Wild in the streets – managing reactive behaviour in dogs during outdoor walks

Summer is the season for outdoor living. After being trapped indoors by cold, rainy weather, for months, we emerge into the light to enjoy all that the sun and nature has to offer. And our dogs are probably more excited than we are to be getting back to exploring the world! There is nothing better than a summer walk with your favorite pup; nothing better, unless your dog is reactive to one of the things commonly encountered on a walk – other dogs.

Barking, lunging and growling, Oh my!

Dogs may bark, lunge and growl and be near impossible to control during walks, which can be difficult and embarrassing. No one wants to be the person with a wild, hysterical dog lunging at other dogs. The longer it goes on the harder it becomes, so management of the situation should be your first step through actions like the following:

  •  Adjust your schedule: Some people have had success with joining a night walking club or adjusting their daily walks schedule. You could try taking your dog for walks at times when hardly anyone else is out and about, or even go out between midnight and dawn. It may seem an extreme choice but if it fits your schedule then it can be a good first step before other management techniques.
  • Choose the right equipment: An Easy Walk Headcollar can be a great tool for reactive dogs. You can use the headcollar to direct your dog’s head, and therefore his gaze, away from other dogs and back to you. You may even want to consider double leads for an extremely reactive dog; leashes attached to both a headcollar and a harness provide more control and an extra degree of safety.
  • Keep your distance: Move as far away from the other dog as possible when passing on the path or street. You can also turn and head in another direction so your dog is no longer facing the other dog.
  • Consult a trainer: If you’re struggling to control your dog, then a professional trainer can help determine the cause and formulate a plan to best help them to learn new more appropriate behaviors, and advise you on how to support them.

Don’t label me

I don’t like to label dogs. We often assign labels to them which leads us to accept we can do nothing to help them. When I refer to a reactive dog, I am simply using the term to describe a dog who exhibits strong and negative behaviors to something in his environment. Specifically, I’m addressing those dogs that bark, lunge and growl at things that cause them stress, fear or anxiety or possibly just extreme excitement. They need our help, and the good news is we can help them.

Why does he act this way!

There are many reasons a dog may go crazy when encountering another dog. It may be that he’s super excited and wants to meet a new friend. Some dogs display extreme frustration when held back by a lead from the dog they want to approach. It could be fear or anxiety related. While each of these requires appropriate management, you and your dog trainer or veterinarian should consider the cause and formulate a management and training plan to help your dog.

Change their feelings

A first and very important step, after determining what triggers your dog to have such a strong reaction, will be changing his feelings about that trigger. This is when you will want to use classical conditioning. Associating something your dog likes with a dog or situation that triggers the wild response can change how they feel about it and so how they react accordingly. You need to use something your dog really loves and that trumps almost anything else. Some possibilities include the following:

  • Extra special treats – chicken, small amounts of meat etc.
  • A ball or toy and the opportunity to play
  • Tricks you have taught
  • A fun training session

The goal will be to provide one of these things your dog loves, preferably before your dog reacts, each and every time you anticipate an encounter with a dog. This will require you to be observant and keep distance between your dog and the dog he reacts toward. How much distance will depend on your dog. Staying far enough away so he doesn’t have a strong reaction is key. This is referred to as staying under threshold. By associating something really good when he has just noticed another dog, but before he reacts, you can change his emotional response.

Choice is powerful

You will need to keep your distance from other dogs and also provide for your dog to make some choices. Having the choice to move away from a dog that makes him anxious could make him feel better. It can be more powerful than the delicious treat you offer. So allow him to make that choice and if he does and moving away keeps him from reacting, then reward him with praise and /or treats for making a good choice.

Slow and steady progress

The progress you make in helping your dog may seem to come very slowly. When he is in a state of fear or excitement it can be difficult to learn. It’s the same for us when we are worked up – nothing gets in! That’s another reason keeping him under threshold is so important. You may be making good progress and then one day you come around the bend and practically run into another dog, before you know it your dog goes crazy and when you finally get away all you can think is all your work has been for nothing. Don’t fret, just keep helping your furry friend to learn and change and know that he would do the same for you.

A guest post by PetSafe® Certified Trainer & Behaviour Specialist Michelle Mullins.

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Tips for camping with your dog

Lots of people love spending time exploring the great outdoors and camping is a great way of doing this, so it’s nice to be able to share the experience with your dog too. If you’re planning on taking your best canine pal along with you as a tent companion, then there a few things you should think of in advance and prepare for to make sure there are no disasters or unexpected surprises on the trip!

Firstly, and perhaps most importantly, if you’ll be staying at a registered camp site then check that it’s a camping area which allows dogs, and familiarise yourself with any rules they may have for pets. This will help you to plan items you may need to take along to best abide by these rules so that your dog doesn’t cause any destruction or anti-social behaviour that may disturb other campers.

Before you go, talk to your vet to let them know about the upcoming trip and schedule a check up to make sure your dog is healthy and up to date with all vaccinations. If you are travelling abroad, ensure that your pet’s passport is usable and up to date. It’s also worth asking your vet about flea and tick control, which your dog will be more exposed to than usual if spending lots of time outdoors, and sand-fly control if you are travelling to the Mediterranean.

Dogs love the freedom camping allows just as much as we do, so in case they should run off too far it’s vital that they have a collar with a complete identification tag on and that their microchip is registered with the most up to date information possible.

While you’re on a camp site, minimise any health risks or unwanted stomach upsets by keeping their usual food and drink routine. Take enough of their normal food along with you for the entire trip, and don’t forget some extra treats for any activities or training together! Bring a water supply along if there isn’t a close by, and keep your dog from drinking out of any puddles, lakes or seawater as these can contain bacteria that can be harmful for dogs when ingested. A good way to prevent this is by always taking a water bottle and their bowl out during any outings or hikes for regular refreshment breaks; that way they won’t be tempted to look elsewhere. Other useful items include a leash or extending lead and collar and/or harness for those times when you may need to restrain your dog for their own safety. And of course those all-important poo bags!

If you’ve chosen to take your dog along with you, then be mindful of the extra responsibility this entails with the added risks new surroundings can mean. Campfires in particular can be a danger for enthusiastic and playful dogs, so set boundaries for this with basic commands from the outset and they will learn to stay clear of both the flames and any hot cooking utensils.

A long day of hiking or playing will mean you’re both tired out by the end of the day, so give your dog somewhere comfortable to rest and not just the ground which can draw heat out of their body. Why not take their usual bed along if suitable for outdoors, or look at investing in a portable elevated dog bed (dogs seriously love these) and you’ll find a well-rested and eager furry friend to greet you each morning!

 

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Make sure your pet stays healthy and hydrated this summer

 

With warmer weather and lighter evenings, we all love the summer months. But as the temperatures rise, it’s important to take extra steps to look after our pets’ health in the heat. A main concern for cats and dogs during summer is dehydration and heatstroke, so keeping them well hydrated and cool will help to avoid any heat-related conditions. The good news is there are a few easy ways to prevent your furry friend from becoming dehydrated, so stay in the know for a happy and healthy summer all round.

Dogs

Dogs can be quite quickly affected by the heat, and dehydration can soon lead to overheating. The best way to prevent this is to make sure they have a constant source of fresh water available to them (and more of it!) during the summer months. When the weather is fine, we tend to spend more time outside along with our pets, so why not invest in a travel water bowl, which is ideal for taking on walks and trips along with a bottle of water for a refreshment and comfort breaks. Be aware of your dog’s behaviour during any activities in the heat; if they seem like they’re panting more than usual it’s often a sign of overheating which means they’re in need of a drink and rest in the shade.

For those times when your dog is home alone, it’s worth considering a more advanced solution such as a pet fountain. Our Drinkwell Fountains are designed for dogs of all sizes, to help provide them with constant access to fresh, filtered water to support good hydration.

(Extra tip: on especially hot days, ice cubes can be a refreshing treat for your dog – try putting a few in their water bowl to keep it cool!)

Cats

Cats can usually cope with warmer temperatures better than their canine friends, but it’s still vital to check they’re drinking enough to stay cool and hydrated in the heat. If you have an outdoor cat that has a tendency to spend lots of time (napping!) in the garden, then it’s wise to put out an extra water bowl close to them to encourage regular drinking. You may find they drink quite a bit more during summer, so don’t forget to check it regularly to refill. Try and also encourage them to choose shady spots where possible, usually provided by plants but be mindful of whether you need to create some extra ones too.

Cats often prefer to drink directly from a running tap because they can see running water better than they see water with a still surface; this means they’re likely to drink more if it’s from a running stream of water which will keep them hydrated and prevent overheating. Our Drinkwell range is suitable for cats too, to help provide a more convenient way to give your cat access to a running stream of water. With its constant supply of fresh and filtered water, it’s great for giving you peace of mind that they have everything they need to keep them happy and hydrated even when you’re not at home.

(Extra tip: Not many cats love water, but you can try using a dampened towel to help cool their fur down if it’s very hot – gently stroke your cat with the towel from the top of their head and down their back).

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Filed under Cats, Dogs, Pets