I receive a lot of calls and emails from dog owners telling me their dog is fearful of other dogs or people. They describe their dog’s behaviour as barking, lunging and growling on lead, and explain how embarrassing it is to walk them: getting to the point where they don’t enjoy their walks anymore. They want to know how to change their dog’s behaviour.
Yes, some of these people’s dogs will have a dog that is genuinely fearful of other dogs, people or environments, however I think the ‘fear’ word is now the go-to assumption for any dog that is acting out. As the term dominance gradually fades out of the dog world (thankfully and about time!) people are now trying to come up with another term to explain ‘unruly’ behaviour.
I see many ‘reactive’ dogs that bark and lunge and look ferocious; however, these dogs are actually really frustrated and by choice want to approach the dog or person they are shouting at. I am by no means advising to let these dogs approach until you have sought professional, qualified help: however, can you imagine living a life where the things you get the most pleasure from are always restricted? You shout really loudly “I want that” but your person simply doesn’t understand and pulls you away. This is turn increases the frustration and the circle continues…
For those frustrated souls (and in fact all dogs) you want to look at how much frustration they have to deal with on a daily basis at home? Do they get to make some choices? For example, show them 3 different toys and let them pick their favourite? Or giving them options on what treats to use? How about letting them choose which route to go on a walk? How much mental enrichment do they get e.g. trick training, nose work and appropriate chasing games?
Does your dog choose to interact with you when outside or are they constantly looking for something more fun to do? If your answer is ‘yes’ to the second option, you need to make a few changes if not your dog will always be looking somewhere else for their joy. Also see previous blog about “Are we getting puppy socialisation wrong?” and add to that the idea that we spend so much time showing our dogs how much fun other people and dogs are, it actually doesn’t set realistic expectations of how your dog should behave on a walk. It’s makes them think everyone wants to be their best friend and they become very frustrated when they cannot interact.
I want to challenge you to think a bit more from your dog’s perspective and see if some of the routines you have can be amended to focus more on what your dog chooses.
Let me know how you get on, be creative and most importantly, have fun!