German Shepherd, Portuguese Water Dog mix attacked another dogAround nine months to a year ago Mo gradually changed from being a confident dog that loved all other dogs to how he is now, reactive to many dogs.

Mo is a cross between a German Shepherd and a Portuguese Water Dog – unusual and beautiful.  He is 20 months old.

As with most dogs, he is worse when on lead. The other day he went for another dog when he was off the lead – the only other time he did this was some months ago when they were on holiday. They decided it was time to get some help.

We looked a little into past history. At the time when Mo started to change there were a few things happening in his life that perhaps individually would have made little difference but when added together may have played a part.  Firstly, they moved house. Previously he had many doggy friends that he played with daily. The young couple had been living with parents so Mo would not have been left alone much, and he started showing signs of distress when left. Also around that time he was castrated. The final thing that won’t have helped is that along a track at the start of their usual walk they regularly used to meet a dog that barked aggressively at Mo, and now he is particularly reactive along this same track.  In fact it was the scene of the recent incident.

Like us, dogs have much better memories for scary things and locations. It’s much harder to wipe out a really bad experience than to recall a good one.

Mo’s not consistent. Some days he takes little notice of the other dogs and some days he reacts. The two times he actually went for a dog were each at the end of a period of upheaval. There was a build up of exciting and overwhelming activity over previous days with lots of people, a holiday packed with activity in a new environment, excited children, too much noise and so on.

Whilst Mo needs plenty of stimulation of a healthy sort, he doesn’t need to be over-stimulated. The longer evening walk itself possibly over-stimulates him in some way because he doesn’t settle afterwards.

People often don’t see the connection between the state of mind the dog already is in before leaving the house and how reactive he is on walks and believe it to be merely a training issue, but homework is usually needed also.

At home Mo needs to be able to trust his humans to take care of any perceived danger in just the way he needs to be able to trust them when out on a walk.  Food is about the best resource for getting the dog to associate other dogs with something nice, but it has little value if it’s constantly available at home for free. He loves a ball, so maybe the only time for now he gets to hold a ball when out on a walk is when they are passing another dog. They need to know exactly what to do and what sort of distance there should be between the two dogs.

When walking past other dogs they need to be able to hold his attention. If they can’t do this at home they won’t get it out on walks.

They need equipment that is comfortable – at present they have a short and heavy chain lead, a Halti and a retractable lead.  None of these are conducive of happy, comfortable loose lead walking and in fact will make him feel restrained and trapped.

Mo has some doggy friends and he needs lots of opportunity to play with them. He however needs to learn, by constant repetition, to default to coming back to his humans whenever he sees another dog – and then they can decide what to do, not Mo.

A couple of days later: ‘We have already had a couple of good experiences with other dogs and Mo has showed improvement in loose lead walking. Yesterday I actually enjoyed our walk together for the first time in months!!’
A month has now gone by and this message shows just what can be achieved when people carefully follow our plan: ‘Last weekend we took him for a long walk across big open fields where we could avoid dogs if we saw any. At the end of the walk we saw two dogs coming in the distance so called mo back with the whistle, turned back in the other direction and left about 25-30 metres distance for these dogs to pass. We had mo sat down with a treat but made sure that he was able to see the dogs and he didn’t react at all! He definitely saw them but was so focused on me and the treat that he didn’t care, so we felt really good after that’. Another month later: Thank you for all the time and effort you have put into helping us so far, we are so grateful and are really enjoying seeing the improvement in Mo and really feel that we understand him far more than we used to 🙂

NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Mo, which is why I don’t go into all exact details here of our plan. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dogs can do more harm than good. One size does not fit all. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Get Help page).