No one wants to hear their dog referred to as “crazy.” Unfortunately, several years ago, that happened to me. I was walking my hound mix Emmett in the neighborhood when I heard a woman calling my dog crazy. To an untrained eye, Emmett was acting, well, crazy. He was lunging and barking at the sight of other dogs being walked. The best description I could offer is he was having a temper tantrum. This took place many years ago before I became a dog a dog behavior and training professional and therefore, knew nothing about dog behavior. I didn’t know what to even call Emmett’s behavior, let alone how to manage it or make it stop. Maybe, my dog WAS crazy.
I received plenty of unsolicited advice from people who meant well, but also knew nothing about dog behavior, other than they also had dogs. Advice ranged from, “don’t worry, he’ll grow out of it” to “put a prong collar on this dog.” Emmett was definitely not outgrowing this behavior, and I refused to use a prong collar on him because I didn’t want to cause Emmett pain. That much I knew.
I engaged positive reinforcement trainers who defined Emmett’s behavior for me as LEASH REACTIVITY. They also showed me the behaviors I should teach him, and recommended that I see a veterinary behaviorist. And thus, began my journey of training and managing my own dog’s leash reactivity. And oh, by the way, my dog was NOT crazy.
Leash reactivity happens when a dog has a strong reaction to a particular stimulus while the dog is on leash. The stimuli that can trigger a dog, are other dogs, people, vehicles, or perhaps other moving objects such as bicycles or cars. Here is the thing to know: Just because a dog is reactive, it doesn’t mean it’s aggressive. Aggression and reactivity are not always mutually inclusive. Since I’ve become a dog trainer, I have helped many leash-reactive dogs who off-leash played appropriately with other dogs, could go on pack walks with their doggie friends, and many shared their homes with another canine companion.
Leash reactivity can vary in intensity and also the number of stimuli the dog reacts to. Leash reactivity with less intensity and a singular stimulus is much easier to address than very intense reactivity, or reactivity to multiple stimuli.
Living with a leash-reactive dog can be emotionally draining for a pet parent and the dog. It took time, patience and hard work to address Emmett’s reactivity. If you are a pet parent dealing with a reactive dog, I see you. Just know that your dog is not crazy, you are NOT a bad dog owner and there is help for you and your dog.
Because there is a lot to unpack about leash reactivity, I will be examining different elements of leash reactivity over the next few weeks. So, stay tuned.
Can we say hello? My dog is friendly. Is your dog friendly?
I am confident that you get one of these questions asked at least once a day when you’re out on a walk with your dog. I do. I live in a very dog-friendly development, where it is expected for neighbors walking their dogs to stop and chat with each other, while their dogs approach each other nose-to-nose and hopefully, have a positive interaction with one another.
I have repeatedly avoided or responded to these questions, by either proactively crossing to the other side of the street, by responding politely “Oh no thank you, we’re training,” or by being a little bit more direct, “I do not allow my dog to greet other dogs on leash.” Unfortunately, I may have earned a bit of a reputation in the neighborhood. But here is the thing, I’m not doing this to be rude, nor am I standoffish, I simply prefer that my dog does not greet other dogs while they are on leash. I am also not avoiding these interactions because my dog is not friendly to other dogs. In fact, she is quite social with dogs and plays with them regularly off-leash. Here is why I do what I do:
According to the American Veterinary Medical Association’s (AVMA) website, socialization is the process of preparing a dog to enjoy interactions and be comfortable with other animals, people, places and activities. Ideally, socialization should begin during the “sensitive period” which is between 3 and 14 weeks of age for puppies. This definition beautifully explains the goal of puppy socialization. I would also add that it is crucial to ensure that puppies have positive experiences in all socialization contexts, so they can build positive associations for the future. Sounds pretty good so far.
And yet, here is when things get murky. When information about socialization gets disseminated to dog parents, the focus of it immediately becomes my dog needs to be friendly with other dogs. While that is one element of puppy socialization, it’s not the end all and be all.
Let’s complicate the matter even more. The critical socialization period for puppies closes at around 14 to 16 weeks. And puppies don’t have their full set of vaccines to protect them from various infectious diseases until they are about 18 weeks old. What are puppy parents to do? Are there ways to socialize puppies safely? Don’t fret, puppy parent, below is a brief list of tips to help you safely socialize your puppy, as well as a few dos and don’ts:
Whether purchased from a breeder or adopted from a local shelter, your puppy or even an adult dog for that matter, will not come equipped with perfect manners. This seems to come a surprise to many new pet parents. While certain breeders take the time to get their new litters started on at least a couple of behaviors, they are not required to teach basic manner behaviors to your new puppy. Teaching basic obedience is not a priority in shelters because there is simply not enough manpower. The reality is that pet parents need to take the responsibility for training their own dogs.
There are a variety of training options for pet parents to consider. Depending on what works best for them and their families, the training options include group classes, engaging a private trainer, a day-training or board & train facilities. I personally prefer group classes and/or private sessions over the day-training and board & train options. As a dog trainer I like to engage with the dogs and their humans in group classes or during private sessions. As a dog owner, I like to actively participate in my own dog’s training so I can take the accountability for my dog’s progress. You’ll need to figure out what works best for you and whatever option you choose be sure that the facility is run by and employs certified trainers, and that they use rewards-based training. See previous two blog posts for more information.
Regardless what option you select, the fact of the matter is you will need to set aside some time to train your dogs. And here is the thing, you DO NOT need to dedicate hours per day to train your dog; 15-minute mini-training sessions is plenty of time to practice with your dog. Here is how I break it down to my clients:
In Act II of Dog Training 101 I’d like to cover the importance of training philosophies to your dog’s mental well-being. Over the last 10-15 or so years, dog training greatly evolved past punishment-based methods our dogs would generally consider unpleasant at minimum, and began incorporating the rewards-based training approach. Although there are dog trainers who still practice training using aversive methodology and tactics, rewards-based training is so much more beneficial. It’s not just my opinion. It is scientifically proven. In fact, rewards-based training is the training methodology of professional certified dog trainers (CPDT-KA).
Rewards-based training helps us to set expectations for our dogs about the behaviors we like versus those we don’t. And if you’re continually and consistently reward your dog for what they are doing right, you reinforce the desired behaviors which in turn will diminish the incidence of nuisance behaviors.
What is a reward? To your dog, a reward could be anything that motivates them to work with you. Food, toys, affection, or interacting with their human are all great motivators; it’s all based on your pooches’ individual preferences. For most dogs, food is the biggest motivator of all. The food to your dog is what a paycheck is to you. So, pay your dogs and pay them handsomely. Rewards-based training makes training pleasant and fun for all involved, the trainer, the pet parents and most of all, the dog.
What I personally like about rewards-based training (other that it’s the right and kind thing to do) is that it allows me to offer immediate feedback to a dog. Instead of having them guess or “tell” them no, no, no, by jerking their leash (which, by the way I would NEVER do!), I offer them a yummy treat to let them know that, yes, you did this correctly!
In 2010, the Association for Professional Dog Trainers (APDT) designated the month of January as the National Train Your Dog month. Its purpose, according to the APDT website, is “bringing awareness to the importance of socialization and training, and most of all, to inform the public that training your dog can be easy and fun.”
It makes a total sense to make socialization and training top of mind for pet parents during January. Why? Because many canines join their new human families during the holiday season. Over the the next several days, I’d like to focus on three aspects related to training your dogs: trainer selection, training philosophies and time dedicated to training.
Selecting a trainer for your dog: Unfortunately, dog training is not a well-regulated industry and just about anyone can call themselves a dog trainer. You’re probably scratching your head at this point thinking how do I know if my dog trainer is the “real thing.”
Look for a trainer who is certified. At minimum, the trainer you select should have the abbreviation of the most basic certification following their last name: CPDT-KA – Certified Professional Dog Trainer, Knowledge Assessed. This means that a trainer is third-party certified and their knowledge has been assessed by the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers (CCPDT). Certified dog trainers are required to re-certify every three years by completing a specific amount of continuing education credits; adhering to Least Invasive Minimally Aversive approach to behavior modification and training, also known as LIMA Principles; and following the rules of a rigorous Code of Conduct.
Think of a CPDT-KA certification as a guarantee that your trainer is well educated and up-to-date on the all the latest dog-training methodology and approaches, and that the tactics and training tools they use will not be detrimental to your puppy’s behavior or negatively impact your dog’s behavior in the future. Check out the CCPDT.org website for a listing of a certified dog trainer near you.
About the Author
Tatiana Yastremski, M.A. CBCC-KA, CPDT-KA, IAABC CSB-D, is Knowledge Assessed, Certified Professional Dog Trainer, Knowledge Assessed Certified Canine Behavior Consultant, and IAABC Certified in Shelter Behavior, specializing in dogs. Her dog behavior and training experience is very diversified through her work with shelter dogs and private training. In her dog training business, Totally Trainable, LLC, Tatiana's objective is to help humans and their dogs build a bond of trust through positive reinforcement training, clear and succinct communication, patience and love. Tatiana specializes in aggression, reactivity and fear-based behaviors.