Q. How do I stop my dog from barking and lunging on our walks?
A. Don’t take him on walks.
Ha. That’s only partially a joke. Contrary to what the Dog Whisperer tells you, it does not help a reactive dog to keep parading her past the things that make her react. Remember, doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result is the definition of insanity. I tried that for months with Isis and wondered what I was doing wrong. It wasn’t until my trainer told me I had to stop before I could go that we started making any progress.
Technically, since I’m not a dog trainer myself, I’m not qualified to give advice on this topic. I can only tell you what my experience has been. Curing leash reactivity is a longer process than I can fit into a blog post, anyway. You’ll have to read my book when it comes out. In the meantime, get yourself a clicker and reward your dog for calm behavior at a distance far far away from the thing that makes him react. If the barking and lunging is so severe you cannot safely take your dog in public, hire a trainer who uses force-free methods.
Force-free, also known as positive only, is the key here. When I used a pinch collar, Isis’s behavior got worse. The technique I was advised to use exacerbated the very problem I was trying to cure. Ironic, huh?
Really, the best way to stop a dog from barking and lunging is to prevent him from barking and lunging in the first place.
But what do I know? Leo’s been trained with positive reinforcement only, and we socialized him in puppy preschool, so what’s his excuse? Perhaps he suffers post-traumatic stress from living with a reactive dog for seven formative months. Perhaps German shepherds are particularly sensitive to bicycles and other fast-moving stimuli. Perhaps I should have clicked and treated him and squealed “bicycle” every time he saw one from the time he was a little puppy. (I was too busy trying to keep him from jumping up and biting my arm during our walks to think of that, but I’m totally doing that with my next dog.)
Perhaps I’m the problem, and I should adopt older dogs from now on. Because in the two-plus years I’ve known her, Mia’s never barked and lunged at a single bicycle.