold it, and consistently and quickly touches your palm, then move up to asking for these commands while you're on the move. "Watch me" is great because you can get your dog to focus their eyes on you while you all are still moving forward rather than sitting still (waiting for bad stuff to happen). "Touch" can also be used while continuing to move forward.

The point is to give your dog something "good" to do rather than trying to stop them from doing the bad thing (and the "good" behavior will also help keep them from focusing on the potential threat). This is a basic principle that you can use when trying to train a dog out of any sort of bad habit, like barking at doorbells or jumping up on strangers. Rather then telling them "don't do the bad thing" tell them "here, do this good thing."

If your dog is more toy-motivated than food motivated, my other suggestion would be offer distraction by carrying a tennis ball on a Chuck-it (in essence, replacing "look at me" with "look at this awesome tennis ball on a stick!").
posted by drlith at 7:01 PM on April 30 [4 favorites]


Feisty Fido is basically a short book about what drlith just said. It has pretty much completely solved our leash-reactivity problem, and I can't tell you how much that has improved quality of life at both ends of the leash.
posted by juliapangolin at 7:46 PM on April 30 [3 favorites]


I have a Rat Terrier that did exactly the same thing though throw in a death curdling yodel into the mix that sounded like I was strangling him as he tried to get to the other dog. I was taught the following by a dog trainer we went to about the problem.

You need to train your dog to "Let's Go." That means ignore whatever has got it's attention and keep walking. It is pretty easy to do, you start with anything the dog is smelling while out walking. "Come on Dog Let's Go." And start walking off confidently & briskly with your dog following behind you, you may have to tug lightly on the lead a few times to get it to get the idea, lots of praise and treats the second the dog follows. Keep working on it and building it up to more stressful/distracting things.

When you see a strange dog approaching, you don't break stride, you can quietly shorten the lead if possible but only enough to keep your dog from being able to reach the other dog, keep on walking with a firm but cheerful "Let's go." Keep your gaze looking ahead, put your body between your dog and the other dog so that they are not approaching each other face first, dogs do not approach each other face first except as a sign of aggression, try and arc around the other dog and keep on walking briskly but firmly. You are trying to instill in your dog that the approaching dog is not it's problem, you have it all under control and it's not the dogs business to do anything about it. It's basically a "Leave it" while on the move. Doing the same thing with a "Look at me" while still walking is the same principle. You can then reward your dog for not reacting with a pat and a good boy and a treat or two, anytime your dog is calm around something that usually sets him of reward him.

We tried the stopping and distracting method a lot of people recommend, it made it worse for us because he read it as OMG the scary thing is now approaching and I have to sit her as it gets closer and closer and it might eat me and would freak out, and our other dog that walks with us took to sitting at random intervals hoping for pats and treats and complete chaos insued. By keeping moving and keeping it as it's no big deal we helped break him of the problem. We did have problems with him being a Rattie in that he would "lock" onto moving objects like they were prey and would be very hard to get his attention so we had to add another step to get his attention first, but you don't seem to have that problem.

If you google Reactive Dogs or Leash Reactive dogs you can find a lot of good info.
posted by wwax at 7:51 PM on April 30


The waiting and giving of rewards really worked with my sister's dog, who had a tendency to go insane when seeing other dogs on the leash because he wanted to run and play with them. But instead of giving her just one treat when she's waiting quietly for a dog to go by, reward her with a treat every time she glances at that dog without barking. Wait for her to glance, and before she can bark say YES!!! and give her a treat. If you have to give her twenty tiny treats, do it. She'll get it.

If you can find something that she likes as a "high-value" treat -- something yummy that will catch her attention more than the usual treat -- use that.
posted by OolooKitty at 8:19 PM on April 30


The behaviour you are describing is a kind of Polite Passing issue in that the dog should not be focused on the other dog, but rather on you. Get a clicker and apply clicker training with treats or rubs. (My dog trainer uses a modified version of the technique in that article for the same problem with our dog. And with us, since most dog training failures are mostly people failures!)
posted by DarlingBri at 2:25 AM on May 1


Thank you all very much for your responses! I never thought to put together the words 'leash reactive' and search for that - I just kind of assumed my dog was being idiotic in a unique way. Even if I had, though, I wouldn't have known which resources to trust so I value your input.

A few specific replies:

Requiax: "It may be frustrating but this is exactly what you should be doing."

I don't think it's nearly as frustrating once I understand that this is the route I should be taking. My frustration comes mostly from not knowing if what I'm attempting to train is going to show results.

drlith: "A few suggestions: "Watch me" (self-explanatory) and "touch" (dog touches your open palm with their nose) are good commands to teach (and very easy for most dogs to learn). You want to have a command that gives the dog something to do/someplace to look/engage their brain focusing on something besides the other dog."

This is the kind of wording I needed to help understand how to train the absence of a (bad) behavior - putting something else in its place. I wasn't sure that was the right way to do it but 'watch' and 'touch' seem pretty good substitutes.

wwax: "We did have problems with him being a Rattie in that he would "lock" onto moving objects like they were prey and would be very hard to get his attention so we had to add another step to get his attention first, but you don't seem to have that problem."

Ha ha ha oh man but do I ever. She doesn't lock on other dogs but she sure as hell would like to eat every duck she sees on the bayou and god help any squirrel she should ever catch. I'll take these locks as opportunities to try distracting her and teaching her to pay attention to me for reward in non-threatening situations.

And in conclusion:

juliapangolin: "Feisty Fido is basically a short book about what drlith just said. It has pretty much completely solved our leash-reactivity problem, and I can't tell you how much that has improved quality of life at both ends of the leash."

Both you and my IRL friend to whom I emailed a link to this question (and apparently drlith as well) recommended this book specifically - my copy shipped this morning and I hope to see it soon.

I appreciate all of your advice and I'm glad to know that the answer isn't punishment but rewarding alternate behavior. She's been pretty quick on the uptake with the few other small things I've taught her so fingers crossed that this one will go smoothly.
posted by komara at 7:01 AM on May 1 [1 favorite]


Last night - armed with both confidence that I was doing the right thing as well as a bag of the treat type that Charlie hasn't seen in weeks - we set off on our evening walk. I made her sit patiently for five different dogs to pass (a strangely low number) and we had zero barks. I know that my ease in the situation translated to her being at ease so that was great.

We did have to pass one dog who was off-leash and being restrained by its owner which meant we couldn't just wait for them to pass us. I offered Charlie a treat before we got there and tried to keep her attention on me but she gave a single bark and a halfhearted lunge.

Still, far better than previous walks.

The book arrived today so I look forward to learning more tonight.

Thanks again - your suggestions and reassurances translated directly to a calmer owner and calmer dog.
posted by komara at 1:04 PM on May 2 [1 favorite]


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