Ask Tom, the Dogcharmer: Cleopatra

No fun to walk with.

Cleopatra is a nine-month-old mixed breed whose bark is worse than her bite. - Elizabeth G. Rogalin

Dear Tom,

I brought home a sweet little rescue dog about a week ago. She’s approximately 9 months old, and looks to be a chihuahua mix — possibly with some papillon in there somewhere. She weighs about nine pounds, but has 300 pounds of energy!

As sweet as Cleopatra is, when she is on lead and we’re on a walk, she will bark at any approaching person from quite a distance. If said person is also walking a dog, she goes wild. She pulls on her lead, leaps in the air, and most of all barks frantically. Once she is actually with a person or another dog, she’s fine: playful and nonaggressive. How can I stop her from scaring off the folks (and dogs) who are walking our way?

Dear Cleopatra’s Mom,

It’s a wonderful picture — taking the dog for a beautiful, leisurely walk along South Beach on Martha’s Vineyard — until what I refer to as “joyful destruction.” That’s when Cleo’s unfettered joy and bliss at seeing possible playmates becomes an unhinged hysterical response, and the embarrassment totally destroys your happy, relaxed walk. Frankly, my wife told me a couple of times she was going to hire a dog trainer to help her stop our dog Paula Jean from embarrassing her by jumping straight up in the air and barking sometimes when she saw another person also walking a dog on a leash. Perhaps a slight case of the shoemaker’s kids needing new soles. Apart from the actual “redirecting training” to change Cleo’s “certifiable” response, what comes to mind for me is the importance of socialization. If a dog’s life is basically the house and backyard, it’s not unusual to get a “HOLY COW” crazy response to another dog walker coming toward you. So Cleo’s Mom, you might want to consider moving to Boston, just for a couple of months. This way, by walking Cleo through the city streets several times a day, she will have seen it all, and she will be socialized. Her attitude will be, “Been there, done that, seen that, no big deal.” That’s what you want. However, even if you moved to Boston, and she was a lunatic on the initial walks, you would be reinforcing the wrong behavior and making things worse. Cleo needs to learn some self-restraint, and that comes from learning manners. When she learns to sit, stay, heel, and leave it, and not jump on people, she really starts appreciating the fruits of being cooperative. Upon seeing another dog, what you don’t want to do is try to make her sit and stay. Keep moving, but draw her attention with a happy voice and treats, people food treats. I also like to teach, “Look at me!” keeping the dogs’ eyes locked on me. So now there are choices when another dog walker has the audacity to be on the same path as you and Cleo. She can be told to “leave it” and then “heel,” mandating that she not insist on meeting this other dog or person but to walk on by. Or, if so inclined, when within earshot you can ask the other leash holder if his dog is friendly, and if all are amenable, allow for some rear-end sniffing. Cleo’s Mom, I think you need the help of a pro to teach Ms. Cleopatra the behavioral parameters to enjoy peaceful walks.

Good luck,

The Dogcharmer

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