Unfortunately, leashes and other barriers such as windows in homes and cars, fences have contributed greatly to dogs feeling frustrated about seeing other dogs and not being able to interact with them. When this frustration becomes too much to bare, dogs can begin to exhibit what is called barrier frustration.
Most dogs when frustrated because they cannot access something they want – the other dog, will begin to associate the visual of another dog or even the noise made by a dog’s tags with frustration for them.
This is a perfect example of how classical conditioning works. The pairing of two stimuli, the first being associated with the (emotion) in this case frustration. After a few trials of this paring: dog = frustration, your dog begins to respond by lunging, barking at the sight of the other dog.
It does not help at all that what most people do when their dog begins to act this way is to pull on the dog’s leash. Pulling on a leash that is attached to a collar is even worse, as the oxygen supply gets compromised, now the dog is not only frustrated but possibly anxious as the airflow is reduced.
Add to the pulling on leash & lack of oxygen, with harsh admonishing to the dog by the handler.
Again, more frustration! So, what is one to do instead? How can we help those dogs – and they are so many of them, to feel comfortable when seeing or hearing other dogs while they are on leash?
Here is where, once again, classical conditioning makes its appearance; but this time it comes to the rescue. Our job is to teach the dog that is feeling frustrated, anxious or even fearful, that the presence of another dog means good news for him! No more getting hurt by a collar when the leash becomes taught, no more the bad feelings associated with wanting something badly and not being able to access it – over and over again.
Instead, your dog will begin to associate the presence of other dogs with delicious chicken served right there in the park! After repetitions of the presentation of the chicken or other VERY high unconditioned stimulus, your dog will not only be looking at you since the chicken or else comes from you, but it will begin to look forward to seeing more and more dogs on your walks.
Now, this is the skinny of the procedure. It sounds easy enough, right? It is, once folks understand certain conditions.
It is of the utmost important in order to establish the one to one pairing of dog (frustrating/scary stimulus) with the unconditional stimulus (food, a game such as tug) to have the presentation of the first stimulus, (dog) ALWAYS PREDICT the second one – the food, play, etc. This order of events MUST be followed as such.
In other words, the “good stuff” should only come after the scary or frustrating stimulus. Never before, or at the same time, but just seconds after your dog has seen or heard the other dog. Also, once the scary or frustrating stimulus is out of sight the good stuff ends too!
In addition, one has to make sure that the dog has seen the frustrating or scary stimulus and not only us.
Yes, you guessed right, you will have to do many, many such pairing before your dog begins to change his negative (frustration, fear or anxiety) when seeing other dogs on leash. Once your dog begins to feel better about dogs on leash, the response of having to bark or whatever your dog is doing will diminish and
at some point your dog might be thinking… Ahh, too bad! I guess I will have to wait to see more dogs to get more chicken. I want to see more dogs, where are they????
In my professional experience once dogs exhibit the typical behaviors of barrier frustration as explained, it is imperative that the handler gives the dog ample distance from other dogs while he is leashed. Here is a good human analogy that I hope will clarify what I am trying to explain:
Road rage. Some people have it while others don’t. But let’s look at the example of someone that has engaged in behaviors associated with the frustration of road traffic. They yell, honk, curse and some pull out punches or worse, guns!
Perhaps the person suffering from road rage has taken an anger management course. With LOTS of practice this person learns that while they might still feel really pissed off at other drivers they can exercises other options such as humming to themselves, take calming breaths, etc.
Similar with our barrier frustrated dog! They might still feel the negative emotions associated with seeing other dogs while kept on leash but they have now learned to respond differently. Your dog is instead looking at you and focused on you because it has learned that seeing other dogs means chicken rains from the sky. In addition, and very importantly so, the positive association of seeing dog becomes stronger and stronger.
However, just as in the example of person who engages in road rage, some dogs will have to be managed for life around dogs when behind barriers or on leash, because at any time the stimulus becomes too much.
Having said this, working with your dog as described above will reap many benefits. One being that you now have a plan as to how to deal with a dog that appears or that is out of control. Now, you can grow confident and enjoy your walk because you can relax more as you have the tools to help both of you.
Ideally, your dog does not get to see dogs passing by thru a window at home. Make arrangement to prevent this as much as possible. Do not allow your dog to “fence” fight with other dogs, this might undermine all the work you are trying to do when walking your dog.