Sophie is a great natured, well behaved 8.5 year old labradoodle. She has one problem …. she does not like other dogs (all sizes) and becomes aggressive with them if they try to sniff or get to know her. At first I thought she was just jealous if I paid attention but then I noticed she did it if I wasn’t even close to her. How to I train her to be kind to other dogs? She is exceptionally well behaved in all other aspects except dealing with other dogs. I like taking her to the park and to other dog events but it is difficult since she doesn’t get along with other dogs.
Being 8.5 years old it may take a little bit longer for my advice to kick in with Sophie. This is because I am assuming she has been this way her entire life. What I am going to recommend doing is getting her to look at dogs and then get something she absolutely loves. (e.g. hot dogs, bacon, real meat, etc.)
Start off by going to a park that is pretty large (not inside a dog park). I would keep her on a shorter leash (4-6 foot). What you want to do in the beginning is get very far away from other dogs. Watch Sophie like a hawk because as soon as she looks at another dog, I want you to give her that high value item. I even want you to do it if she reacts. (Yes I am aware that it sounds contradicting.) The more distance between her and the other dog the easier it will be for her not to react.
With rewarding her either way what you will start to see less reaction from her and more anticipation of getting the good thing. Timing is very important because we want her to associate looking at the other dog with good things. It sounds like the reaction she is giving is because she is either unsure, or fearful. With giving her things she enjoys, over time she will start to associate dogs with things she loves. This will cause her to not be afraid or unsure, and will stop the outbursts.
The distance part that I mentioned is extremely important. If you try to start off too close there is a good chance you will push her past her threshold and she will not take rewards. When she is showing that she is comfortable from a far distance slowly start to get closer to the other dog. If she reacts you can always give her a bit more distance to try to get her to calm down. If done at the right pace though you should slowly start to be able to get closer and closer. You will need to do lots and lots of repetition of this. You will also want to do different environments.
You could also look around in your area for a reactive dog class. This will be a class taken along with other dogs that react. It is pretty chaotic in the first 1-2 classes but you’d be surprised what you can accomplish in a couple of hours in a structured environment. If you search for those make sure you do not go to a trainer that is using devices that cause pain. (e.g. shock, pinch or choke collars.) This will make the issues worse in the long run. You may see what looks like instant results from these devices, but what really is happening is “learned helplessness.” Basically the dog shuts down because it learns no matter what it does it is going to feel the pain from the collar.
Once again this behavior modification will take lots of repetition. But doing it this way will give you a dog that ends up enjoying being in the presence of another dog. The more you do, the quicker it will happen. One last thing is to try to keep her moving when you are doing this. I’ve found that the more movement on her part the less she will lock on to the other dogs. It may be a good idea to purchase a harness like an EasyWalk or a Freedom harness so that the leash hooks in the front of the dog’s chest. This will give you a bit more control when it comes to moving her around if need be.
Thanks for the question. Stay patient and consistent.
Kevin Duggan CPDT-KA
Kevin is a Certified Professional Dog Trainer through the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers (CCPDT.org) and is a Canine Good Citizen Evaluator through the American Kennel Club. He currently resides in Ohio with his dog, V, a six-year-old Shepherd/Lab mix, where he operates All Dogs Go To Kevin, LLC, specializing in helping build positive relationships between humans and their canine companions using clear communication, not pain and fear. For more training tips and tricks, and to meet his amazing dog, V, follow him on Facebook by clicking here.