I hear it way too often…getting calls from concerned dog owners telling me that their dog was a great puppy and then between the age of 10 months to 2 years old the dog is becoming leash reactive “all of a sudden”.
At the age of 8/10 months – 2 years old there are hormonal and other development changes going on in your dog. He’s going from being a baby to becoming a teenager maturing into an adult and he’s learning to navigate his world in the best way he can.
While for the average dog owner it appears that if the dog is becoming reactive/aggressive if happens all of a sudden, there’s usually a history leading up to it and there are some simple ways to prevent it.
There’s two types of dogs that are most prone to become reactive.
1. those that lack boundaries early being allowed to run the show (confident or not) and being overly excitable
2. insecure dogs which show as rather submissive or shy at a younger age.
3. Now let’s mention a 3rd type just for the sake of it cause leaving them out would be silly (genetically prone dogs and dogs that are not biologically fulfilled)
Today I just wanted to share 3 ways with you, that may help you get a little more insight and help prevent your dog from going from super cute to super cujo down the road.
1. If you have a dog that appears to be overly submissive, that can often be a sign of insecurity. Many well meaning dog owners are then making plans to socialize the dog more which is great but is often execute the wrong way. It often leads to the average dog owner thinking that their dog needs to be socialized more with other dogs and the best way to do that they think is the dog park.
In reality, dog parks often times are too overwhelming for submissive/insecure dogs. You will often see them just trying to surrender themselves over and over while they excitable dog keeps picking on them. Once they get older, they may start snapping a little at the rowdy dog but eventually, when correcting the rowdy dog isn’t helpful because no humans’ steps in the teach them appropriate behaviour the submissive shy dog will revert to biting or reacting. It comes out of necessity for this dog to protect themselves because no one else did even thought they tried to communicate and ask for help long ago.
If you have a rather very submissive dog, the dog park is not the right place to socialize this dog rather. Rather focus on building confidence through other exercises making their personality more stable and socialize these dogs with other gentle mature adult dogs that have proper dog skills and are respectful.
2. Proper leash walking skills can be a way to help prevent reactivity. Actually, when working with a reactive dog, proper leash skills is the number ONE thing they need to master. And when I talk about proper leash walking skills, I’m talking about a dog that walks next to you, that’s not constantly sniffing, that’s not constantly allowed to go greet other dogs and just do his own thing on the walk. A dog with proper leash walking skills is walking on a loose lease, being connected with you and understands that you are doing a team activity.
The reason this is so important because we want a dog that has a strong social connection to us and that is not distracted on leash. Many dogs, especially overly friendly or exuberant dogs become reactive because they haven’t learned the boundaries and understanding of the leash and a proper leash walk that they get frustrated when they can’t get where they want to go – greeting another dog for example – that the happiness/excitability/frustration turns into a full blown melt down. Maybe starting as a tantrum and eventually turning into a learned behaviour that provides a momentary stress relief.
Something similar can happen with insecure dogs when they are “forced” to greet other dogs on leash even though they don’t really want to. This goes back to the well meant try to socialize dogs with each other, how ever a dog that is on leash should stay on leash by itself and its space should be protected and at the same time your dog should respect that when he’s on leash he is WITH YOU and no one else.
3. Boundaries. Boundaries. Boundaries.
Dog’s that don’t learn boundaries and the rules of life often become entitled pricks. Yes, exactly. Just like humans. If a dog can behave in any way it wants at any time, whether that is leash pulling, barking at you for attention, running amok in the house, jumping from chair to chair or lap to lap as pleased etc. dogs can become entitled feeling that they deserve whatever they want whenever they want. If then there is a moment where they don’t get it, they will become upset and show it in the form of reactivity. Boundaries and structure is a base foundation for any type of dog with any kind of personality to help give them security and understanding.
So, if you have a dog that seems to snarl at you when you touch it (and it’s not related to a health issue), try to take his toys or try to move him etc. there’s a chance that you have an entitled dog and I would recommend start looking at your lifestyle and where just maybe you are lacking a relationship that is based on trust but also respect.
About the author:
Simone Krebser - CPDT: Owner and head dog trainer of K9 Possible Dog Training serving the Okanagan Valley in British Columbia from Osoyoos to Penticton and Kelowna. Certified dog trainer, certified pet first aid instructor, member of the IACP, dog crazy and chocolate/cheese addict. “My life revolves around dog’s day in and out and I wouldn’t have it any other way. It is my goal to help enhance the lives of all the adventurous and outdoorsy dog owners that crave no limits”