Need Help Keep­ing ‘Leash Con­trol’

The Oakdale Leader - - PERSPECTIVE -

DEAR DIDI: Our Golden Retriever is the sweet­est dog. He loves peo­ple and gets along with other dogs, most of the time. Ex­cept when we are on walks he be­comes a whole dif­fer­ent dog. He sud­denly lunges, barks in­sanely and scares peo­ple. We’ve worked with a cou­ple of train­ers and noth­ing has changed. How do we fix this? – Con­cerned Par­ents in Lodi

DEAR CON­CERNED PAR­ENTS: You are de­scrib­ing a dog that we re­fer to as be­ing leash re­ac­tive. I could do an en­tire week­end work­shop for train­ers on the sub­ject. Dogs who ex­hibit th­ese be­hav­iors have com­pli­cated psy­cho­log­i­cal rea­sons for do­ing so. The root of the prob­lem is al­ways, with very few ex­cep­tions, in­se­cu­rity and fear. There are dozens of sce­nar­ios that may lead to leash re­ac­tiv­ity.

You could stop tak­ing your dog for walks. Even­tu­ally, how­ever, you will have to take him to the vet, groomer or board­ing fa­cil­ity. The be­hav­ior will still be there. You may find that im­me­di­ately cross­ing the street to give a wide berth to on­com­ing walk­ers with dogs may lessen the re­ac­tion, but it doesn’t solve the prob­lem or re­pair your dog’s mind­set.

Con­sider a hu­man that has a fear of fly­ing, yet must board a plane in six months to at­tend a mo­men­tous fam­ily event. There are dif­fer­ent lev­els of fear. On a scale of 1 to 10, fear level 1 may be but­ter­flies in the stom­ach and white knuck­ling the arm rests. The per­son still man­ages to get on the plane and make the fam­ily event. Stress level 10 may be sweat­ing and hav­ing a panic at­tack over the mere sight of a suit­case coming out of the closet. It is im­per­a­tive for a ther­a­pist to know the stress thresh­old of their pa­tient be­fore at­tempt­ing any be­hav­ior mod­i­fi­ca­tion or teach­ing cop­ing mech­a­nisms.

I ap­proach leash re­ac­tiv­ity in the same man­ner. We must de­ter­mine the stress thresh­old of your dog. At what point does he ac­tu­ally be­gin to ex­hibit phys­i­cal signs of stress. Those signs may be yawn­ing, tail down be­tween hind legs, low whin­ing, avert­ing gaze, or lick­ing his lips. Ca­nine body lan­guage is ex­tremely sub­tle. They al­ways at­tempt to make their feel­ings clear be­fore they feel the need to “lose it” and lash out with bark­ing and lung­ing. This is why you need a ca­nine ther­a­pist/be­hav­ior­ist. Some­one who is ex­pe­ri­enced and ed­u­cated in be­hav­ior mod­i­fi­ca­tion tech­niques. You as the owner need some re-ed­u­ca­tion in how to walk con­fi­dently, use the leash cor­rectly and role model for your four-legged com­pan­ion.

We seek to al­ter how your dog per­ceives the sit­u­a­tion and the emo­tional re­ac­tion he may be ex­pe­ri­enc­ing when he sees an­other dog walking to­wards him. Then we teach him some cop­ing mech­a­nisms and al­ter­na­tive be­hav­ior choices. Un­der the thought­ful and de­lib­er­ate guid­ance of a dog ther­a­pist you can make walks pleas­ant again and your dog will be his nor­mal happy self – even while on a leash!

Dier­dra McEl­roy is a grad­u­ate of Texas A&M Univer­sity and is an An­i­mal Be­hav­ior­ist spe­cial­iz­ing in ca­nines. If you have ques­tions or con­cerns about the pets in your house, you can get them an­swered through a fu­ture col­umn of Didi’s Dogs. For a free con­sul­ta­tion with Dier­dra or to ask your dog be­hav­ior ques­tion, email www.Cal­i­for­ni­aCa­nineUn­

Dier­dra McEl­roy

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