Do you have an aggressive or reactive dog?
Does your dog embarrass you when you see another dog on your walk?
Is your dog super anxious or nervous around strange dogs or people?
In this blog post, I’m going to tell you about a lesson I learned from my leash reactive, dog aggressive dog, Apollo.
Apollo was my first Doberman, and he was very dog aggressive both on leash and off. He taught me many lessons that I now apply to my current dobermans, Daphne and Dante, as well as share with my clients.
I remember one lesson as if it had happened yesterday. We were almost home from our daily walk when we saw a little white dog about 150 feet away – far enough away that Apollo didn’t react outwardly, but what he did really made me stop and think.
As soon as Apollo noticed the dog, he sat down directly in front of me at my feet and kept his body squared off directly with the movements of the other dog. If it went to the left, he turned slightly to the left. If it went right, he turned slightly to the right. He did not get up, all he did was shuffle his feet a bit to turn his body as the other dog moved.
He did this until the dog was out of sight before he relaxed and went back to my side.
Interesting, I thought.
I wondered what would happen if I did that to him. So the next time we saw a dog, it was actually two off leash dogs that lived around the corner from where we were living at the time. I shortened up his leash and moved him behind me and kept my body squared off directly with the neighbours dogs, just like he did.
And he didn’t react.
He was focused on ME – not the other dog!
Every time I was able to practice this, he got better and better. Unfortunately, he passed suddenly just before he turned 3 years old so I wasn’t able to train him to be completely calm around other dogs.
I learned that lesson from him months before his passing, but every single dog and dog owner I teach that to has had similar results. I have perfected it over time, here’s how I do it:
Have your dog’s leash shortened as much as possible to keep slight upward pressure on the collar when you put your hand behind your back.
Where you put your hand is important. You want to have your hand just above your tailbone, just under where your kidneys would be. Hold you hand on your spine, with your dog’s leash shortened to the point of slight upward pressure on the collar.
What this does is it keeps your dog from moving around you to try to lunge at the other dog, which may or may not happen. The base of your spine is the centre most part of you which makes it harder for your dog to move your hand (this is why a lot of “old school” trainers taught their clients to hold the leash just below the navel).
A few things to keep in mind:
- Don’t do this if you don’t believe it will work. Confidence is IMPERATIVE.
- Don’t allow any slack on either the leash or your hand at your back – you MUST keep your hand at and on the base of your spine.
- If your dog has redirected aggression (they bite you or the leash when they react) work with a professional FIRST.
- STAY CALM!
- Keep your body and head facing the other dog. If they move to the right, you shift to the right ON THE SPOT. Your dog will have no choice (if you don’t have any slack) but to move with you.
- As I said above, BE CONFIDENT! If you don’t think this will work, it won’t!
- YES, this will work if the other dog is off leash! (I have done it successfully multiple times.)
Your dog MAY still react, and that’s OK! The goal is to make them feel protected, not correct any reaction. Keep doing this and you will notice a change in your dog’s demeanour after a few repetitions. They will start to look to you for guidance and protection – just the way they should because you are their leader! (Parent, Guardian, whatever you want to call yourself.)
Let me know if you find this helpful, or you want more “How-to” posts!
If you have any questions, drop it in the comments down below!