By Sean O’Shea
The dog that pulls to the tree, goes from one side of you to the next, stops to sniff the ground or bush, slows down or speeds up randomly, is the same dog that feels it’s ok to bark, lunge, spin, and drag you when he sees another dog on a walk.
If we allow our dogs to practice the habits of being disconnected, disrespectful, pushy, and acting on whatever impulse that comes across their consciousness, we can’t be surprised when they do what we’ve trained them to do: listen to their impulse rather than us, use pushiness to get what they want, and to feel stressed because of a lack of believable leadership and information from you.
The problem is many owners see these little moments of pulling, sniffing, disregarding as innocuous, benign, not important. But this is THE big enchilada, this is where it all either goes good or goes bad. This is where you create the magic or you create the tragic. (Lol, that’s dramatic but it has a nice ring to it., :)) But because owners either want their dogs to have freedom (read: do whatever they want) so they can be “happy”, or because they’re simply not aware of what they’re creating, they allow this negative foundation to be created.
I always tell clients that we win or lose the dog reactivity battle not around dogs, but long before we see them.
We tackle dog reactivity issues by teaching our dog to relax into a structured walk, not simply by trying to correct them around dogs. Trying to address reactivity only around dogs – in other words, only when it’s happening, when your dog is already stressed out, at their worst, and with zero prior relationship/state of mind building – is absolutely a losing (and unfair) strategy. You don’t win (and can’t win) that battle without prior leverage. Trust me.
So how do we create the leverage needed to successfully fight the battle of reactivity? We do it by creating positive state of mind leverage long before the heat of battle. We do it by seeing the little moments adding up to the big moments. We do it through the structured walk. We do it by having our dog walk in a relaxed heel, with zero pulling on the leash, zero pulling to trees or bushes, zero sniffing, and zero targeting/intensely staring at other dogs. We do it by creating the right mindset habits in our dog of looking to us for guidance and permission, and being respectful, relaxed, and trusting us to be in control of the world.
If you set up your walk in this fashion, seeing the value and leverage of the small details and the small moments (listening rather than ignoring, patient rather than pushy, relaxed rather than stressed) as crucial building blocks towards good behavior, AND if you’ll see giving your dog the gift of peace of mind and comfort that comes from leadership and structure as bigger gifts than being stressed, anxious, and bratty from the lack of it, you’ll see some profound changes in your dog’s behavior on walks.
Remember, you fight and win the battle of reactivity not on the battlefield, but long before the actual fight. :)
P.S. Of course you can (and should!) release you dog to pee and sniff in your release/okay. Your dog will still get to do all of his doggy stuff, but when done on a permission basis, not a pushy basis, the same activity will be working for you, not against you.
P.S.S. If you have one of those cupcake, dream dogs, that are angels, who don’t get riled up by other dogs, and do so without structure or rules, rejoice! This message isn’t for you! You’re one of the lucky few. :)
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