Adrienne is a certified dog trainer, former veterinary assistant, and author of the online dog training course "Brain Training for Dogs."
"But My Dog Behaves Perfectly at Home!"
''My dog obeys perfectly at home and in the yard, but once we take him outside and he sees other dogs, all the work we have done goes down the drain.''
As a dog trainer, I hear this complaint quite often, and I can literally perceive a sense of despair. The dog may be dragging the owner by his leash, or he may be barking, jumping, and simply going nuts. Often, dog owners want to make a point that their dog is in no way acting aggressively, but that he is simply too excited and cannot contain himself. However, other dog owners may not be aware of this, and they may, therefore, as a precaution, walk to the other side of the road.
But how can you stop this lunging behavior once and for all? Thankfully, there are some effective strategies, but ultimately, there are no shortcuts. Pull your sleeves up and get ready for several weeks of some intense training.
How to Stop All That Excited Lunging
Stopping your dog from lunging excitedly will save your back, your arms, and yourself from potential falls. If you own a 'bully breed,'' one of those breeds that are negatively stereotyped these days due to bad press, you may also want to save the breed's reputation. Following are some strategies to stop all the excited lunging.
Strategy #1: Enroll in Classes
Classes are not crafted only for training a dog to obey commands such as sit, lay down, and heel. They offer the perfect setting for teaching a dog to be under control around strong distractions. Pulling on the leash is one of the most common problems dogs owners encounter, and often, the pulling is towards other dogs. A dog can be trained to obey wonderfully in the home and yard, but it is near other dogs that owners realize how much more training the dog need. It is said that dogs are well under stimulus control when the three D's are added these are distance, duration, and distractions. We will see how to incorporate these training essentials with your excited dog.
Strategy #2: Work Under the Threshold
What is the threshold? Dog trainers use this term to depict that fine line where your dog is no longer capable of obeying your commands and appears to no longer have a brain. When your dog reaches this point of no return, you can try to pull, yank, shout and even dangle a juicy piece of steak as much as you can, but it does not seem to make its way to your dog's brain. It almost looks like all the circuits are off and the brain is unplugged. In order to resume some reasoning, therefore you need to work under the threshold.
Strategy #3: Take a Step Back
If your dog is too revved up to listen to your commands, you are exposing her too close to the other dogs. You really need to step back a bit to regain some control. Keeping her too close to other dogs creates three different problems:
- By walking your dog very close to other dogs, your dog feels more compelled to fulfill its desire. This means that the likelihood of your being pulled and dragged is much higher and the other dogs are more likely to come closer. The more your dog gets to pull or the more other dogs come closer, the more your dog will be rewarded. Rewards tend to reinforce behavior, and therefore, the behavior will put roots and become hard to extinguish over time. Your dog's mind will reason this way '' pulling makes me meet and mingle with other dogs, and therefore, I will continue to behave this way''. This creates a vicious cycle that is hard to extinguish.
- Walking your dog too close to other dogs will ultimately put up your dog to fail, while you really want to put your dog up for success. Working your dog over the threshold, will not help your dog learn anything other than bad behaviors. Dogs learn best when they are put into a situation where they can cognitively function.
- Walking your dog too close to other dogs may make you feel compelled to increase your level of authority to make your point across. This means you will feel the need to take bigger steps than usual to stop your dog from misbehaving. Therefore, you may feel like yelling, yanking the leash, and even resorting to aversive methods to stop your dog in its tracks. However, since the shouting, yelling, and yanking do not work once your dog is aroused, you are basically burning important lifelines, and basically teaching your dog to not pay attention to them.
Therefore, it would help greatly if you work on finding a distance from where your dog is better under control and not too aroused. It will not matter if the distance is 5 feet, 15 feet, 50 feet, or even 80 feet. Once found the distance, you will work from there and try asking some focus commands.
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Strategy #4: Teach ''Watch Me''
"Watch me" can be easily taught using high-value treats. The treats need to be significant enough to beat the distractions. These can be sliced hot dogs, slices of ham, cheese, freeze-dried liver, parts of steak, or grilled chicken. Use a treat pouch around your waist and practice this exercise at home and in your yard:
- Make a smacking noise with your mouth as if you are giving kisses. This will not mean anything to your dog right now, therefore according to Pavlov, it will be a ''neutral stimulus.'' However, we will give it value in step 2.
- Immediately after making the smacking noise take a treat in your hand and place it near your eyes. This will make your dog look you in the eyes.
- Immediately, give the treat as soon as your dog makes eye contact. You can gradually add duration to this exercise by keeping the treat at eye level longer. Repeat this exercise several times, until your dog automatically makes eye contact when you make the smacking noise. This means the neutral stimulus (the smacking noise) now means that ''yummy food is coming!'' and therefore has transformed into a ''conditioned stimulus." Welcome to Pavlov's marvelous world of classical conditioning!
Now is the time to add distractions, but at a low level under the threshold. Start applying the "watch me" command on quiet roads, parks, and then areas where dogs are walked. As soon as you notice your dog acknowledges another dog, make a noise with your mouth and ask for ''watch me.'' If your dog is not paying attention to you, it means you are too close. Put your dog up for success and work farther away. When your dog complies, deliver the treat and start very gradually to work practice with closer distances.
Expect some setbacks; they are normal. When they happen, go back a few steps and work from a greater distance. It is best if this exercise is initially done with calm dogs that do not create too much excitement. When you are at a point where your dog is responding well, you can try these focus exercises with dogs who are more on the hyper side. Remember that every time you are adding strong distractions, you should work from a greater distance since it is harder for the dog.
Strategy # 5: Apply Grandma's Law
Remember that each and every time your dog lunges and is rewarded by interacting with other dogs, the behavior scores high and you are losing points in training. Not allowing your dog to pull and interact with other dogs, however, does not mean he cannot play with his favorite buddies anymore. He can and should, but from now on it will be on your own terms. You can therefore introduce Grandma's Law: ''You can have cake, only if you eat your broccoli first.''
How does this apply to dog training? Basically, ''you can play with Buddy only after you heel or sit nicely.'' So let's say you are in the park and your dog sees Buddy. Lunging and pulling will not take your dog to Buddy, but heeling will. There is a saying that dogs have an opposition reflex; in other words, they tend to pull when pressure is put on their collar. Well, humans can have an opposition reflex as well. Every time your dog pulls, you stop moving, when the leash is slack, you keep moving. If your dog keeps on pulling he will get nowhere. If you are stubborn enough, he will eventually learn. Before snapping his leash off to play, remember to have him sit.
A Helpful Tool
To save your arm, you may want to invest in a good training tool such as Premier's Easy Walk harness. Please remember that no training tool should be used as a replacement for training. Tools are just tools, and therefore are insignificant without training.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
© 2011 Adrienne Farricelli
UnGlued on October 04, 2017:
My pit/lab is insane. He tries to chew through the fence to get to the dogs on the other side of the fence. He screams and barks with teeth flaring. The vet won't give him Prozac until he sees a behaviourist... I don't have $$ for that..lol . I give him melatonin and benedril every once n a while and natural supplements give him the sh@#s. Help me :0)