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When Walking Your Dog is Downright Scary

Updated: Mar 15, 2023

If you have a dog who is reactive to other dogs, going for a walk can be a scary experience. There you are, wanting to get some exercise with your buddy in the fresh air and sunshine, but instead it’s like walking through a minefield. You’re tense, constantly on the lookout for other dog walkers, or worse, a dog who’s off leash and running towards you. You might even have been on the receiving end of that well-meaning shout, “It’s okay, he’s friendly!” as a dog rushes up to yours. Why do people assume all dogs are friendly, anyway? It drives me crazy!

Unfortunately, when a dog is reactive toward others, walks tend to get shorter or less frequent, or even stop altogether. It’s understandable; we’re like dogs in that if something has an unpleasant consequence, we want to avoid it. Having been a dog-mom to adopted dogs who came complete with dog-dog reactivity issues, I know all too well just how miserable those walks can be.

So, can the behavior be modified? Yes! First, management must be in place so your dog doesn’t go over threshold (i.e., explode in a volley of barks and lunging at the sight of another dog). That might mean walking in a less crowded area, taking walks early in the morning or later at night when fewer people are out, or finding a park or other area where if another dog comes your way, you can easily move aside or on to another route. The second part of the solution involves teaching your dog specific skills that can be used to either avoid other dogs or to pass by them safely. Third are behavior modification techniques that will help your dog to change his underlying feeling toward other dogs. The vast majority of what is often termed on leash aggression toward other dogs is actually fear-based reactivity. If we can change the underlying emotion, calmer behavior will follow.

I’ve been down a deep, dark rabbit hole on this very topic for the last year while writing my latest book Help for Your Dog-Reactive Dog. It seems that whenever I write, I end up adding more and more “but what about…?s” until the book is even more comprehensive than planned. (Case in point, my Help for Your Fearful Dog book, which can double as a door stop.) While this new book mostly focuses on being able to walk your dog down the street without it turning into a lunging barkfest, there are also chapters about reactivity at home toward dogs passing by a window or yard, reactivity while riding in the car, and the oh-so-popular reactivity at the vet’s office. A whole chapter is dedicated to what to do if an off-leash dog approaches yours, and yet another outlines a variety of step-by-step techniques for breaking up a dog fight, in case the worst happens. There’s a lot more, including skills, behavior modification techniques, complementary tools and therapies that can help, and some really cool tips and tricks that you won’t find elsewhere. There are also lots of photos, and lovely illustrations by the talented Denise O’Moore.

I am and always have been driven by a passion to help dogs by educating humans, and this particular behavior issue is extremely prevalent. It’s also very modifiable with a bit of effort (okay, sometimes more than a bit). The great news is that Help for Your Dog-Reactive Dog is out today! It’s my hope that the book will be helpful to owners, of course, and also that trainers, rescuers, and other professionals will find it useful in helping dogs and people.

***Today was meant to be the last day of the 30% off Halloween sale, but I’d hate for you to miss out if you opened this email a day or two late. So, if you’d like to purchase Help for Your Dog-Reactive Dog or anything else on my site, use code HALLOWEEN22 at checkout until midnight Wednesday, November 2nd. Or, if you prefer, you can find the paperback on amazon here and the ebook on amazon here. Happy reading!

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