Walks – Recipe for Reactivity?
A friend and dog lover* recently asked me if I thought dogs should be allowed to meet and socialize with other dogs on walks.
I immediately responded with a “NO!”
Although socialization is important for all dogs to maintain socialibility into adulthood, for most dogs the walk is not the place for socialization.
Why? There are several reasons:
I want the walk to be about me and my dog, not every other person or dog on our path. I allow my dogs to sniff, use their nose and get the scoop in the neighborhood through the use of their senses but I also like my dogs to have focus on the person at the other end of the leash – ME – during our walks.
Walks are an important part of my dogs’ exercise program to keep them mentally and physically stimulated. It’s also a special time where I unplug from phone/work and we enjoy an activity together. In today’s busy world, that’s good therapy for both of us. We connect with nature, enjoy the sun, sometimes stopping along the way to sit down, enjoy a roll in the grass (the dogs not me:-) and just spend quality time together.
Like many humans, even though I probably shouldn’t do so as a trainer, I sometimes humanize dog behavior and I don’t believe my dogs, or most dogs for that matter, are interested in meeting EVERY dog in our neighborhood any more than I am interested in engaging in conversation with every human I encounter on our walks.
Last but most importantly, meeting dogs on leash can be a recipe for disaster and “reactivity” , even for the most social dog, barking and lunging at the very sight of another dog, due to frustration from repeated leashed greetings. The scenario might look something like this…the young, social pup sees another dog, gets aroused, barks and then gets to meet and/or play with the dog on leash. So the next time, he sees a dog, the same scenario repeats but this time the owner, in their frustration, pulls on the leash limiting communication and causing the dog to become more aroused and frustrated so your walk turns into one big “oh my gosh..there is another dog..pull, bark, lunge”.
Many dog owners do not know how to read their own dog’s body language and can not even see that language that might be taking place if their dog pulls ahead of them. Different breeds can also have different greeting styles and play styles and there are some dogs that also have poor greeting skills. You may have met one of these dogs on your travels. Dogs with poor greeting skills can be as inappropriate to dogs as your neighbor would be to you if he ran up to you and gave you a big hug and kiss as you walked by even though you don’t know each other well! Some exuberant dogs can be that inappropriate and invasive to our dogs and their space. Dogs communicate via body language and therefore their communication is restricted by the leash and there is more chance of a fight while on leash due to that restriction of their communication. Fearful/Shy and dogs not social with other dogs can really struggle with leash reactivity when they are confronted with a situation that they can not escape.
Leash Reactivity is one of the most common behavior problems in dogs today. As a trainer, my recommendation is to teach focus and control on walks, add in a bit of training like waits or sit at corners and splash in a few fun games too like “find it” or “go sniff” to make the walk an enjoyable, safe and relaxing experience for both you and your dog. If your dog does have leash reactivity, there is help! See below:
NEED HELP WITH LEASH REACTIVITY? Leash reactivity is a behavior that can be modified. It is best to seek the help of a professional, force free trainer to show you how to work with this behavior. You can email me at email@example.com to set up a Leash Reactivity Consultation and be on your way to a more enjoyable walk today!
NOTE: Punishment/Correction can sometimes seem to suppresses the symptom/behavior without addressing the underlying cause of the problem. Temporarily suppression of behavior is not changed behavior. Also punishment/correction eventually can increase leash reactivity as now seeing another dog creates unpleasant things like verbal corrections and leash corrections. For the same reason, correction collars like prong collars can also increase the incidence and severity of leash reactivity as well as raise anxiety, arousal, frustration and fear.
*Thanks “J” for the great question!
Carol Sumbry – CPDT -KA, Certified Professional Dog Trainer carolscaninetraining.com