I will define another category of Reactive Dogs. In the past, I have written about dogs who are very social and react because they are “Persistent Players” and love to play with dogs. Our canine friends have different reasons for reacting at the sight of another dog. Once you are able to identify “why” your dog is acting this way, then we can put a training plan in place.
For this Blog, I am defining “Persistent Sniffers” These dogs primarily investigate their environments using their nose, as seen by their heads to the ground often. They are slow to come when called because what they are sniffing is very important to them. They become activated at the sight of a dog seen by their chaotic foot movements and exaggerated joint flexion. They are environmentally confident and have no hesitation navigating new places. They may be vocal when they are unable get to what they want. They are persistent in nature, seen by their continued attempts to get to what interests them. When off leash, these dogs may have a history of greeting unfamiliar dogs with a thorough head to tail scent intake, yet are quick to disconnect and move along. Some will initiate play, but only after they have fulfilled their olfactory needs.
If I just described your dogs preferences, then it is likely your dog has already been labeled reactive. Now you can see that he is indeed frustrated, and better understand that his temperament is partly responsible for driving his behavior. For dogs who are food or toy motivated you can often reward an alternative behavior. For dogs who are less food motivated management is often recommended as some dogs are so persistent nothing will override their preference.
This was the case recently with a handsome Golden Retriever mix who was lunging on the leash at the sight of any dog. As he entered my office, I noticed he immediately put his nose to the ground and sniffed the rug, toy box, dog bed, shelf and furniture. At one point, he briefly made eye contact with me as he entered my space, I reached out to him but his awareness went to sniffing my pants and shoes. He was unable to be off leash as he would not come when called, he always had his own agenda when outside. While he ate the treat I offered, he was more interested in using his nose once again along the dog bed.
When outside, he did as his owners predicted. He began to jump around with chaotic foot patterns, barking rapidly, and pulling on his leash to get to my dog, Pablo who was sitting calmly ignoring the bouncing Golden. I let the Golden walk past Pablo a few times so the Golden would clearly see that Pablo was not engaging him in any way. Pablo went so far as to give a few low growls, but there was no change in the Goldens behavior. I then let them take their boy far away for several minutes so he could recover from his highly aroused state. At this distance, he was rewarded for reorienting to his handler. We repeated this approach and retreat many times as described in Behavior Adjustment Technique (BAT). Each time we were about 30 feet apart, the Golden repeated his request to engage Pablo’s. Pablo’s preference is food, so he completely ignored and even sat with his back to the Golden for 15 minutes or more.
Eventually, Pablo turned towards the Golden and gave a hard eye stare accompanied with a stiff body and low growl. The persistent Golden paused briefly, but was unable to change his behavior. We took a break and walked far apart to aid in the golden’s recovery. It is rare for a dog to not read Pablo’s cues, he is known for being very clear.
What happened next was a rare behavior for Pablo, having only witnessed a few times with persistent barking dogs. Pablo’s tolerance wained and he told the Golden in his own way that no amount of persistent barking and jumping was going to change his mind. Pablo was very clear that he did not want this Golden in his space.
Every dog trainer needs a Pablo!
- This golden was to avoid leash greetings as he was unable to respond to dogs appropriately. His preference to get at the dog near him was overriding all thinking. It was a matter of time before his persistent nature got him a severe reprimand from a dog who had said “go away”.
- After Pablo’s clear message, the golden was able to reorient to his handler and be rewarded. This is a version of Look at That (LAT) and can be successful with many dogs.
- Because he was so frustrated and not showing any aggression, I suggested he gain further socialization with good dogs while off leash. This was our next session and he did as expected, he sniffed all the dogs and the entire park. While there was no play from him, there was also no aggression.
Many dogs are labeled “reactive”, however this is a big bucket term. If you observe your dogs preferences, how he engages with his environment and how he responds to both familiar and unfamiliar dogs, you may be able to identify why your dog is acting this way. If he is simply frustrated, determine his preference and find a way to allow him what he so desires.
If you have tried “reactive” dog classes with no luck, consider your dogs persistent nature and how it effects his every day behavior. It may be that your dog is unable to change because his preference is so extreme, you may not be able to offer him anything more valuable. You may just need to meet a few Pablo’s to help your dog with his impulse control.
I continually see the need for more education in cases of dog aggression towards humans. For some reason, when a dog growls at a human, the human’s response is to yell, hold them down or force it into confinement. Many clients admit this scolding has caused an increase in stress when the dog is near unfamiliar people.
As I perform more Bite Risk Assessments, I have discovered that many of these dogs have a common personality trait. Each one displayed a preference to only be near familiar people. They do not like strangers approaching them or touching them. As pups, they tolerated strangers entering their space and patting their heads, even though they tried to pull away or bite the strangers hand. What if we were to ask each dog, “How do you feel about me?” I repeatedly ask the cute dog in this video that question, and he repeatedly tells me: “No thanks!”
Modern trainers use clickers to train their dogs because it aids in the animals understanding of what is rewardable. The animal quickly learns that when it offers the behavior again, it will be rewarded. This positive reinforcement approach will often cause an immediate “wow” moment for both handler and animal.
The clicker is a small hand-held gadget that emits a sound when you press it. The sound the clicker makes is a signal to your dog that the behavior it just offered is rewardable. This “click” is always followed by a food reward. Think: Click and Treat! Note, the clicker is NOT for getting attention.
Since the click is always paired with a food reward, we call this training positive reinforcement. There is no need to punish the dog for offering the wrong behavior, be patient and quickly mark the right behavior when it is offered.
Teaching your dog to sit, using a clicker:
- Begin with clicker and treats in one hand, and your dog near by.
- Start by clicking and tossing a treat to your dog, repeat a few times.
- Next, wait a few seconds to see if your dog will offer a sit. When his bum hits the floor, click and toss him a treat several feet away. Repeat by waiting for your dog to sit again, click and toss a treat. Repeat this several times.
- If your dog does not know how to sit, put a treat to his nose and raise it up over his head slowly. When his bum hits the ground, click and let him eat the treat. Repeat until your dog begins to offer a sit for the reward.
- Next, add the verbal cue “Sit” or a hand signal just before the behavior is performed, click for the correct behavior and reward.
- Repeat with cue added, click the correct behavior and reward.
Here is a video demonstration of me teaching my dog Pablo to target my hand and a novel object: Hand Target using a clicker
Why Does the Clicker Work?
- The sound is the same every time; and is unique to other sounds the dog hears.
- The clicker is the fastest way to accurately mark behavior. (I used it to teach my dog to sneeze, lick his lips and touch the Staples Easy Button).
- The clicker is the fastest way to capture new behaviors your dog does.
- It aids in keeping your dog in his thinking brain.
Will you always have to use the clicker?
No, you can replace the click with a happy, “yes” once your dog understands the behavior thoroughly. It is not a tool that triggers behavior, it just rewards good choices so they are repeated! For more clicker examples visit: https://www.karenpryoracademy.com
Good dogs resolve conflict — all by themselves!
Below, I outline an incident that occurred at a local park in detail and include what each dog’s body language indicated. There are good lessons here on how dogs resolve conflict and set the rules for the playground!
Here are the Players:
First we have Mo, a scruffy adolescent female terrier weighing about 20 lbs., who enters other dog’s space quickly and without hesitation. Next we have Nel, a shy adolescent female of about 40 lbs. who approaches other dogs hesitantly when greeting. Our third dog is a small 10 lb adolescent male named, Arlo who would sniff all the dogs and then run away and pee on the nearest tree only to repeat the pattern again. Finally, there is Ann, an adult 55 lb female who enjoys chasing squirrels mostly, and was extremely tolerant of other dogs sniffing her.
This is when it gets interesting!
Ann, Nel and Arlo had just politely greeted each other moments before when they spotted the gregarious Mo trotting towards them from a distance with head and tail up. From about 30 feet away, Mo began to sprint and squared off and growled nose to nose at Nel. Nel stepped back about 6 inches from Mo when Ann stepped in with a reprimand. Ann chest bumped Mo right on her back.
This is when it gets noisy!
That is when it got noisy with both dogs growling as Ann stood over Mo and reprimanded her by holding her down with her mouth. I could see Ann’s mouth was open and was fairly sure she was not biting down. I quickly stepped in to separate the two, and Mo ran away.
Ann never even look at me, which was much appreciated as some dogs will redirect if they are too aroused. She was not. Ann immediately relaxed, and I do not even remember her shaking off. Next, Nel walked over and licked Ann’s face, possibly in appeasement.
This is when Mo should have stayed!
Mo’s mom was screaming at the top of her lungs saying what a bad dog Ann was and that Mo just had “poor social skills”. I attempted to tell her to put Mo back down so that Mo could resolve the issue and learn from it. I was certain that Ann was quite calm and had resolved the disagreement quickly. But Mo’s Mom was upset, even though she knew that Mo was not even scratched. She left without understanding that her dog was the one that started the conflict and most likely learned an important lesson. Ann was truly just reprimanding Mo for being rude to Nel. Period.
This is my point:
If you own a dog that quickly charges into unfamiliar dogs faces and growls or gets even mildly stiff, avoid allowing this to happen. It is a matter of time, before your dog “with poor social skills” gets put in it’s place by an adult dog who is confident enough to do so. You might complain that your dog was “attacked”. However, if there is minimal damage, it means your dog just received a reprimand for being rude. It is often just that simple. The adult dog should not be punished for reprimanding and setting rules on the playground. Mo is clearly an insecure dog and selected the shy dog Nel to bully. Thankfully, Ann was there to keep the peace!
This is what you can do: Slow down the introduction.
Begin by walking your dog toward the other dog on leash, but stop about 15 feet away and let the dogs communicate a few seconds. Call them away and repeat. The insecure dog will eventually learn to read other dogs cues from a safe distance as they mature. I use a very slow approach to be sure both dogs want to greet. If one dog is looking away, turning away, or ground sniffing, then you do not get any closer. However, if both dogs are still expressing loose body wiggles after 5 minutes of parallel walking, then continue to get closer.