Going Back to the Basics to Help Riley Stop Reacting to Other Dogs

By: David Codr

Published Date: March 29, 2015

Riley and Stormy

For this session I worked with a pair of dogs in Long Beach. Riley (left) is a one-year-old Beagle Terrier Mix who has been fostered by Stormy (right, a one-year-old Lab / German Shepherd mix) owners for two months now. Their owners called me to help with Riley’s interaction and reaction to other dogs; pulling on the leash, whining and barking.

When I arrived for the session Riley met me at the door with a nice social greeting while Stormy was held back by one of her owners. Because I always want to see what the dogs do in a normal situation, I had him let Stormy go. As soon as she was free she fused over to me and went back and forth between jumping up on me and adopting an odd body posture where she faced me while pushing her rear end in my direction at the same time.

After the third time Stormy jumped up on me, I applied the technique I developed to stop her from jumping up. Stormy protested a bit, but after I stopped, she did not jump up one for the rest of the session.

Whenever I deal with a dog reactive dog, I always start out at the foundation; does the dog have any rules, boundaries or limits its expected to follow? Do the dog’s owners follow the commands of their dogs or do they call the shots? What kind of exercise, discipline and reward system do the owners use to communicate when the dog is doing something they like.

In this case, the dogs had few rules, the owners petted them when they pawed or scratched at them for attention, the dogs were walked, but not as often as needed and the owners were petting to pet, not to reward wanted behavior or actions.

After observing the dogs and their owners, I could see that the lack of structure and way that affection was offered had led to the dog’s thinking that they were equal in authority to their owners. While this isn’t much of an issue inside their apartment, it certainly impacted their behavior when outside.

I suggested that the dog’s owners add in some rules and structure to help the dogs start to see and identify as being in a follower position. By limiting the dog’s access to furniture, asking them to sit before being allowed to walk through a door, expecting the dogs to walk at a heel while on walks or ascending stairs and waiting for permission to eat the food sitting in their bowls are all great ways to redefine the leader follower dynamic.

I demonstrated a few leadership exercises then coached their owners through them until they were getting the desired results every time. I went through a schedule that will help dogs and owners practice their respective roles over the next week or two. Just like learning to drive, you have to learn and develop the fundamentals in a calm environment. Only when they have been mastered will their owners be in a position to truly lead the dogs with the dogs listening to and respecting their commands and corrections.

Next we headed out to a local dog park so I could see how Riley interacted with dogs he doesn’t know. When we got to the dog park, both dogs started to get a little excited so I had the owners pause and stand in place until the dogs calmed down. By stopping and waiting for the dog to return to a calm balanced state before continuing, we can help the dogs learn to adopt a calmer energy all the time.

It didn’t take long to see that Riley lacked some social skills. His head was on a swivel, dropping low to stare intently at various dogs when they moved quickly and barked often in disagreement. I had their owners take Summer in first as she was calm and they hadn’t had any issues with her and other dogs.

I walked Riley in on a leash and took turns holding the leash and coaching his owners through guiding him amongst the various dogs. While Riley often disagreed with over zealous activity by the other dogs, his body language and actions were not what I would classify as aggressive. It was fairly easy to distract him from getting excited provided the correction was applied early on.

Whenever his owner struggled to get him to stop or stop him from starting, I had them increase the distance between Riley and the other dogs. I also suggested that they use a high value treat to distract him by holding it up between their eye line and the dog’s. This helps the dog focus on the treat and ignore the action from the other dogs. At first Riley struggled with this as his owner applied the technique a little late. But as she continued she had much better success. The photo below was snapped as she applied this technique while a crazy, high energy Australian Shepherd buzzed around us at a full sprint.

Riley Focusing

As you can see in the photo, Riley’s owner had captured his full attention despite the very challenging distraction. There is no way a truly dog aggressive dog would adopt such a stance and focus when another dog was running around it in circles.

By the time we returned to their apartment, both dogs were pooped. Their owners comments that the dogs seemed much calmer, that they enjoyed how responsive the dogs were to both corrections and commands and that they felt they now has the tools they needed to communicate what they wanted from their dogs.

Its going to take some time and practice, but based on how much progress we made in the session and their owners confidence in the new techniques and communication methods, I expect to hear that Riley’s days of dog reaction pass before the end of the summer.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Categorized in:

This post was written by: David Codr