SalukiFour years ago, at only about eight weeks of age, Saluki Tilly was found abandoned – tied up in the Dubai desert. She was rescued by an English family who have just recently just moved back home.

They have overcome various problems including separation issues, and Tilly is the perfect gentle family dog. However, she is giving them a new challenge now, that of reacting fearfully to other dogs (the good news is that there are some dogs she happily plays with, so it’s not all dogs).

As owners try more and more things in an endeavour to ‘stop’ their dog barking and lunging at other dogs it so often actually escalates things. Their attempted solutions are usually aversive to some extent. Gradually she will be associating other dogs with unpleasant things – in this case a tight lead on an uncomfortable head halter or collar with owner tension running down it like electricity resulting in discomfort and possibly pain when she lunges, along with a water bottle that scares her.

The way to start changing her reactivity is not by trying to force her into a different behaviour but by addressing the emotion that causes the behaviour – fear, along with plenty of positive reinforcement.

Other dogs should now only be associated with nice things – comfortable equipment, a loose lead and a happy, relaxed human – and CHEESE. Tilly adores cheese, so cheese could be reserved solely for associating with other dogs until eventually she will beSalukithinking ‘oh good, a dog, where’s the cheese?’! There are various ways of actually achieving this which we discussed (cheese would be unsuitable for a dog that’s lactose intolerant).

Before they are ready again for any doggy encounters at all there is some groundwork to be done. First, she should be walking comfortably on a loose lead instead of the usual pulling – something she was soon doing beautifully this afternoon on just collar and lead with the lady.

Secondly, in order for her humans to be trusted to deal with danger when out, they must be trusted to deal with it at home.  Thirdly, for the dog to give them her full attention when other dogs appear, she needs to do so at home. If the people are unable to get the dog’s attention because they are at her beck and call, then they won’t do so when out. Finally, for food to work on walks they need control over the food at home. A grazing dog is less likely to be sufficiently food motivated when in the distractions of the outside world.

Where the walk itself is concerned, she needs to be as relaxed as possible from the start. Loose lead walks should include all the sniffing she wants. Each dog ‘incident’ on a walk is cumulative. First time she may be only slightly concerned and walk past with no trouble. The second dog she meets she may be more reactive to and by now she is in a mental state ready to have a real pop at the third one. The people need to call it a day sooner. One successful encounter, even from a distance, is enough to start with.  Add to this her fear of loud vehicles. If she has been thoroughly frightened by a lorry at the beginning of the walk they might just as well come home. Her stress and tolerance levels will be far too high for any other challenges today.

Patience along with positive reinforcement pays off in the end.

NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Tilly, 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).