Help! My Dog Reacts Excitedly On Walks!
Help! My Dog Reacts Excitedly On Walks!
It’s a glorious sunny morning and it is time for you to take your dog on his daily walk. However, instead of feeling excited about going for a stroll with your loving companion, you instead feel a sense of dread because you know how he is going to behave. Sound familiar?
As an owner, we find it incredibly embarrassing to go for a walk with our dog when, at the sight of another dog or person, they are standing at the end of their lead, on their hind legs and barking as loud as they can. In this moment we feel completely helpless because our dogs begin to ignore every word we say, and all they are focused on is the stimulus that they are reacting to. All we want to do in that moment is retreat back home because we feel like other people are judging us, and some may even make comments about how out of control our dog is.
Trust us when we say that you are not alone. There are many owners who have experienced, and are experiencing the exact same issue as you. The good news is that there are ways that you can help to improve this, but unfortunately it is not an overnight fix and it will take some time and patience to notice a difference.
Why Is My Dog Reacting Like This?
You firstly need to determine the reason for your dogs barking. Is it due to frustration, excitement, stress, fearfulness or reactivity? This may be a difficult one to determine as many of the behavioural presentations for all of these behaviours are the same. Many dogs can bark and pull on their leads through frustration because they want to reach another dog in order to play. Other dogs may be barking or lunging through fear of the approaching threat, and they have learnt that this behaviour keeps the approaching threat from getting too close to them. However, as owners, we often assume that excitement is the only reason that our dogs are behaving like this, because we do not want to think that our dog could possibly be acting this way in response to a stressful or fearful situation.
Once you have confirmed the cause of your dogs reactions on the lead, you can then begin to put techniques in place to help correct it. If your dog is barking due to stress, fearfulness or reactivity towards other dogs or people, then you should seek professional help in order to help you. This is not a behavioural issue that you should try to tackle yourself and you should not use any of the techniques in this article without speaking to a professional beforehand. The information contained in this article is based solely on dogs that are excitable on the lead.
What Can I Do?
If you have a dog that barks when they see another dog because they are frustrated on the lead and just desperate to play, then here are some techniques to help you reduce their excitement levels. You may think that it is better to walk over to the other dog and allow your dog to say ‘Hello’ because then your dog will be quiet. However, this is actually teaching your dog that their out of control behaviour gets rewarded with exactly what they want, which is to say ‘Hello’. Your dog needs to learn good lead etiquette so that they can approach other dogs or people in a calm manner. Not all dogs or people will understand that this is just your friendly dogs way of behaving because they are desperate to say ‘Hello’.
If you own a dog that barks excitedly at other dogs, then initially you will need to avoid areas where there will be lots of other dogs around. This is because you need to start building up the distance away from dogs whilst you can keep your dogs attention. When you are out on a walk, try and judge the distance that your dog starts to react from. Is it 50 metres, 100 metres or further than that? If your dog reacts excitedly to another dog at 50 metres, and you are unable to gain your dogs attention, then you are too close to the other dog and you will need to increase your distance.
You need to train your dog at a distance that you can keep his attention at all times. If your dog is too distracted by the other dog then you are too close to it. If you are successful in keeping your dogs attention on you then you can begin to gradually decrease the distance between your dog and other dogs. This technique is also true if your dog barks excitedly at people. Remember that if your dog is reacting then they are not thinking so do not expect them to respond to you. Your role as an owner is to prevent them from being able to react so that they can continue to be in the learning part of their brain.
Teaching your dog a ‘Watch Me’ cue is one of the many techniques that can be used to gain your dogs attention when they see another dog or person. This involves your dog looking at you when there is a distraction present, such as another dog or person. This enables the distraction to walk by without your dog being able to react to it.
Training your dog to walk nicely on the lead is also another great technique for these situations. If your dog does not walk calmly on the lead without distractions, then you have minimal chance of them being calm when there are distractions around.
Try not to pull back on the lead when your dog is behaving like this, as this will only resort in your dog pulling you harder. It is important to try and remain as calm as possible. This is because you are attached to your dogs lead and they will be able to feel everything that you are feeling. If you become tense, then so will they.
Changing direction on walks is also a technique that should be introduced into your daily walks. This should be introduced even when there are no distractions around as this can then be used if there is another person or dog approaching you.
Walk your dog on a fixed lead as you will have much more control if a situation should arise. We do not recommend the use of retractable leads in training due to the lack of control you have should your dog see something that causes them to react. If you have your dog on a fixed lead then they are much closer to you and it will make it easier for you to take control of the situation by walking away.
By using the techniques mentioned above, you should be able to reach a point where your dog is calmly able to approach and be around other dogs or people without getting overly excited. These are just a selection of the many techniques available to help with this issue.
When a dog reacts excitedly to an external stimuli, such as another dog or person, then their bodies will release a hormone called adrenaline and cortisol. These hormones will help them to cope with the situation that they are facing. Your role is to ensure that your dogs arousal levels are not able to escalate, because every time they do not react to something the better your chances will be at decreasing the unwanted behaviour.
Do Not Run Before You Can Walk
As with all training, you need to make things as easy as possible for both you and your dog. Many people with excitable dogs believe that their dogs will calm down over time and they insist on walking them with other dogs in the hope that it will help their dogs behaviour. However this will only reinforce the unwanted behaviour and will cause the behaviour to escalate. The more time and effort you can put into training an alternative response to the stimulus, then the better your results will be. Once your dog walks return to being pleasant and calm, you will thank yourself for all of the hard work and effort you put in to correcting the behaviour.
If you would like further support and help regarding this issue then we are always here if you fancy a chat, call us on 07538 032 508 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Please note that the information contained in this article is not intended to be a substitute for seeking professional help. We would advise for you to always gain help from a positive reward based behaviourist or trainer in any instance. They will ensure that you are doing the correct techniques for your situation, because following the wrong techniques can escalate your situation further.