Do you dread walking your dog because you end up apologizing to everyone you meet? As soon as your dog gets within reach, is she lunging, jumping, and pulling you over, while clobbering innocent passerby?
We feel your pain.
Leash lunging is not only embarrassing, it can be dangerous. Even if your dog is doing it out of over-friendly exuberance, they can injure a person. Worse, are the dogs that do it out of fear – they are one ones that might end up biting the person (or dog) they are lunging toward.
Regardless of why your dog is doing it, it needs to be stopped for the sake of others, and so you no longer have to dread walking your best friend.
The first thing you have to do is manage the situation while you are working on training. Training will not fix the behavior overnight, so in the meantime you need to figure out how to prevent the behavior from happening.
This is important! Why? Because the more your dog practices it, the harder it will be for you to get rid of the behavior. ESPECIALLY if your dog gets rewarded for it once in a while. For example, if every tenth person doesn’t seem to mind your dog clobbering them and pets him, he is being rewarded for the behavior and it will get stronger, even with training.
Here are some ways you can manage the behavior:
- Take your walks during “quiet times” and in quiet areas that have less people.
- Make sure your dog is on something you can control him with – a lot of bigger dogs actually have more leverage with a harness, you would be better off with a martingale collar (so they can’t slip out) and a Gentle Leader. For smaller dogs, a front clasp harness, like Victoria Stilwell’s, is a good choice.
- Exercise him before the walk, so his “crazies” are out. Play fetch in the backyard, trot him on a treadmill, etc.
- Keep him on a short leash, by your side. Do not give him all the leash.
- DO NOT USE A FLEXI-LEAD!
- If your dog starts to pull, keep a hold of the leash, but also step on it (as long as your dog can’t pull you off your feet).
- Start walking the other direction as soon as your dog “engages” with a stranger – stares, starts to walk forward, hackles raised, etc.
- Warn passerby’s that your dog may lunge at them so they can keep their distance.
- If people approach you wanting to say hi, tell them no and keep walking.
- Bring a favorite toy with you and start to play with your dog when you walk by a person, thus distracting them from their usual routine. This only works with dogs that are highly toy driven and even then, the stranger may be higher value than the toy .
These are just a few tips for preventing the lunging while you are working with your dog. You may find one or maybe all of these is useful depending on your dog and the situation.
Once you are managing your walks, it’s time to start training. You are going to begin at home, with no distractions and gradually move to harder and harder situations.
You are going to work on 3 concepts: keeping focus on you, loose leash walking, and sit to greet or leave it).
If your dog can master these 3 training skills, she will be a polite walker regardless of where you go.
Focusing on You
There are many ways to teach this. Some people teach their dog with a “watch me,” or simply their name as a cue for their dog to give them eye contact. Others, especially those competing in obedience, teach their dog to offer (meaning no cue needed) eye contact almost all the time.
What you do is up to you and your goals for your dog. The point, is to have your dog be able to focus on you – whether on cue or not – when he is in any situation.
- Start somewhere easy, like in your home.
- Once you can get your dog to offer you eye contact at home, then move to the backyard or front porch – somewhere with distractions at a distance.
- You will gradually build up distractions until your dog will look at you even if someone is walking right by them.
Loose Leash Walking
If your dog has been rewarded enough for walking nicely on the leash, lunging forward to greet people will not seem as fun anymore.
Like with focus, there are a few ways to teach this. You can work on a formal heel – dog right at your side on the left – or allow your dog to move a bit, as long as the leash stays loose.
However, you need to choose your criteria and stick with it (Later, you can use a cue and have two types of walking a heel and a more relaxed walk if you wish, but at the beginning you may confuse your dog if you go back and forth).
Also, at each session, choose a side and stay with it. You don’t want your dog to switch back and forth, they can trip you doing that.
Again, practice this, at first, in quiet places and slowly build up distractions. Having your dog’s focus will help make this easier.
Sit to Greet
If your dog is lunging out of friendliness, then you are going to work on a sit-to-greet protocol. This teaches him that an approaching human means “sit.” An auto-behavior like this makes it impossible for him to do his old behavior, because they are at odds with each other.
- Start by putting him on a tie-down (immovable object) and practice with just you (you are the least “exciting” person in his life). If he sits – he gets pets. If he lunges, barks, pulls, etc. stand silently and ignorehim until he sits.
- Once he is sitting every time you approach, start practicing on friends and family members.
- Gradually move up to strangers (who are usually more exciting)
If your dog is lunging out of fear, do not expect him to sit to greet. This will be way out of his comfort zone and he may bite someone. Instead, teach him to Leave people or to play Look at That (see something scary, get a reward) when he passes by people.
Then, it’s up to you to tell people your dog is shy and does not want to say hi. There are some great leashes and harnesses out there that let people know they shouldn’t approach as well.