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unkdec82013The problem you have with your Boston, George, is simple. He over reacts to the presence of other dogs when you are walking him. This is a very common problem. So what can you do to correct this behavior? We hope to give you some ideas to try, here.


So George's behavior is not simple. You have a problem. How can you stay motivated to walk George if each walk is like tip toeing through a mine field of constant possible triggers that cause George to react and with time it is getting worse, not better, as you had so hoped.  You are not even really sure if George is aggressive or just over excitable. All you know for sure is the walks are not fun any more.


First, we need to look at the terms Aggressive and Reactive. These two terms can be easily mixed up and are often. A dog usually displays aggression based on confidence, while a reactive dog displays actions based on fear. Aggression is a natural response and occurs in many circumstances, including territorial protection, resource guarding, and protection of pups. While a reactive dog 'can' be aggressive, he will only likely do so if placed in a situation where he feels that there is no escape.¹


In researching this topic, and from personal experience, we should warn you that you must go slowly. You will need to be observant of your actions, and how what you do and do not do, effects your dogs behavior.


Second, you should realize and understand certain things.  You must not let your dog walk in front you. In a dogs understanding of the world, the leader always goes first. Not sure about this? Ask yourself these questions: Who is in charge?  When you left for the walk; who led the way out of the door/gate?  Who leads on the walk?  Is your dog relaxed or hyper or on alert?  Are you able to relax or are you too on alert, why?  Was the dog following you, watching you for direction or were you following the dog? I bet you have not even thought about this.btgreeting 5276


Did you know that you are reinforcing in a dog's mind, that he is the leader, when a dog walks in front? If he thinks he is the leader, how can he relax, he is in charge! Other questions to ask yourself: How often are you walking your dog?  Does the dog only go to heel when it pleases or when it is tired?  Was your dog calm and in a submissive state when you put the lead on?


If it is all about who is making the decisions, can you decide to let your dog walk in front? No, since instinct tells a dog that the leader leads the way, your decision to allow your dog to walk in front will be communicating to your dog that you are allowing him to be your leader.²  


Be patient. Dogs, like people, learn at different rates. Some dogs may take weeks, and even months, of patient training before they completely learn how to heel on command. Young dogs usually take well to wearing a collar and leash, though temperament and energy level can influence how quickly they learn. 


Some breeds, such as Beagles and Dachshunds, often require more intense training because they are very easily distracted. This isn't to suggest that a dog is less intelligent if he doesn't calmly walk at his owner's side after a week of training, only that he may require a longer learning period. Older dogs may take a little longer to get used to a collar and a leash, especially if they haven't had leash training before.¹ 

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What Is a Reactive Dog? Are you a stressed out foster or owner?  Do you always have to be on alert when you walk with your dog?  Reactive dogs aren’t hard to spot.  Such dogs will lunge at people or dogs that get too close. They usually also bark loudly, growl and may even bite anyone who gets too close to them or their human. Inside, the reactive dog can seem very threatening to other people and their dogs, as it jumps, barks and stares.


 Some breeds are more prone to reactivity. Terriers tend to respond excitedly to other dogs, for example, while herding dogs, like shepherds, are innately reactive toward movement, such as joggers. Any dog, though, can become reactive if it feels its safety and security are threatened. “The majority of reactive behavior is fear-based,” explains Case. “If a dog is confident, it doesn’t need to do these things.”²


Understanding the Reactive Dogbtgreeting 5264

 Human misunderstanding of dog social norms is responsible for a large percentage of reactive behavior. Case says, “Dogs have greeting rituals, and they don’t involve walking up to another dog.  For dogs, that isn’t polite. Once we’ve got them on their leash and are dragging them toward another dog to say hello, we’re setting them up for what might be a bad reaction.”


Humans also fail to identify their dog’s own pre-reactive behaviors. “Dogs are peaceful animals,” says Case. “They don’t want conflict. When they begin to feel tense, such as when they’re around another dog, they engage in self-soothing behaviors like looking away, sniffing and yawning, to let themselves and the other dog know things are okay.”  If these initial calming behaviors fail, the dog may stare or growl.²


Be aware that you may tend to tense up and correct you fur-friend for growling. You should really only take the growl as a signal that it’s time to soothe your Boston. Something we all have to remember is that growling is communication. Instead of punishing your dog for expressing itself, simply stay calm and walk it away from the situation.


Staying calm yourself is very important. Tightening the leash and tensing up is one of the most frequent mistakes made by dog owners. Explains Case: “Dogs should be confident that we will handle things for them. They react because they feel they’re out there on their own. If they see their person is confident and proactive instead of reactive, they’ll feel a lot better. It's person needs to be a good leader.”²


How to Manage a Reactive Dog


If your dog is reactive, there are some proven recommendations to follow:


Use a harness:  Any tightening of a leash with a collar, is restrictive to a dog’s airway, which will only heighten its anxiety. Knowing what you will do (e.g., turn and walk away, keeping the dog moving) when your furry friend responds to perceived threats will allow you to remain calm.


Stay aware of your dogs body language. When dogs begin to become uncomfortable, they may lick, yawn and sniff. As they get tense, they may exhibit changes in posture, such as becoming more upright, tucking their lower body backward or stiffening up. Staring is usually the last move before a more intense reaction. Remove your dog out of a situation before the stare. Don't wait for your dog to start staring before you take your leadership role and move the dog away.


When you and your dog walk away from the tense situation to a comfortable distance, keep the object of the dog’s discomfort in sight. Get your dog to glance at the other dog or person before it gets to the point of staring, and then give it a treat. Soon the dog will begin checking back with you when it sees things that make it tense.


Another idea if you can’t handle the problem on your own, is to find a good trainer or behaviorist to work with you and your dog. Ask your professional to observe your dog.  This trainer may possibly see a lot more about what your dog is doing, and make some suggestions on other ways to avoid or condition the dog, into a joyful companion that you enjoy walking with. Do you not admire those that seem to just stroll along and are so relaxed?





²Dog Breed


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 We may not be able to always tell why a dog is barking, but there are some basic barking patterns that we can use to give some meaning to the barking.

1. Continuous rapid barking, midrange pitch: “Call the pack! There is a potential problem! Someone is coming into our territory!” Continuous barking, but a bit slower and pitched lower: “The intruder [or danger] is very close. Get ready to defend yourself!”

ABTRTALKS2BOSTON TERRIER NETWORK:  Recently on social media this question caught my eye.  This reminded me of my own journey with rescued dogs, and some of the things the fostered dogs have taught me along the way. Perhaps you have wanted some answers to this question also.


Question: “I have a fixed two year old male rescue dog that I have had for about a month. The problem I have is his aggression toward other dogs while on walks. What should I do? Is this Common?  Bob is a very smart and sweet boy (around people). I work with him every day on basic commands. Once we are outside, he will not even listen to “sit ". I am very patient with him. He was a stray. When dogs are near he goes nuts! "


 Sometimes, WE are the ones that need training to help our dogs. Our little friends just do not know what to do, so they do something, anything to relieve their stress. Whose fault is that?  We try NEVER to let any of the dogs in our care have a negative interactive experience with us or the other dogs. For some dogs, it takes at least the first two or three weeks for them to adjust to their new environment and begin to make friends with the other dogs that are staying with us.


Slowly, we introduce the new dog, one dog at a time, for short periods, but only under supervised conditions. Like people, they like some dogs instantly. Then again some dogs they dislike just as fast. Then there are some that they learn to like, and turn out to be buddies, when introduced properly. We have had some dogs that could never be trusted together. (Reminds me of some humans I have met).


The word “aggressive” in my opinion, in many cases, is a label that is too commonly used. I try not to use this label except for dogs who really are trying to harm another dog or human. I think most of what we are seeing is fear and confusion in the dogs. Therefore, the “fight or flight” behavior kicks in.



 THEN, unwisely we add the desire, from us the humans, to take the dog for a walk around the neighborhood. OVERLOAD causes the dog to spin emotionally out of control. The reaction that you see and may have classified as “aggressive”,  may be the dog communicating with you and saying: "Hey, I cannot take this. I do not feel safe and because I do not feel you are going to protect me, I must resort to my own natural instinct to protect myself." 


So now what should you do? Most books we have read and trainers we have discussed this problem with believe that the best thing would be to start over. Go for walks early in the morning or later at night when there are no dogs out, or minimal amount of dogs. If there is one approaching, stop, sit, and place the dog between you and the other dog. Make sure there is 3-5 ft between you and the other walker/dog. If that threshold is not enough, then create a further distance until the dog sits calmly, stays calm, then move on with the walk.


A new dog being a rescue, or from another source, may need some help with manners. He may just be a jerk; he may be many things....but our companions often need our help and sometimes it takes a little work/time/effort.  The new dog has a million different things to get to know... People/kids in the home; the smells and sounds of the home; the routine; other animals in the home.

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When this question was asked on social media the responses were:


YJ : Why are you trying to move your dog when there is another dog coming at you? You are in control of the space. Place yourself between your dog and the other dog. Draw the line in the sand, per se. Stand tall and use your body to communicate with the other dog and tell them STOP [use your arm/hand as a stop sign] and tell them to GET BACK/GO. Tell your dog to STAY and LEAVE IT. You must stay calm as well.


RL: My little guy is like that on walks. We do not try to force him to be social. I will make him sit until the other dog passes and make sure to let the other people know that he is not friendly. My guy is very protective of his mommy and does fine when he is at the boarders without me. He thinks he is my guard dog.


MC: I make them sit until people pass on our trail, but on the grass away from the trail. Then give a treat from my pocket. Do it a bit away from the other dog. I do not always want mine submissive.


JM: Use of redirection, treats, and positive reinforcement can be tools to help your guy be on nicer walks.


CM: My rescue does this too, so we hired a trainer who uses positive training methods like JM is saying. Within five minutes, our dog was walking next to a giant German Shepherd. In our case, our dog is not aggressive; he is just not sure how to approach. I do not make him socialize with every dog I pass. However, I know now that if I can correct him, he will be nice and even sit next to strange dogs.


GE: I am going to repeat some of the advice my trainer gave me. When you see a dog coming at you, make your dog sit (practice this) and have a high value treat and keep him looking at you. When the dog has passed, with no incident, you praise and give the treat. You can also practice meeting a friendly friend and their pet in passing, doing a stop, sit, stop sit, not moving forward until you get the behavior you want and approach slowly making the dog sit behind you (friend does this too). Then meet the friend at the point of two outstretched hands to shake, with dogs sitting behind, turn and walk away, praising and treating at the return point (furthest distance). Repeat.


DYJ: You need to know what the threshold [trigger point] is with other dogs. Start working from that point. However, if it were me with a reactive dog, on leash, I wouldn't be concerned about where I can go with him for a walk around the neighborhood. I would first work with him in the home. Make sure that I have basic obedience, with household manners 90-100%, [come, sit, wait, stay, down, leave it, off, focus] before leaving the yard or driveway. The biggest mistake people make is getting a new dog and overwhelming it with new people, neighborhoods, with dogs and kids. This can actually be a mistake. Because they are not giving the dog [and themselves] time to adjust and get to know them without confrontational stimuli. You have just the dog to get to know.


DY: Before going to the sidewalk and streets, you need to first start working [from the beginning] in the back yard, side yard, front yard, then the driveway. End all training on a good note, i.e., play ball or find something that motivates your dog.

AGAIN, find his threshold point. It is up to you to control the environment and not allow another dog to get within the "REACTIVE" space of the dog. And for him to not move forward into another dog's space to be confrontational. You are allowing your dog to be defensive when another dog gets in his space. This is a natural behavior for a dog. If you start to control his space and let him know, you are the dog parent and have the space/environment under control, he will be able to relax more and trust you more to keep him safe.


Extra Tip:

Keeping treats within dogs diets:

AM: If you are going to train, use a good food that can take the place of a meal or part of a meal. So for instance, if I were training Bessie, I would give her half a meal, and use a solid dog food as her training treat which would finish her meal.