Routine reactions are situations that initiate a common response each and every time they occur. Whilst these can be harder to avoid throughout the year, and setbacks will likely happen more often, the great news is that they often have less of an ‘it’s the end of the world’ feeling, and we can mostly choose how often we want to expose our dogs to them. In this case, we are usually working with a repeat instigator, that triggers a repeat emotion and therefore a repeat reaction.
So, to combat this, we are going to take our process from above, and add in a couple more steps.
Step 1: Take a break. It’s important to keep our dog’s minds and bodies fit, but make sure to take a break every time your dog shows fear as a result of seeing another pup. We need to avoid our frightened dogs seeing other dogs in the early stages, except during training sessions when you are sure not approached by them.
Step 2: Find a way to introduce the trigger in a controlled and non-threatening way. In this case, if your pup struggles to keep their cool when seeing other dogs, find a secure spot where you can keep a comfortable distance from them and visit for short regular training sessions. Try to consider areas near you that dogs are often on the lead.
Step 3: Stay in control. We cannot stress the importance of this enough. If your unleashed dog approaches a leashed dog and there is an altercation that leads to someone feeling scared of or being injured by your dog, in the eyes of the law, your dog is the one out of control. Even if leashed dog initiates a confrontation, you are responsible. Only let your dog off the leash if you have full recall control and avoid letting them greet leashed dogs. If you need some tips on improving recall, check out our blog here.
Step 4: Watch your dog’s body language to ensure they are far away enough from the other dog not to be worried by them. If they show any signs of being worried move further away. It can also help to have taught a cue such as ‘watch’ or ‘this way’ so you can guide your dog’s behaviour when they see a dog they are uncomfortable with. Bring along a selection of high value treats and give your dog the cue and then a treat each time they notice another dog.
Step 5: Keep at it! It may not seem like very much is happening but we are slowly changing our dog’s emotional responses. By giving them something wonderful each time they see a dog, they will start to build up the association of dogs = good things. It really does take a while, so don’t be discouraged if you don’t see immediate results.
Step 6: Look for the change. If you repeat step 5 over and over, there will come a time when your dog sees another dog, and for a brief second, they look to you for the treat. This is a great moment and the start of some real improvement. When this happens, reward your dog with several treats, one by one in rapid succession. We want them to be really motivated to do it again!
Step 7: You guessed it, repeat! By rehearsing these steps over and over, very gradually, and closer to the other dogs, your dog will start to learn to be less worried by them. However, don’t rush things and make sure to only decrease the distance and increase duration once your dog is completely relaxed.
If you are struggling or would like some practical help then get in touch with your vet or find an accredited behaviourist.