How do I get my dog to stop barking and lunging at x, y, & z while on the leash?
This week I requested that my Instagram followers ask me whatever training questions they had so that I may answer them. I know, crazy right? While I was somewhat unprepared for the Pandora’s box I seemingly opened with that request, I thought it would inspire some new blog posts. Well, it worked.
Our first topic is leash reactivity, rather fitting as I have ‘specialized’ in this for years. My goal is to create an easy to read and straight to the point answer to this question, so please excuse me if the remainder of this post is a little scientific-y and dry. My number one suggestion would be to find a trainer in your area to help you get started with this behavior modification plan, be wary if they try and toss the plan and attempt to sell you on any ‘quick fixes’ or tools such as choke, prong, or shock collars- there is absolutely no room for that punishment based stuff here. It will only exacerbate your problem, trust me on this.
Leash Reactivity: Overexcitement towards people, other dogs, or things (skateboards, bicycle’s, etc.) while restrained by a leash. Displayed by barking, lunging, growling, whining, and snarling. Typically caused by frustration but could also stem from fear.
Behavior Modification plan: CC/DS (counter conditioning & desensitization) combined with DRIB/DRAB (differential reinforcement of an incompatible/alternate behavior)
How to: It is ideal to set up training sessions, use humans and dogs who are not known friends to your dog. Choose a neutral less populated area, I find cemeteries and industrial neighborhoods work well. Find your dog’s threshold and work below it, you will know you’ve reached their threshold point if they begin to react or refuse food. Once a dog is over threshold learning cannot take place. Choose a spot to remain stationary with your dog and have your trigger (people/dog) move in and out of sight. We change the dog’s emotional response to the trigger by pairing it with a high-value food of your dog’s choice (meat, cheese, donuts), whenever ever the trigger is in sight give your dog food. Stop giving food when the trigger goes out of sight. Repeat several times, extending the duration the trigger is present each time. If your dog offers behaviors such as sit or looking at you while the trigger is present, reward these. If the dog continues to offer these you may begin to request them when the trigger is present, reward each behavior. Now you may move 1-5 steps closer. Repeat from beginning. Training sessions should never be more than an hour long. I would set up a session as often as possible and avoid normal walks. If the dog is able to practice the unwanted reactivity the harder it is to modify the behavior. Use food toys and trick training to provide your dog mental stimulation at home and in the yard, or walk at time & place when no triggers will be present. I would also practice hand feeding part or all of your dog’s meals while practicing name response and sit, aim for 50 sits per day.
Helpful tools: I suggest a treat pouch that holds a fair amount as you will be carrying and using a lot of food on your outings. A front clip harness that fits well will also be beneficial, I like the Front Range Harness by Ruffwear but the Whole Dog Journal has other great recommendations too. I would suggest a nylon 4-6 foot leash or two for two points of contact (one leash on front clip harness and one on collar or back of harness). 3 treats of your dog’s choosing, it is good to stick with high-value throughout the training session but variety is always beneficial.
Remember to find a trainer in your area to assist with this plan, ask friends and family for referrals or use the trainer search option with the following organizations: