Handling Your Excitable Dog

Walking along the city streets can be a real challenge for those of us with excitable dogs. While some people easily stroll along, their dog happily by their side, others of us find the strain of walking with a pulling, lunging dog takes the fun out of what should be an enjoyable outing with our pet.

One of the first steps is teaching your dog not to pull. A dog out in front of his owner and pulling on his leash is likely to find trouble, if not to create it, and nobody likes being dragged down the street!

Pulling: if your dog pulls you and you go in that direction, it’s working for the dog and there’s no reason for him to stop. You need to stop (or better yet, never start!) this habit. When you feel the leash go taut, stand still and be prepared to wait for your dog to notice you. You can’t be in a hurry when you’re training this. Say his name once, back up one step at a time, do whatever you need to do to get his attention. You’re waiting for your dog to walk towards you, not just in a peremptory “can we get moving please” kind of way, but a real connection. When he does move toward you, praise him, treat him and move on! His reward is to move forward again. You may only get one step until you have to stop again, but stick with it. If you need to take your dog for daily walks for exercise while you’re training this, try using a no-pull harness to indicate that there’s no training going on and you’ll just be managing him this time out. Changing direction unexpectedly, make a turn you don’t usually make, and making a U-turn for no reason also helps keep your dog’s attention on you.

Good and Bad Habits: If your dog is really reactive to other dogs walking by – if she’s jumping, pulling and barking – it’s important to break her of that habit as much as possible. The more your dog does something, the more likely she is to do it again. That’s the good news and the bad news, because it means that the more you practice things you like (sit, come, down, roll over, shake, walk nicely beside me) the more she’s likely to do it. But it also means the more she does things you don’t like (barking, lunging, jumping) the more likely she is to do that, too.

Those of us in the city have a million obstacles we can use to our advantage to prevent unpleasant dog interactions from becoming a habit. With some treats in your pocket, Parked Car Slalom can be played. If you see something coming that’s going to arouse your dog, step between the parked cars, away from the distraction before your dog gets excited. Treat your dog for good behavior, and keep walking in and through the parked cars until the coast is clear. Talk to your dog, breathe so you’re not conveying tension, and keep your voice light and relaxed. And then chalk one up for you, who took away one chance for your dog to practice acting up, and gave one chance for her to practice behaving well!

The urban landscape is filled with opportunities for avoiding bad and building good habits. Learn to use whatever is nearby – bushes, trees, front porches, bus stop shelters, even an open umbrella or brief case can be used to block a view while you practice good behavior. Anything your dog is comfortable around can be used as a space for positive training and building better instincts. See our web site for recommended reading.

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