If your dog doesn’t behave around people, other dogs, or in public areas generally, you’re really limiting the fun things you can do together. It’s also limiting for your dog, too, because they need to socialize just as much as we do! Unfortunately, temperament, bad habits and fear can trigger some aggressive or hyperactive behavior in certain situations. This can be fixed, however — with a little training, you can get them to stay calm. Here are a few techniques to get you started.
Dealing With People
Some dogs get agitated or anxious around strangers — you can train this out of your pup through desensitization training. Start by inviting a friend around that the dog hasn’t met. If your dog overreacts, ignore him completely until he settles down, then have the “stranger” throw him a treat — with no further interaction. Continue in this manner — ignoring him if he overreacts, and rewarding him when he calms down. When Fido gets used to this, you can try bringing a few friends over to get him used to groups of people, using the exact same strategy. Then try taking him out to public places that aren’t too busy, and again, ignore overreactions while rewarding calmness.
Dealing With Other Dogs
If your dog barks, lunges or otherwise becomes agitated around other dogs, you can apply a similar desensitization approach. As Your Dog’s Friend explains, this behavior is most commonly rooted in fear. A cornered animal is more aggressive, and being on a leash means your dog is trapped and can’t run away, which can trigger aggressive behavior. Take your dog to a place where other dogs will be, but stay well away from them. Ignore hyperactivity, and give treats when he calms down. If Fido doesn’t relax, move further away, but as he gets used to each distance, move a little closer, and let him settle down at this new distance. If you have a friend with a dog, you can also have them visit and use the same strategy — but keep both dogs on their leashes.
Getting the Right Gear
If you plan to go into public places with your dog, you’ll need to have the right equipment. When looking for a leash, think about where you’ll be going. Retractable leashes are risky in crowded areas, as you’ll want to keep your dog close to you. For bigger and stronger dogs, you should also look into getting a harness for extra control, and if necessary, a muzzle. To help with training, you’ll need a small bag of treats, water bowl and clicker. You’ll also need bags to pick up waste — you can buy pouches of waste bags that clip onto your leash, so you’ll never forget them. Check out petlifetoday.com for reviews and information on the different doggy products you’ll need.
The heel command asks your dog to walk directly beside you. It is very useful if you want to take your dog to a crowded place, or if you want to walk him off-leash. To teach this, start in the house and have your dog sit by your side. When he is calmly obeying you, take a step forward while holding a treat in front of his nose and saying “Heel.” Let him eat the treat and give praise if he successfully follows by your side. If Fido does anything but this, don’t give him the treat and have him sit by your side again. Repeat, giving treats every step or two. After a week or so of this, try the command while walking normally, without holding the treat in front of him, and try taking more steps before giving him the treat.
With all dog training, you should remain calm and assertive. Dogs will pick up on your emotions, and if your voice and body language indicate anxiety or frustration, they will be less inclined to obey you. Some dogs learn quickly, while others will need more work. But with patience and persistence, even the most unruly dogs can learn to behave well.