Force and control may keep other dogs safe, but it doesn’t improve how beautiful Milo feels about them. The opposite in fact.
It’s always a treat for me, in my job, to meet a German Shepherd that welcomes me into his house! Milo is great with people.
The seven-year-old dog is the most gorgeous, friendly dog. They have come a long way in many respects having worked hard with his ‘manners’ and training since they adopted him four years ago.
However, there is one thing that simply doesn’t improve. That is his attitude towards other dogs when out on walks.
A lot of dog owners I go to can be stuck in the past regarding ‘control’ and the use of force – by force I mean use of physical control. They think that ‘positive’ means ‘permissive’ which it doesn’t.
They can also see that if force and control worked they wouldn’t need me.
After all these years, if their way was the right way to address the situation, Milo wouldn’t be lunging and barking at other dogs anymore.
Therefore, why not give force-free, reward-based, giving-the-dog-choices methods a go? They have nothing to lose and everything to gain.
When Milo launches himself at other dogs, they rely upon physically controlling him, using a heavy choke chain.
The gentleman has been taking Milo to training classes for over three years. This is all good, but although he’s fine in the hall with the other dogs that he knows, the training there doesn’t translate into the real world.
At the moment Milo will inevitably associate other dogs with several negative things: Tension on the part of the person walking him, being restrained and feeling trapped. There will be acute discomfort to his neck when he lunges and the choke chain lives up to its name.
Other dogs trigger bad news.
Because of how the people themselves react, other dogs have to be bad news to Milo. The only way they can control him when he lunges at another dog is, basically, to strangle him. One jerk can cause a lot of damage.
The way forward towards achieving their goal of ‘Milo less reactive when encountering other dogs’, is for him to feel better when he sees one.
Feeling differently, he will then behave differently.
So we have a plan. They are happy to get him a harness and to ditch the choke chain.
Now he can start to associate other dogs with good things: A loose, longer lead and trust in the person holding it. They will offer encouragement instead of scolding and use food or his ball when he sees a dog. Instead of feeling trapped, he will feel freedom whilst they keep what is, for Milo, a comfortable distance.
The antagonism towards other dogs is constantly rehearsed at home. Most of their neighbours have dogs and next door runs a doggy daycare. Milo is constantly on alert to bark each time he hears a dog. You can imagine they don’t get much of a break.
While he’s so reactive all day to dogs he hears at home, he’s unlikely to switch off and tolerate them when meeting them in the street.
Helping him out
There are various things that they need to do at home to build a really solid foundation to work from. They should help him out every time he hears another dog.
It’s fine for Milo to be the guard dog he’s born to be but they should help him out. He is the alarm and they should immediately pick up the responsibility for dealing with it. They need to do this constantly, calling him away and pairing other dogs with good stuff and so on.
It will take hard work and sacrifice. If he is reacting to dogs all day at home, he’s going to react to dogs when out.
Another task for home is to build up an automatic response to the whistle. The gentleman walks him at 5.30 am in order to avoid other dogs, so that Milo can run freely off lead. If he sees a dog he goes deaf. With reliable recall they will have him on ‘remote’.
Reactive – or proactive and force free
Using physical force to hold the big dog back when he lunges etc. means they, like Milo, are being reactive also – they are reacting.
If they now relinquish all force and do something positive, they will be proactive instead. This will give them real control and it will give Milo control also.