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When Worlds Collide – Leashed and Unleashed Dogs

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Dear Inquisitive Canine,

I always walk my dog on her leash. On most days, while Daisy and I are walking in the neighborhood, at least one unleashed dog confronts us. This bothers Daisy so much she lunges and barks like crazy at the unleashed dog. I’ve worked a bit, so now Daisy is a bit more friendly, but still … Please help!

Daisy’s Mom

Dear Daisy’s Mom,

Thank you for writing in! First, let us tell you that Daisy’s response to unleashed dogs is not unusual at all. We appreciate questions such as these, since there are many in your shoes. The following quick tips can help with enjoying your leash-walks. Poncho and Ferris Out for Walkies

Interrupt and redirect! An easy and fun game you can play is “Find it! Say “find it” when she alerts to another dog, then toss a small treat on the ground in the direction you want your dog do walk. The intention of the game is to redirect her attention elsewhere while making it fun and rewarding – more than barking and lunging at the other dogs. (Using a treat she’d do backflips over would make an even bigger impact!) With proper timing and consistency Daisy should begin to create an association of “other dogs” = “fun”! You’ll know she’s understanding the game when she sees another dog and then looks at you almost as if asking “Are we going to play now?” If your inquisitive canine is more of an obedience expert, you can play the same game, but in lieu of playing “find it,” you can run through Daisy’s gamut of “tricks.” The principle is the same in that every time another dog appears life gets better for her!

Keep it loosey-goosey! Leashes can be restrictive when dogs are trying to communicate with others – dogs and people. However, they’re important when in areas he or she can run off and get hurt or harm something else. Plus, in many areas it’s the law. To allow your dog freedom of speech in her innate language with the other pooch’s, avoid tightening up on the leash.

Allow your dog to speak! Domestic dogs have a language all their own. Allowing your dog the opportunity to speak her mind will help her convey her message to the other dog, and vice-versa. She might be using both her vocal and body language skills. Similar to when any two people are talking, especially in a language we’re not fluent in, it’s best to avoid interrupting. If you’re comfortable with it, drop the leash. Again, this allows her more control over her behavior – which we all want, right?

Learn to “speak dog”! In addition to allowing the dogs to communicate, you’ll want to take a foreign language course in “dog-talk.” This is helpful for watching your own pooch, as well as others you encounter – especially those who are unfamiliar. A dog whose body and face is relaxed and loose, tail wiggly-waggy in movement, mouth open with tongue possibly hanging out while walking towards you using a bouncy gait is more likely to be friendly. The complete opposite – body stiff, mouth closed with tense face, stiff gait, head downward but gazing towards you/your dog – is a dog you’d want to question – it doesn’t mean he or she would want to start a fight, but this type of language might be conveying more of a reserved greeting. When in doubt you can use the little trick of taking a handful of treats and tossing them at the other dog while you head off in another direction.

Paws and reflect: Make the experience fun and rewarding, versus stressful, and be prepared with a plan of action for those times you see another dog while on walks. Also, remember to allow Daisy to speak her mind when other dogs are around.With time, practice and consistency, you can make the experience a walk in the park – or wherever your the leash takes you.

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3 Responses

  1. My 2 and 1/2 year old Aussie loves to play with other dogs but she is too rude and jumps all over them ending in fighting and me pulling her off. This is becoming her habit. We went to dog parks 2-3 times a week to socialize her when she was younger and we stopped going because of this. It’s difficult where we live to find any playmates, so she is not learning how to be polite she’s just getting worse. We compete in agility and I do all types of treat training to desensitize her over excitement when seeing other dogs. I’ve wedged myself into this problem and can’t seem to get out. Any help? Thanks!

    1. Hi Stacey – nice to have you here, thanks for contributing to the conversation. Bravo for being so observant, and for doing all you can to address your concerns. From what you’ve described, it sounds like your Aussie is already “sensitized” to the other dogs. You might want to head down the “Manners” path of learning, meaning she has to do something (not like something) in order to get reinforcement (food, petting, praise, game of fetch or tug, access to the agility course etc..). Positively reinforcer her for: playing nicely, being polite, waiting on the agility course. Look for small opportunities, including a quick meet & greet on leash or even just friendly eye-contact towards the other dog. Shape her behavior slowly, like you did when teaching her agility.

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