Mico recently moved with his family to a big city and has had trouble adjusting to the loud, busy city. In his new home, he has been acting protective, barking at guests, and even jumping at young children who were running down the street. He seems to be most fearful of men, and people with hats or hoodies.
His over-protectiveness has made things difficult for his family. Walks have been stressful, because his owners never know if a person walking down the street could trigger his protective behavior.
What NOT to do
Because Mico is behaving so agressively, it seems the right thing to do would be to scold him when he is barking or lunging. However, ANY attention coming from his family might actually reward him! Raising your voice and scolding him might be misunderstood as your approval. He could think you are also upset at what he’s barking at!
Yelling “No!” or correcting him may make him less likely to feel comfortable telling his owners he is upset. Growling can help owners identify situations that stressful to their dog so they know when to start training. Ironically, in these cases, training involves allowing a certain amount of growling since it is a signal that he’s upset.
What to do with a Reactive Dog
For training to work, the reactive dog has to feel safe. His owners need to learn to move him away from situations where he’s feeling overwhelmed.
A training plan for a reactive dog includes, Interrupting Techniques, a De-sensitization and a Counter-Conditioning plan. Make sure you have the right tools and equipment before starting training.
In Mico’s case, we recommended that instead of yelling, his owners take a “yoga breath”, breathing in and out, calmly for one or two seconds, then call Mico to them (name game). Refocusing him this way, and rewarding him if he responds will actually help him to calm down by encouraging him to focus when feeling stressed.
Building up this kind of automatic behavior, where he learns to quickly respond to his owners, will give Mico the message to focus and not feel like he has to worry.
Other Training Options for a Reactive Dog
In addition to refocusing, it is essential to learn how to interrupt your dog when they are really out of control.
Advanced training also incorporates desensitization and counter-conditioning to get your dog to start thinking positively about things that make your dog upset.
Mico quickly learned that people on walks and visitors are fun and not a threat. In less than one month, he (and his owners) were feeling happy and relaxed on walks and when meeting new people at home!
For more information about Reactive Dog training or to learn more about Refocusing techniques, Interrupting, and other solutions, check out Zen Dog Training Online.