Why do so many dogs lunge or bark at certain people? Using the leash for corrections does not attain the behavior you intend. It makes me cringe when I see people pull on the leash and yell “NO!”, but what’s the right way to stop the behavior? The good news, is I have the answers as to why pulling and yelling are not really working.
First, let’s start with a barking dog, but keep in mind these tips will help in any situation.
When your dog is acting aggressive, and is scaring other people and their animals, your first reaction is to punish your dog. Makes sense, right? The answer is yes, and no.
No one wants their dog barking or acting scary, but punishment is not your best option and let’s talk about WHY…
Let’s examine what your dog's body language says about how they are feeling. When they are having a good time, does their face looked relaxed, are his ears up or back, is his tail relaxed and swinging back and forth?
Now let's picture your dog when he is upset and going after another dog in the neighborhood. His lips are snarled, with teeth showing, his ears are back and he is barking. You can tell by his body language that he is not having a good time. Right?
Well, here’s the first thought: You can’t punish a dog for being distressed or upset. It’s nearly impossible to settle a dog who is upset and freaking out over something. If you leave him to settle on his own, it may take forever. To clarify what I’m saying, here’s an example you may be able to relate to. If you brought a huge snake over by me, I would be freaking out. Especially if I was stuck on a leash and couldn’t leave. You could punish me all day, but It wouldn’t stop the panicked feeling I have, until the snake is removed. It the same for our dogs. You can punish them, but it won't stop the feeling they have toward the perceived threat. Makes sense to me!
TIP: Lunging and Barking situations are hard on you and your dog. Being aggressive seems to be working, from your dog's point of view. He barks and lunges, and the other dogs cower and go away! This means that every time your dog sees another dog, he is more likely to use this same tactic. Until you can get your dog, and yourself good training, keep him out of these situations as much as possible.
Now let’s move on…
The second thought is to learn to look for things that affect your dog's behavior and then avoid them. Make it your job to notice at what distance from other dogs or people your dog starts to get nervous. Some things to look for are: appearance, behavior, and the size of other dogs. Depending on how your dog’s day has gone already, will determine his anxiety and stress level. If your dog is happy and relaxed, he might enjoy the company of a play mate. As you watch your dog's behavior patterns, it will become easier to spot his stress triggers and you will be able to stay away. If something happens out of the blue, and your dog does react, get out of the situation as soon as possible. Some people won't agree with your non-punishment approach, but preemptive work is a better solution and will help keep you and your pup happy!
While keeping the two thoughts above in mind, let’s work on fixing the problem. There are two behavior modification strategies you can employ when training your dog not to bark, lunge, and react.
First is Desensitization and Counterconditioning. For this version, start with the mildest form of stimulation for your dog as possible. If he barks at other dogs, start introducing him at a distance to smaller dogs. When he notices the stimulant and starts to react give him a treat before he pays too much attention. Slowly increase the stimulant day after day, all the time providing a treat every time your dog notices the perceived problem. If you correctly use the Desensitization and Counterconditioning method, your dog will eventually become desensitized to the “problem”, and even look forward to seeing other dogs because he knows a treat is on its way!
The second strategy is Constructional Aggression Treatment for Reactive Dogs or CAT. Parts of this treatment have been around for ages, but Kellie Snider and Jesus Rosales-Ruiz have formulated it in a systematic way. The premise of CAT come in two parts. The first, is that with repeated episodes of aggression, dogs learn over time that it will work. As I said before, when your dog starts lunging and barking, the dog on the receiving end usually goes away. The second part is that most dogs are actually friendly. So keeping this in mind, the idea is to get your dog to respond in stressful situations with their friendly sides. To do this trainers use what’s called CAT sessions. In these CAT sessions, the dog who is being trained will be given a mild stressful problem, such as another dog. As soon as the trainee dog starts displaying NON-aggressive behavior, the other dog will be moved away. This practice will teach the trainee dog to use friendly behavior to get other dogs to go away. In some cases, the dogs might even become friends.
Desensitization and Counterconditioning and the CAT program are simple strategies you can now use to help your dog overcome the urge to bark and lunge. How much will your dog improve? It depends on many things such as the trainers skill level, how quickly the reactive dog can learn, and if the owner is motivated to work hard. The key is to just give it a try and see the results!
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