How to Train Your Dog to Ignore Other Dogs
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When you go for a walk with your dog, their safety is of the utmost importance. This doesn't only mean keeping them safe from traffic or other dangers they may encounter. It also requires us to curtail their behavior if it puts them in jeopardy. One of the most common issues is when our dog encounters another dog. They may start after them, pulling hard on the leash or even behaving inappropriately with the dog. These impulsive and sudden behaviors can threaten the well-being of both dogs, so it is something we need to understand why they do it and what we can do to stop it.
At AnimalWised, we find out how to train your dog to ignore other dogs. We look at the reasons your dog is so interested in other dogs and the practical ways we can help them avoid inappropriate contact.
Why do dogs behave inappropriately when they see other dogs?
To understand why dogs lose control and become agitated when they see other dogs, we need to understand the concept of reactivity. In canine ethology, a reactive dog is one which is not capable of managing their emotional response to various stimuli. As a consequence, they react intensely and disproportionately. This type of inappropriate emotional response is characterized as being impulsive and involuntary, not premeditated or rational.
An all-too-common mistake guardians make with reactive dogs is to think they are being aggressive. This is not usually the case. A dog that barks, cries, growls, jumps or yanks on the leash when they see another dog doesn't necessarily want to attack them. Reactivity is the result of emotional mismanagement and can appear in the face of any emotion. This includes positive feelings such as joy. It is this reactivity which means they do not obey when they see other dogs, regardless if it is positive or negative.
Although there are many reasons why a dog can develop a reactivity problem, we provide some of the most frequent reasons a dog goes crazy when they meet other dogs:
- Fear: fear is a negative and very intense emotion. It often generates phobias and reactivity problems in dogs. For example, if your dog has experienced trauma in the presence of other dogs, they may become scared if they see another dog.
- Anxiety: the feeling of not having control over a situation often causes high levels of stress and anxiety in dogs. In these instances, they can respond reactively to any stimuli that generate such insecurity. This is common in the case of dogs that have not been properly socialized with other dogs or those that have been educated through punishment.
- Frustration: sometimes reactive behavior stems from the dog's frustration at wanting to approach another animal and not being able to do so. These is commonly in the form of a dog being on leash and their guardian holding them back. When a reactive dog is free to approach another off leash, they often tend to be less impulsive and behave more rationally.
- Hypersociability: reactivity does not have to be associated with a negative emotion. It can also occur in the event that a dog does not know how to manage the joy they feel when meeting another dog on the street. In this case, the dog is barking or pulling on the leash because they are simply so excited at saying hello. When a hypersocial dog is not given sufficient opportunity to meet others, they can become reactive.
- Aggression: although it doesn't always happen, reactive behavior can precede an attack or serve as a warning for the other dog to leave them alone. In this case, the body language of the dogs and the tension that exists between them becomes very important.
- Lack of self-control: as can happen with people, there are dogs that have a very impulsive character. This can be influenced by genetics, elements in their environment or their prior experiences. In these cases, it can be very difficult for the dog to contain their excitement and properly channel their emotions.
Pulling on a leash can be problem for many dogs, even if there are no other dogs around. Find out some practical solutions with our tips to prevent a dog pulling on the leash.
How to make my dog ignore other dogs
As with any behavioral problem, it is imperative to understand what drives a dog to act the way they do. For this reason, the first step in successfully teaching your dog to ignore other dogs is to identify the cause of their reactivity. How we will train them to ignore other dogs will depend on this underlying reason.
Similar to many other problems related to emotional management, reactivity generates behaviors that are impulsive and involuntary. This means it is completely useless to try to solve the problem through physical or verbal punishment. Once the behavior has occurred, the best thing you can do is try to calm and distract your dog. Creating a strong bond through positive reinforcement and understanding of the individual dog's personality are vital when trying to modify behavior.
Each dog is different and the methodologies you use will depend on their specific personalities. However, there are some general guidelines you need to follow if you want your dog to ignore other dogs:
- Use a comfortable harness and a long leash. Eliminating constant tension of a short leash and giving your dog more freedom of movement can help you better manage encounters with other dogs. Learn more with our article on whether a collar or harness is better for dogs.
- Reduce exposure to the problematic stimulus. At the beginning of the behavior modification plan, it is recommended you reduce exposure to any stimuli which creates reactivity as much as possible. In this case, the stimulus is the presence of other dogs. You can change your walking route, go out at quieter times or even limit their visibility when in the home. This works to help control their stress levels and enter into behavior modification in a better position.
- Increase the distance between other dogs. Many dogs only behave reactively towards other dogs when they are at a certain distance from them. It will be much easier for you to teach your dog to ignore other animals if you begin your training sessions by working on long-distance tolerance. Little by little, this distance can be reduced.
- Associate the presence of other dogs with positive stimuli. When you walk with your four-legged friend, take their favorite toy or some food they love with you. Whenever you see another dog, reinforce them before they react and change direction or move away a little to prevent any explosive behaviors. You can also teach them a basic dog command such as ‘look at me’ when another dog appears. In this way, you divert the attention of your dog and change their emotional state, since they know they will be reinforced.
With patience, you will gradually shorten the distance between your dog and other dogs. You will need to keep them on leash at the beginning to protect them and the other dogs. Even if they are happy, some dogs may feel attacked when the other dog is being reactive. It is important to remember that this process can take a long time. We may be able to work up to keeping the dog off leash with them being able to ignore other dogs, but many will always need to be kept on the leash.
After training, some dogs will not only ignore other dogs, but they may show no interest in them. In these cases, it is important you do not try to enforce interaction as it may undo all your good work. This is not the case with puppies. When a dog is young, they need to socialize with other puppies and adult dogs. This allows them to develop boundaries and will help prevent reactivity once they mature.
Learn more practical tips on training young dogs with our guide to socializing a puppy with other dogs.
When to go to a professional
As you can imagine, it is not always easy to identify the cause of reactive behavior. Even if we are able to do so, the process of behavioral modification is rarely easy. Reactivity problems which are not addressed can cause serious damage to the dog's emotional well-being.
When your dog loses control when they meet other dogs, they can naturally become used to them and settle down over time. This is part of their socialization. If they remain excitable or they become progressively worse, you will need to find our the cause of their behavior. If your struggle to do so, you will need to spear to a dog trainer or canine ethologist. They will be able to asses your dog's specific situation and can implement practical training tips which meet their individual needs.
If you notice your dog has become suddenly reactive when they were not before, you should take them to the veterinarian. It is often the case that a physical pathology will result in behavioral changes in the dog. Going to the vet can either rule out such pathologies or diagnose them for administration of treatment. Some older dogs can develop reactivity if they are suffering from neurological degeneration in dogs.
If you want to read similar articles to How to Train Your Dog to Ignore Other Dogs, we recommend you visit our Behavioral problems category.