Fake It ‘Til You Make It???

December 12, 2016

Reactive dogs who bark, growl, and lunge on the walk are often big fakers – dogs who pretend to be fierce but are actually fearful, anxious dogs at heart. They are uncomfortable when people or other dogs approach and try to be barky and scary to keep themselves safe. Also, they feel they can’t rely on their owner or handler for safety, and so they take things into their own paws!

Here are 5 things we can do to help our dogs feel more safe and secure on the walk, and therefore less reactive:

Kids Walking Dogs

1) Respect the thresholds
2) Start walks with engagement exercises
3) Keep dog’s head level with your leg when at heel
4) Correct any small infractions of heel position such as sniffing the ground
5) Correct your dog for looking at target

Respect the thresholds
The first place to start is by making sure your dog stops and waits at all thresholds (front door, gate, etc) when going on that walk. Just this little step will get the dog into a thinking state of mind rather than just reacting. For a video demonstrating crate and door thresholds, click here.

Start walks with engagement exercises
Take the first 5 minutes of your walk and work on getting some serious engagement from your dog. Walk a few steps and stop. Your dog should stop and sit. Walk a few more steps and make a u-turn. Your dog should be right at your side. Make quick 90 degree turns. More steps and stops. Keep this up for 5 minutes or until your dog is mentally with you, engaged and responding. For a quick video about engagement exercises, click here.

Keep dog’s head level with your leg when at heel
If your dog walks in front of you– even just a head’s length, he can easily scan ahead and all around for potential threats. We don’t want our dogs to worry about that, after all, it’s our job. So, keeping that head level with your leg limits the scanning abilities and can help relax your dog. For a video showing the dog’s position in heel, click here.

Correct any small infractions of heel position such as sniffing the ground
Your dog should be walking in a nice heel with no sniffing, pulling, or looking around, so anytime you see those actions, correct your dog! That dog has one job – to walk in a beautiful heel – and anything else will distract from that job – and can lead to not paying attention to your leadership on the walk.

Correct your dog for looking at target
There’s a sequence to the reactive behavior a dog has on a walk – first the dog sees the target, then the hair raises, forehead wrinkles, ears stand up and body stiffens…. Which leads to the growling, barking, and lunging at the target (reactive dogs). So let’s stop it where it starts – at that first look. Correct any looking at targets to keep that escalation from happening.

These reactive dogs are faking being big, strong and fierce to protect themselves, but they shouldn’t have to do that. We don’t want our dogs to go through life – or even a short walk – with that kind of mental stress and state-of-mind. We want a calm, pleasant walk with our dogs, and with smart leadership and a few small action steps on our part, we can really help these dogs to be more relaxed and less reactive on walks! So take the leash and take action – let your dog know that he doesn’t have to fake it anymore, because you’ve got this!


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