Years ago I worked as a private investigator for a large security firm out of Boston. My job was to work at different businesses undercover to root out any theft or illegal activities. The job required socializing with employees to find out who was stealing or dealing drugs.
One night I was at a house hanging out drinking beers with a group from work when one of the guys got up, walked to the door and locked it. He made it clear no one was leaving.
Being in this situation helped me understand reactive behavior in dogs. You see, reactive behavior (dogs that flip out on leash) is a HUGE problem for scores of dog owners. They have dogs that are walked at 11:30 PM to avoid any other dog or person. Most dog owners think they have a dog who can’t be helped which is sad because this problem can be an easy fix.
Dogs become reactive for three reasons:
Most of the time the root cause is OVERCOMPENSATION. The dog becomes crazy on leash for one main reason.
The reason? The dog can’t leave.
When your dog is on leash he can’t leave the situation if he wants to. Unless you have a Lab or Golden, your dog has a sense of personal space, just like you do. Ever have someone stand too close to you? It is uncomfortable. But you have options. You can move backward. You can ask the person to not get so close. You can LEAVE the room.
A dog on leash is forced into situations which make him uncomfortable. Strangers always walk right up into your dog’s personal space and he is expected to deal with it. KNOWING he can’t leave because of the leash, the dog will find strategies to deal with this. One way is to bark at the strange person or dog. A magical thing happens for the dog when he barks. The stranger leaves. Or the owner moves the dog away from the stranger.
The dog quickly learns barking works! The barking becomes a little louder, then a little bolder, and before you know it, you have a bonafide, out of control, full blown reactive dog on your hands.
How do you think I got out of the jam I was in when I was working as an undercover investigator? Overcompensation. I acted way more confident than I was. My Catholic upbringing had me silently saying Hail Mary’s in my head to get out of there in one piece, but believe me… I was shaking in my shorts.
To help the reactive dog you need to provide leadership, obedience training, and defend your dog in situations where they may be uncomfortable. If you think you’re dog is beyond help,nothing could be further than from the truth. Take a look at the videos I have on this website. There are dozens of before and after videos of dogs with serious reactive behavior that have been helped.