I have several clients whose dogs have trouble with other dogs out on walks. Some of these dogs do fine off leash with other dogs. Some do not. But for each of these dogs, when they spot another dog, they are difficult to control. For a ten pound dog, this might just be annoying. For a hundred and ten pound dog, this is putting your safety at risk. Either way, it’s something my clients want to resolve so they can enjoy walks with their dogs.
The first step in this process is ensuring good leash manners when no other dogs are present. For some, this is a big part of the process, as these dogs have lost focus as soon as they stepped outside. If your dog does not have good leash manners and doesn’t know how to stay tuned in with you when outside your house, you won’t be able to succeed in addressing behavior when other dogs are around. Or squirrels, or bunnies, or whatever else gets your dogs juices flowing.
Some dogs are actually friendly with other dogs but get overstimulated when seeing another dog. Some dogs are not terribly friendly with other dogs. Some are conflicted and not sure whether they want to greet, play, fight or flee when they see another dog. Regardless of what your dog wants to do, the fact in all of these cases is that the dog’s arousal level is too high to listen or make good choices.
While we certainly need to address leash manners and how to interact or behave around other dogs, one of the things we need to address in these situations is for dogs to learn how to manage their own arousal levels. This is not always easy, but it is important! Think about the last time your arousal level went sky high. How easy it is for you to stay level-headed and make good decisions when your blood is boiling? In the heat of the moment, it’s easy for us to erupt in anger and say or do things we know we shouldn’t. Same goes for our dogs.
We need to make sure our dogs know what we consider the “right” decision or the best choices to make when arousal levels are low first. But then we need to build toward helping our dogs make those same decisions when arousal levels increase.
Think about other times when your dog’s arousal level increases. When you arrive home. At dinner time. When the leash comes out for a walk. During play. Choose other times when your dog also gets riled up and begin practicing the ability to respond quickly and make good choices. This will help if your dog erupts while out on walks because he’s now had the chance to learn how to diffuse his arousal, put his thinking cap back on and make better choices.