At an appointment the other day, we were going to go outside to begin working on leash skills. And, as my client picked up the leash, her dog’s arousal quickly rose as he began jumping on her and biting her arms. Frustrated, she told him, “NO!” and tried pushing him down all to no avail. He continued to grab her sleeves.
Past experience has probably taught her dog that the leash coming out means valued time exploring the sights and smells of the neighborhood was going to follow. That can be a pretty exciting event in the day of a dog. The thought of that event can understandably cause a dog’s heartrate and activity to increase in anticipation. A human’s movement, attention and loud voice can even heighten that arousal response in the dog. And, if that human then clips on the leash while the dog is exhibiting that set of behaviors, the dog is actually learning that biting, jumping, and pushing get the opportunity to go for a walk. After all, that is what typically happens.
Even if a loud reprimand did work to stop the unwanted behaviors, at least momentarily, the problem with that approach is the handler is not giving the dog enough feedback to help that dog succeed in the future – meaning, the dog is not being taught a different, more human acceptable set of behaviors to get the same result…which is having that leash attached. Other potential problems are the dog will come to associate its handler with that aversive, the dog may shut down and begin showing avoidance behaviors, or even the dog may begin showing some aggression.
Going back to this particular situation, I had my client put the least out of sight and then asked her what behaviors she would like to see in her dog when the leash comes out. Her answer – to sit and look at her while she clipped the leash (and in this case other collar) to her dog’s neck. OK, now THAT is something we can teach her dog.
So, next time she asked her dog to sit before taking out the leash. If he got up and jumped on her, the leash went away. Then after a pause, she started again. And this time he remained seated. She was able to then teach him in small successive steps (this is known as shaping) to remain seated when the leash was shown, then as the leash was presented closer and closer and ultimately clicked on his neck. The process took a couple minutes to teach and we were out the door for more lessons.
When you change your focus from simply stopping behavior to teaching your dog what you would rather see him do, not only will you be solving problems, you will be strengthening your relationship.