Distance is your friend

When you live with a dog that is worried about people and/or other dogs, then walks can be a bit of a nightmare as you want your dog to enjoy some exercise/new environments but still need to ensure that other people and/or dogs stay away from your dog so that you dog doesn’t get upset and feel the need to react. It really is a balancing act.

Why is distance your friend?

reactive rvers distancesYour have two critical distances around it and the size of those spaces will depend on the individual dog, and the outer one will alter with training.

The outer circle or bubble, can be thought of as peripheral space; outside of this space, the dog is aware of people and other dogs but isn’t worried by them. They are far enough away not to concern him at all.

One a dog (or person) crosses that barrier and enters that outer bubble, then your dog will start to get anxious and the closer the other dog (or person) gets to the inner circle (the dog’s personal space), the more uptight and worried your dog will become.

If the dog (or person) enters the dog’s personal space, then the dog is likely to react. Dogs only let their close friends into their personal space, very much like we do. Think about how uncomfortable you become when a stranger gets too close to you. It’s only our social inhibitions that stop us from lashing out (well usually they do).

For some dogs, that out peripheral boundary may be more than the length of a football pitch or more; for other dogs, that distance may only be the width of a street. Our aim is for out dogs to be comfortable to have dogs/people within that outer boundary and to shrink the distance of that boundary down to a more acceptable (to us) distance. This isn’t going to happen overnight and it certainly won’t happen if the dog is punished for showing signs that it is uncomfortable.

Your job is to keep people and dogs outside that outer boundary and to reward your dog for being comfortable when they are there (so lots of really tasty goodies or play with their favorite toy). The food (or toy) only gets produced when your dog is aware of the other dogs/person.

Sometimes, the other dog or person just gets too close and we need to be backing away and getting our dog away.

Here are a few tips for dealing with dogs when you are out walking with your dog reactive dog.

Both dogs are on lead

Cross over the road, do a quick U-turn and quickly go back the way you’ve come from, hide yourself and your dog behind a car, hedge or tree so that he doesn’t see the other dog. I’ve even nipped up someone’s drive way before now to avoid another dog. Basically put as much distance between you and the other dog.

If the other dog owner insists on following you, shout across to them that your dog has got kennel cough or some other infectious disease and that usually makes them go away.

Your dog is on lead and the other dog is off lead.

This is a slightly trickier situation, especially if the owner is not in sight or appears to be of the “It’s OK, he only wants to say hello/play” type. I cringe when I hear that phrase as it usually means that they are unable to call their dog back to them, no matter how politely you ask them to. I usually carry a pocket full (or more) of tasty treats. As the dog approaches, I grab a handful of treats, lift my hand up above my head (a signal for sit) and shout at the approaching dog to sit and at the same time, I throw the treats straight at it. The startled dog usually spends a little while scoffing the treats, enabling me and my dog to run away in the opposite direction.

You can also try the “My dog has an infectious disease” approach if you feel that the owner has a hope of recalling their dog.

I’ve heard of people using pop-up umbrellas to startle the other dog away, but it’s not something I’ve tried and you will need to remember to teach your dog that the umbrella popping up is not something to be scared of.

Tips for dealing with people approaching your dog

As you see a person approaching, before you even speak to them, quickly back up and call your dog to front and then keep walking backwards as you explain that your dog is frightened of strangers. Feed your dog the whole time you are doing this.

A variation on this is to walk backwards, call your dog back to you and then drop food between your feet. People seem less inclined to approach a dog’s backside to fuss him that they do the head.

You could teach your dog to go behind you as people approach, thus putting yourself between the approaching person and your dog.

I have actually been known to step forward with my arm up whilst saying stop (bit like a policeman directing traffic). That generally shocks people into stopping their approach, which then gives me chance to explain.

One more thing with people is that they are very judgmental and when your dog does bark, lunge or growl, they expect you to tell the dog off (which actually won’t help) and are shocked when you don’t. I’ve found teaching the dog a ‘mock’ reprimand works very well in these situations as folks believe that you’ve told the dog off. A mock reprimand is something like ‘bad dog’ where we have actually taught the dog that these words and a cross tone mean that a reward is coming. It’s a very handy ploy.

For more tips like this and for support for your reactive dog, come and join us in our Top Tips for Reactive Dogs FaceBook group.

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Author: caninetutor

Fully qualified dog trainer and educator, delivering workshops around the UK.

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