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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
I think the more appropriate title would be fearful puppy.
So, I have a 7 month old Border Collie Lab cross. Lately he’s been developing some reactivity while on leash. At first I thought it was just with dogs, but now it has spead to people.
The first incident was when he was 5 months old. We were walking pass a girl which was standing on the side of the road with her Shih-tzu. He started barking and slightly pulling me towards the dog, but nothing overly serious and I brushed it off.
After that, he reacted to some dogs just by stiffening and giving a bark. To some dogs he didn’t react at all (eg. A dog barking from the car, behind the fence etc.). But a few weeks ago he threw a full tantrum while we were just about to walk out of our yard-a dog with his owner was approaching, and mine started lunging, barking and growling. I tried to pull him back in the yard, but he kept pulling be after the dog, even after he stopped his tantrum and the other dog moved away. There were a few other similar but smaller incidents.
The thing that made me believe it was fear was when we were walking through a narrow passage. We were walking in one direction, and a girl was walking towards us. He had already seen that girl, so she was not a complete stranger. A tantrum again-bark bark growl growl lunge lunge. The same girl 10 minutes later on a road-come play with me!
I’ve been given advice to let him meet other dogs while off leash, but this seems quite counter intuitive to me. What if he tries to attack other dogs? With spring coming, I hope there will be more dogs on the local field (no dog park nearby). What should I be doing? Long leash, no leash, short leash, no going on the field?
This is my first dog, and I am really hoping someone could give me some more advice!
 

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Definitely leash reactivity. That's about the age Quill's reactivity started. If your dog plays well with other dogs off leash, he could just be leash reactive -- that's how Quill is. I've never seen him act anything other than appropriately with other dogs off leash, but on leash he is a hot growling, barking, lunging mess for dogs, bikes, and people.

The training forum has a lot of great information about reactivity (try this). I saw a trainer who had a reactivity-specific class because I had no idea how to handle it either, since I had never met a reactive dog. Quill is a quick learner so he figured out it was a class with the same people and dogs and maybe didn't benefit as much from it, but I learned how to be a confident handler and how to appropriately deal with it, so if you have something like that it might be a good idea.

Reactive dogs tend to have a threshold where once over that threshold, it is a lot harder to intervene and stop the barking/lunging/growling. You have to learn to keep them at a distance that allows them to stay under threshold while you work on reactivity, and build up to being able to walk close to other dogs and people. Learning to recognize signs of discomfort is invaluable. Quill tenses, puffs up, begins fixating, etc and those are all signs we're too close and we need to back off. It is a long process, but starting early is good, before the dog has a chance to reinforce the behavior.

We tell Quill to "Check it out" when something is happening he would react to (and we're at that safe distance), and then let him look for no more than 3 seconds before calling his attention back to us and rewarding for looking at us. If he fixates for longer than that, it is a "let's go!" and head off in the other direction and treat when he follows. You'll want an AMAZING treat for reactivity work because it can be hard to break that focus, so you need to be far more exciting than whatever the dog is fixating on. We used super smelly liver treats and hot dogs to begin with and sometimes even tossing a ball to him to catch if the excitement is extra exciting (he loves balls and chasing things), and are now at a point where we can use just regular (still delicious) treats and get a response...but it has been a year, and he still can't walk right next to another dog without reacting, so no it is a long road. But he will improve!

I'm by no means an expert and am still learning myself, but I'm happy to offer help in anyway I can!
 

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Discussion Starter · #3 ·
The thing is, he hasn’t had much interaction with dogs off leash. I live in a rural area, not in the US, and most dogs here rarely leave their backyards, if at all. So it’s hard to find dogs that are friendly and properly socialized. I admit my dog also could have been socialized better. With familiar dogs he is okay both on and off leash (except a lab who has shown dislike of my dog from the moment they have met). We have a large field about half an hour walk through the woods, and some people do come here with their dogs. But again, I am not sure about their socialization.
 

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The best thing to do is teach him something and make that a 'job' when you anticipate the behavior. It can be sit and focus on you or lie down or focused heeling but give him a job. If your dog will play with a tug and is obsessed for it, you can also redirect to that IF the dog will redirect.

Dogs are not really good at doing two things at once. They are also not always good at switching gears (drives) so you need to be the one who is guiding the behavior and the redirection.

The other thing to consider is to not let him go out in front of you where you believe he will be reacting. If he IS fearful (and most dogs that are reactive ARE fearful) then the best thing you can do is stay between him and the thing he is worried about. YOU need to stay confident in your walk, your posture and your demeanor. If YOU act 'creepy' (walking slowly, worrying about your dog's behavior etc.) the dog will immediately decide there is a good reason to be reactive.

As to playing with other dogs and all that. No. Not necessary. I never understood the need to have dogs play together. I think it is a pet dog thing and just easier management when people have more than one dog. I never found a reason for dogs to have "dog friends." I have 3 dogs. They are never loose together. Of course, I have two working dogs and I need them to focus on me so play is with me and so forth. The third dog who is the "house dog" is not in the same living area as the working dogs. Oh they DO fraternize at times because they are often in adjoining kennels outside and they DO ride in a dog trailer (usually with dogs they do not know) and they DO ride in crates side by side in the truck, but they are never loose together.

They also must go to competitions and see a lot of other dogs and they must behave. This means reactivity is simply not acceptable and not allowed (fastest way to get DQ'd is to have your dog behave in an over reactive manner). The way we handle this (generally) is the dog cannot be punished for disliking other dogs or people. They have their feelings and they are allowed to have those feelings. However, they are NOT allowed to break a command cue and they can be corrected for that.

I know I will get flack for this, but the way I have handled reactivity on leash is to over ride the reactivity by giving the dog focus on a 'job' I have given them (such as Sit). If it is too late and the dog is reacting I get between my reactive dog and the other dog and I drive my dog backwards by moving into my dog's personal space quickly and somewhat aggressively. In the beginning I will drive them backward until they look at me and at that moment I ask the dog to do a job and the instant they comply I feed feed feed. IOW's I make it worth while to pay attention to me and job at hand and less valuable to focus on that other dog.

I have also gotten a little rough if the dog glances and goes back to being reactive (harsh voice and more backing the dog up.. getting the dog to realize he needs to worry more about ME than the other dog) (this is where I will get flack). I am like, "Sorry buddy. I gave you a cue and you need to pay attention to me and do what is being asked because those are the rules." I don't mince around about it either. The thing is to be CLEAR and quick about it (Oh I am sure I will be in trouble now!).

IMO there is NO NEED for "years" of working with leash reactivity. As fellow dog handlers told me when I first encountered this "you need to take care of that NOW" and (as a new handler) I had NO IDEA what they meant. I tried all the counter conditioning and taking the dog back past threshold and so forth and it just stayed a struggle. FINALLY I asked an experienced handler what to do (and this was with a weak nerved dog I had.. my first serious competition dog who is now my retired house dog). that handler's response was to do as described above. I did that. She watched me. Problem solved and, quite honestly, did not have to be repeated more than a couple of times for the dog to "get it."
 

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As a new owner, you will see that there are a lot of things to learn about.
1. Dogs go through developmental cycles. The recommendations from Vets and from behaviorists from as far back as Scott & Fuller more than 40 years ago is to socialize dogs, so that they will behave more predictably, not reacting poorly to new people, dogs, animals, and situations.
2. Dr. Ian Dunbar DVM, Ph.D. documented a method for socializing dogs. You can find his books online, but see the summary below.
3. Quick summary - go meet some local dog owners, find some with friendly, social dogs, and let your dog interact with them, so that he learns that dogs are friendly. You can try this in someone's backyard, first, or in the common field. And slowly introduce more new friendly dogs. A large friendly adult Lab or Golden may be a good start.
 
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