It’s not uncommon for a dog, particularly a young dog, to become very excited at the sight of another dog. This excitement means they run off from their owner, a worrying distance, to enthusiastically greet the other dog. They might even ignore the signals from the other dog telling them that their level of enthusiasm stresses them, meaning they have to give stronger signals in the form of a snarl or snap.
The frustration and embarrassment this can bring about leaves you feeling negative about walks. Other owners are rude and judge you. You walk early in the morning, or late at night just to avoid other dog walkers. You have to keep your dog on lead to prevent this from happening.
Walks should be fun, not stressful.
Let’s look on the bright side - you have a friendly, happy and enthusiastic dog! That’s great, you’ve done a good job socialising your dog.
The problem is the lack of impulse control. Without any impulse control, your dog can’t manage their excitement. Consequently, they see another dog and they’re off! They ignore the stress signals of other dogs because it’s all just too exciting. Even negative attention from the other dog is worth it.
It’s all about building that impulse control.
So the first steps are to manage the situation. Prevent your dog from being able to practice the behaviour, and therefore reinforce it. Long lines come in many different lengths, thickness, colours and materials. Don’t use an extendable lead, there is constant tension with these leads which will be an extra cue to your dog and not apply when they’re off the lead. Additionally, it’s impossible to ‘walk-up’ these leads to reward your dog, let alone the health and safety risks of these leads.
A long line will allow you to stop your dog from running off to others, whilst giving you the opportunity to practice recall and exercise your dog. Now you might find it frustrating at first, it’s a bit of a skill to learn how to manage a long line. I’d recommend around 10 metres, as much longer will give you a lot of extra lengths to manage. Attach your long line to your dog’s harness for safety.
Then how do we teach impulse control?
Well, firstly, practice recall constantly with no distractions around. Get your dog eager to come charging to you when you call them. Keep that recall fun fresh in their mind, so that when you come across a distraction, it’s more tempting to come straight to you. Be interactive, be fun and be rewarding. If you play games with your dog and give them rewards for recall e.g. a tasty treat, there will be less of a temptation to run off.
Teaching impulse control around other dogs is gradual, it’s all about rewarding the little increments towards a calm approach. Begin to recall your dog when you first see another dog, no matter the distance. Get the association that another dog in the distance means that your dog is going to get loads of fun and reinforcement from you instead. Reward any focus on you, even a quick check-in. Food is best here, you can get lots more reinforcement in and use higher value goodies like sprats!
Now, as you get closer to the other dog, your dog is not suddenly going to be able to listen. Just work on getting past them and then reward your dog when they’re able to bring their focus back to you.
Gradually you’ll find your dog able to focus on you for longer and closer to another dog. No longer running off long distances! That impulse control will help your dog read the signals of others better too, being calmer and less overwhelmed. When you find the right playmate, you can let your dog off to play, then wait for some calmness to recall and reward, before releasing them to play again.
Reward the good behaviour.
Prevent the wrong behaviour.
Work at a level of challenge, but with plenty of opportunity for success.