My Dog Lunges To Meet Other Dogs and Human Friends

Question:

Hi Almudena, To get to her destination quicker, my dog Jessie pulls, lunges and wants to run towards a dog and/or person she knows while on leash. What can I do in order to help her meet her friends in a calmer manner?

Thank you,
Diane

Jess

Answer:

Hi Diane,

Thank you for your inquiry. Ah, don’t you love having a dog that is eager to meet people and dogs? That is the upside of your situation. Unfortunately, not all dogs feel comfortable or even desire to interact with people or dogs which makes their lives less enjoyable and limited to in worst case scenarios a living hell.

Now, more specific to your question. First off we need to do a little detective work and see if we can ascertain Jessie’s motivation. It appears by your writing that because she already knows these people and /or the dogs that her motivation is indeed to go say “hi” in a rush. In other words, social interaction is her motivation.

Dogs, just like us, need to practice impulse control. The more they practice in the specific context and the more successful they will be when we need them to do so.

Here are my recommendations:
Whenever you come across a person or a dog that Jessie is eager to meet, you can… use a non-reward marker (NRM) in other words a “you blew it” verbal cue such as: ahh, too bad, Bummer- or any other short phrase or word that will roll easy out of your mouth. Initially Jessie has no idea what this means but it will only take a few trials of using the NRM paired with the consequence of not meeting the person or dog for her to put it all together.

Once you have given her the NRM, you will turn around and walk with her (you might have to coax her in a happy tone to move her along without having to drag her) in the opposite direction of the people/dog she wants to interact with.

After a few seconds of facing or walking on the opposite direction try again to move towards them.

If you try say twice or three times and she is not able to stop the lunging or pulling walk away for good from the interaction.

If possible, you want to let people know what you are trying to do with Jessie. If this is not possible I suggest you focus on the work with Jessie and not worry about what people might think. You can always explain later when you are not trying to work with her – this is a recipe for failure.

Last, once Jessie is able to contain herself even for a bit, say she stops pulling for three steps and is able to focus on you, rush to the person or dog as a reinforcer for polite manners.

As she learns what she needs to do in order to earn her reinforcer: social interaction, you can begin to expect more self-control until she learn that the only way she will get to say hi to her pals is by calmly walking, or at least no lunging or pulling towards them.

Do keep in mind that you must remain cheerful and not use a harsh voice or leash “corrections” when you are moving her away from the subject. If you don’t most likely you will create tons of frustration in Jessie with the possibility of a negative association with people in general, dogs in general or the specific subject she wants to meet.

In order for this to “work” you must practice this every single time she lunges or pulls to greet – consistency is key here. Depending on other factors such as how long Jessie has been engaging in the pulling and lunging behaviors, how long it will be before you see a positive change in her.

In addition to the above recommendation, walking her hungry with VERY high value treats will give you a leg up at least initially when you must move her away without dragging her.

Last, I am not sure what kind of “equipment” you are using on Jessie when you are walking her.
My recommendation is to desensitize her to a head-halter which will allow her to influence the
direction of where you want to go with much more easy than a front clip harness or any type
of collar.

Note to submit you behavior or specific situation question about your dog to me, please do so here:  http://www.chacodognewsevents.com/2014/10/20/submit-your-behavior-or-specific-situation-questions-about-your-dog-to-me/