Tuesday, March 13, 2012

New Unwanted Dog Behavior -- or Really? NOW? (Part 1)

A few months ago, I scooped up my worldly goods and pets and relocated to a different part of the U.S. How different,you ask? Well, it is SO DIFFERENT here that a great majority of people here use retractable leashes – yes, even for non-miniature sized dogs. To me, this signifies a few things:

  1. dogs on retractable leashes don't walk next to their people – they haven't been trained to;
  2. every time you see a dogs on retractable leashes, you are witnessing that dog being conditioned to pull while on leash; therefore,
  3.  dogs on retractable leashes pull constantly, ESPECIALLY when they see another dog on their walks.
Now – is pulling toward another dog an indication of aggression? Probably not; my guess is that, in most cases, these dogs want to do what comes naturally to them – to go and meet the other dog.

But if the dog's person misinterprets that pulling – the very pulling that they've unwittingly conditioned and reinforced, day after day after day – for aggressive behavior, then they will pull their dogs back, cross the street, scream at their dogs to “stop,” or some combination thereof. They will do anything but allow their dogs to meet the other dog.

What do you think happens to a dog who isn't allowed, let alone encouraged, to socialize with other dogs? An action that started off as (pre-conditioned) pulling morphs into something else altogether over time – unwanted behaviors develop. Leash reactivity then becomes the new normal.

And, as it turns out, this adversely affects the otherwise well-trained, well-socialized dog, too. Dogs like mine, who are used to daily interaction with other dogs of all kinds, are then deprived of the socialization they'd been accustomed to; they get frustrated.

The frustration then leads to leash-reactivity. So now, rather than simply passing by another dog (who is, of course, on the other side of the street) without incident, my dog lunges and growls and is generally a jerk: my beautiful, happy mutt now looks and sounds like a mean dog.

What's to be done?