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Ask a Trainer Question Answered

Author: Andrea Miller | Date: March 6, 2012

Here’s the next round of answers for our Ask a Trainer feature on our new website. It’s your chance to get dog training advice from the pros at AnimalSense. Stay tuned for more questions & answers, and if you have a burning dog training question, just “Ask a Trainer”!

My 5 year old mixed breed dog has gotten much better on his leash during our walks, but still has one very difficult to break habit. He identifies someone who walks by and furiously barks and jumps at them. It’s never the same person, or type of person, so it’s hard to predict when he will behave like this. I’ve tried positive reinforcement, but he just keeps doing it. How can I make him treat everyone nicely and just walk by?

You are on the right track with positive reinforcement! It’s important to ask for and reward behavior BEFORE the dog reacts to a person, otherwise the reactive behavior itself can be rewarding. Once a dog starts barking and lunging, you’ve lost them. And because the person always “goes away” (i.e. keeps walking own the street most likely), this barking/lunging is rewarding to the dog. They think: “I bark, the scary person leaves, therefore I am doing my job”. That’s why learning about your dog’s calming signals are so important. By interpreting your dog’s body language, you can recognize the signs before he starts to react and prevent the behavior by actually rewarding the calming signal. The reward could be a treat or keeping your distance from the person by changing your direction.

Dogs have the ability to calm themselves in the face of a threatening or stressful situation and to calm each other. Consider how dogs meet. If worried, a dog can communicate: “I know you are the boss here and I won’t make trouble.” The boss dog can communicate, “No trouble is intended–I’m in charge around here and I mean you no harm.” Dogs who do not signal properly can face many problems.

Common Calming Signals

• Yawning: dogs yawn to reduce their own stress and attempt to calm others.
• Licking of the nose: a quick little flick of the tongue is usually a signal to calm down
• Freezing: complete stop of motion
• Walking slowly
• Using slow movements
• Sitting or laying down
• Play bow
• Sniffing the ground
• Splitting up: when your dog purposely walks between two individuals (dogs or humans); it may look like the dog is drawing an imaginary line with his paws
• Wagging tail
• Arcing – moving towards you in an arc position, as opposed to straight on
• Eye contact patterns: averting eyes, turning away, displaying their back or
side to another dog or person
• Shaking (as if shaking off water)

By paying attention to canine signals, we can help dogs feel more secure. Obviously the goal here is to work with your dog until someone walks by and he doesn’t react. This can take some work and we suggest working with a trainer who uses Behavior Adjustment Training, or BAT. Basically, BAT gives the dogs a chance to learn to control their environment through peaceful means, and teaches them that barking and lunging gets them nowhere. If you are interested in learning more about BAT, give AnimalSense a call at 312-564-4570.



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