One of the most common issues I am asked for help with is reactivity or aggression while on leash. You are walking your dog, and when another dog passes by, your dog barks and lunges. This issue ranges from a minor annoyance to a serious safety issue. While a common issue, it is also one that can be remedied if you're willing to put in the work. For some, it's a fairly easy fix. For others, there is some serious work involved.
When I visit clients for an initial consultation for this issue, most people want to get out and find other dogs so they can show me what happens. However, I don't want to see it. But don't I need to see it to help change the behavior? No! I have seen it far too many times already. Giving the dog a chance to demonstrate the unwanted behavior again simply gives the dog one more chance to build a bad habit.
The very first step in any of these cases, is to look at what happens BEFORE the other dog shows up. I want to see what it looks like leashing the dog up before heading outside. I want to see what it looks like getting out the door before we hit the sidewalk or the trail. I want to see what the dog's leash manners look like BEFORE the other dog appears. I want to see what kind of connection and responsiveness there is to the handler before dogs or other distractions (other than simply being outside) show up.
In the vast majority of cases, dogs have already tuned out from their handlers and disconnected long before the other dog showed up. People complain that their dog does not listen to them when the other dog walks by. But the dog stopped listening and responding to them long before the other dog appeared.
So if you call me for help with your leash reactive dog, we will most likely be working on some foundation skills that are needed before we actually go looking for other dogs. If your dog does not have the right foundation of training and connection with you, then working over threshold in close proximity to another dog is simply a set up for failure.
We always want to set your dog (and you!) up for success by taking a few steps back, making sure we have the right skills in place, and only then will we go for a walk and try to find other dogs.