Imagine that there is a child on the playground that routinely taunts, makes fun of, and intimidates the other children. How long would you wait before you interrupted this behavior? How long do you imagine this would go on before it would at some point escalate to something physical? Dogs are the same, but far too often owners misinterpret the body language that clearly say’s “I’m a bully and I’m looking for trouble.” I often will watch dogs play at the dog park and I will hear loving owners excuse their dog’s behavior by saying things like “He just likes to play rough.” or “That’s how he plays.” Much like the schoolyard bully is having fun at the expense of others a dog who is practicing bad behaviors may be playing or having fun.
I get to call all the time “My dog just attacked the neighbor’s dog, badly. I need to get into training right away” or “My dog just bit somebody really badly and I need to get training ASAP.”
That statement is inevitably followed by “He’s never done anything like this before.”
It rarely fails as I dig into the dog’s history with the owner I learn these behaviors weren’t out of the blue or new, but an escalation of behavior that the dog had been allowed to practice for sometime before without the owner realizing the severity. The confused owner will often use phrases like “It never broke the skin before”, It was only a nip, but nothing like this” or ” He’s gotten into tiffs with other dogs, but he always did great with our other dogs before this happened.”
Nipping, resource guarding, reactivity, or bullying other dogs isn’t something dogs just grow out of. Major issues, where dogs cause damage to another dog or person, is almost always the result of a pattern of previous behavior that hasn’t been correctly identified or addressed by the owner.
If your dog is showing these types of concerning behaviors they do not go away on their own, they don’t go away because you talked to the cashier at PetSmart and she sold you a gentle leader or an electric collar and they don’t go away because you stopped taking your dog to the dog park.
When concerning behaviors like reactivity, anxiety, bullying other dogs, or resource guarding pops up it is okay to try DIY training methods; however, you should be seeing measured progress-better where your dog gets a little better with every session.
Your DIY plan should be written and include:
- Management: Preventing your dog from practicing the behavior when not actively training. How will you handle loose dogs while out training? How will
- Counter conditioning: Helping your dog feel better about what is causing him to react
- Non-Compatible behaviors: Something you want your dog to do. This behavior should be something that he can’t perform the unwanted behavior with. For example; laying down is not compatible with jumping up. Looking at you is not compatible with staring down the neighbor’s dog.
- Goals: Behavior modification goals should be small and measurable. Instead of the goal being, I want my dog to like other dogs a better goal would be I want my dog to look at me when he sees a dog from 30 feet away then maybe the next session I want my dog to look at me when he sees a dog from 15 feet away.
- Keep track of progress daily. This is the best way to track your progress.
If you don’t know how to stop these behaviors and you’re not seeing progress with concerning behaviors there are resources out there. A certified professional dog trainer is the best option. If you can’t afford a trainer there are also training clubs and free resources like training groups on Facebook, blogs, training hotlines through Humane Societies and the ASPCA, and free training videos on YouTube. Not to mention there’s a ton of free books at the library. While these resources can be helpful it is often like using Web MD to solve complex medical issues and sometimes it’s like getting dating advice from Kim Kardashian.