My mom and sister's dog Winnie Bear is very dog reactive when she's on a lease. And we're positive it's because she's terrified of running into another dog when she's on a lease. She's great with Pixie, but any dog she sees on a lease she goes into full panic mode. It may not appear that way by her smile or waging tail, but underneath this front she doesn't know how to handle the situation of running into another dog. And she wasn't always good about Pixie either, they had to build up a lot of trust before Winnie was fine to be left alone with Pixie. So what do you do when your dog is terrified of other dogs? Especially when trying to take them for a walk.
Tip #1: Don't Punish the Dog
The first thing people often do when a dog is exhibiting aggressive behavior such as growling, lunging, or baring their teeth is they punish the dog. This is actually the opposite of what you're supposed to do. They are doing this behavior for a reason, it's their warning to other dogs to back off because they are uncomfortable.
- Keep your dog calm and focused on you throughout the walk so they don't have time to be looking around at all the things you may pass by.
- Create positive associations with your dog's typical triggers. Go from being scared or anxious about the oncoming dog knowing what your dog will do. Be excited and positive about it. They'll read your body language and understand over time that it's something positive rather than something negative.
- If at all possible, avoid situations that will put your dog over their comfort zone.
In order to do this though you need to know what your dog's triggers are and what motivates them. As you can use that motivation to distract them past the obstacles that trigger them. For instance, Winnie loves her stuffed pig so we bring that on walks with her or treats and use them as the distraction or motivation to walk past over dogs. Another thing we do is create distance between Winnie and other dogs. Even if it's a puppy that's half the size of her head, she's scared so we create distance so she's comfortable with the situation again.
Now another thing that you really should do when your dog is reactive when on walks or just in general to dogs is to take them to a trainer. We are going to be taking Winnie Bear to a class that specializes in this topic. It's a six week program where you work with your dog to get them over their fears of other dogs. I'll let you know how that goes when Winnie starts the class next month.