Walking a dog who barks and lunges at other dogs, people on bicycles or anything else is understandably frustrating and embarrassing. Fortunately, there are effective methods of combating such behavior, and I’ll give you a basic overview of those methods here.
The overarching goal of this type of training is teaching your dog that calm, polite behavior is the way to get what he wants; frenzied outbursts are not. In order to accomplish this goal, reward your dog for exhibiting the proper behavior in the presence of something that would previously have elicited an outburst. For the purposes of this article, let’s say that it’s other dogs. If you are comfortable using a clicker, it will be extremely helpful here. Begin with your dog far enough away from another dog that it’s not too difficult for him react calmly. When your dog notices the other dog but does not bark or lunge (i.e., looks at the other dog calmly or looks back at you), he gets an especially great reward (like chicken, cheese or a hot dog). Using this procedure, you can gradually move your dog closer to the other dog.
If you are unsure of your ability to catch this (sometimes momentary) calm behavior before an outburst occurs, you may want to use a head halter, such as Premier’s Gentle Leader™ while doing this training. A gentle leader gives you the ability to calmly encourage your dog to turn back toward you when he sees another dog, rather than overreacting; then you can reward that behavior. If your dog is wearing a flat buckle collar and lunges toward another dog, not only have you lost the opportunity to reward that calm moment; but your dog is experiencing the uncomfortable sensation of the tight collar around his throat in the presence of another dog, which will likely exacerbate the problem.
When teaching your dog to react calmly to frightening or exciting things, it’s helpful to understand his motivation; you can use this as a reward for calm behavior. For example, if your dog barks and lunges at other dogs on walks because he doesn’t like other dogs, a good reward might be moving away from another dog. On the other hand, if your dog barks and lunges because he wants to greet another dog, an opportunity to do so would be a more appropriate reward. If you’re unsure, a well-versed positive reinforcement trainer or behaviorist can help you.
Extremely boisterous outbursts can really ruin a walk with your dog. What’s worse, it can (understandably) discourage you from walking your dog as much as you otherwise might. Given how important it is to get out in the world with your dog, teaching him to react calmly to whatever he may encounter out there is really worth the effort.
Further Reading and Viewing
Feisty Fido: Help for the Leash-Reactive Dog by Patricia McConnell and Karen B. London
Click to Calm: Healing the Aggressive Dog by Emma Parsons (a Karen Pryor Clicker Book)
Guest Contributor–Danielle Grand has spent the last decade working to parlay her affinity for animals into a dog training career. While earning her Bachelor’s degree in Psychology, she was involved in an experimental study on canine cognition. She has also obtained her dog training certification from Animal Behavior College and attended numerous dog training seminars conducted by respected behaviorists. At home in New York’s capital region, she works closely with colleagues and mentors to expand her expertise; she hopes to help forge strong, happy relationships between many dogs and their humans.