Ask the Trainer

Tucker is a very friendly 3 year old retriever mix that we adopted from the Humane Society.  He has always been great with my three kids and loves playing with other dogs and going to the dog park and has never been in a fight.  Recently he has been barking and pulling towards dogs on our walks.  I thought he just wanted to play but yesterday when he reached the dog he bit it on the face.  What has happened to my sweet Tucker?

What you are experiencing with Tucker is called “reactivity” in the trainer world and it is very common.  Tucker’s reactivity is probably due to a combination of being uncomfortable meeting on leash and feeling frustrated at not being able to greet and play with dogs that he meets.  In this case, having a social butterfly can make the situation even worse because the frustration at not being able to play is even greater.

There are two things that you will need to do to help Tucker’s reactivity.

1)  Teach him that dogs approaching him on leash is awesome and that they are a cue that you are about to dispense awesome cookies and fun games.

How to – Bring tasty treats on your walks with Tucker.  As soon as he sees another dog, say his name and pop a scrumptious treat in his mouth, then walk away.  Treat him the very second he spots that other dog. Before long he will look up at you every time he sees a dog.

2)  Teach him that calm behavior and attention is the key to being able to greet and play with friendly dogs.

How to – Have a helper bring a dog that Tucker knows and likes.  Pick a distance from the other dog where Tucker is distracted but not lunging or barking.  Ask for a sit, wait for him to comply, then release him to go play with his buddy. This exercise works best if both dogs are released at the same time and meet off leash.

I recommend Patricia McConnell’s book Feisty Fido if you want some extra help.  Good luck in your training endeavors!

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