By Leah Aird, VSADT, CTC
Not every dog can learn new skills in the company of other pooches. Sometimes a group class is not the best fit for all dogs. This does not mean you have a “bad” dog, it simply means the group class environment is not the right place to address your dog’s behavioural needs.
At RSPCA School for Dogs we run dog training classes with your dog and other owners and their dogs too, so if you think your pooch may not cope with this, talk to our team about other options.
Dogs that act aggressive when on lead are doing so for one of two reasons – they are fearful or they are frustrated!
Fear can represent itself in different ways. Body language that a dog normally exhibits when it feels fearful can include:
A dog’s nervous system works in the same manner as a human. When they are afraid their sympathetic nervous system kicks in and they have three choices – to use flight, fight or freeze.
Flight: is often a dogs first choice. Flight can include any behaviours that help them physically or mentally escape a situation. This can be as simple as averting gaze, turning or walking away, or completely running.
Freeze: This is where they seem to mentally disengage. They are difficult to move, can give blank stares and even shake.
Fight: When a dog feels as though they cannot get away (think about a dog on a lead!), and the above options won’t work they may resort to ‘fight’ behaviours.
These can include:
These dogs are not being dominant or aggressive, they are acting out of fear, in an attempt to appear scary and in order to create distance from the thing they are scared of!
The thing is, this behaviour normally works for them. The dog barks, we move and the dog gets what it was after – distance from the scary thing! The dog now thinks it has to act this way every time in order to make the scary things stay away!
Dogs that are fearful of other dogs or people will find the whole concept of a group class overwhelming. To give a human example – imagine being extremely afraid of spiders. Now imagine me putting you in a whole room full of spiders. For some people, they may realise spiders aren’t that bad, but for the majority, this fear would get worse. This technique is called ‘flooding’ and it is what we do when we put a dog that is afraid, in a group class.
In some instances, some dogs that bark and lunge on a lead, actually love other dogs. These dogs are hypermotivated by other dogs, so much so that the sheer sight of them sends them into a frenzied excitement.
When these dogs are on a lead, it thwarts their access to get to what they want, and they start to get more and more frustrated.
If your dog barks when on a lead in the presence of other dogs, and no matter what you do, you can’t get his/her attention, a group class may be too overstimulating.
A human example of this is similar to being stuck in traffic when you have somewhere you want to be. If this happened daily what might start as the odd swear word under your breath, might turn into full blown road rage each and every time you get stuck in traffic. You are wanting to get somewhere and the traffic is taking away your ability to get there as quick as you would like!
How does your dog behave around the trigger when not on-leash? Is he/she prosocial, playful and relaxed – you are dealing with frustration.
If he/she is asocial, uninterested or aggressive, you are dealing with fear.
If you dog is fearful, private training is done to slowly desensitise and change your dog’s emotional response to the trigger. This is done in a managed setting, so as to move at your dog’s pace.
If your dog is frustrated, private training can assist by teaching your dog impulse control and focus, around their trigger.