Dogcharmer: Keep calm and carry on

Lily has a tendency to get very excited as people or pups approach.

A dog can remain calm when it is used to being around many people and other dogs. — Stacey Rupolo

Dear Tom,

Our 3-year-old rescue Lily goes nuts when she sees other dogs on our walks! She calms right down if she can get close and “say hi” to the other dog, but lots of times other dog owners avoid her since she is screeching and flailing around on the leash. She also freaks out with strollers, which I hate since she scares the kids.

Any advice?

Dear Meridith,

On my and Lily’s behalf I thank you for being one of the “good guys” and rescuing Lily. I’ve lost count of all the dogs I’ve worked with that when taking a walk “went nuts” when seeing another dog with the audacity to be walking on the same street. To fix this reaction I’ve had great success with “flooding.”

Imagine you’re walking down a long, dark, empty alley, and all of a sudden a person appears, seemingly out of nowhere, heading straight toward you. What’s your comfort level in the aforementioned scenario as compared to walking down the same dark alley, but it’s bustling with people heading in both directions.

When it comes to socializing your four-legged companion, my mantra is the following nine words: “Been there, done that, seen that, no big deal.” I adopted my Standard Poodle, Paula Jean, when she was 2 years old. She’s now 9, and last July we were in a motel in Plymouth, and it was her first experience on an elevator. I was barely able to refrain from laughing at her reaction when she entered (at my soft urging) and froze with her back to the door, legs spread out as far as they would go. It felt like I could hear her saying, “What the hell??” Even though it was only one short flight up, we took the elevator a bunch of times until her attitude was, “Done that, no big deal.” Well-timed treats when the elevator started moving and she was heading to the elevator every time we entered the lobby. In behavior therapy, I flooded her with the experience.

Take Lily to a dog show. Talk about flooding — there will be dogs everywhere she looks, and none of them could care less about Lily. She’ll be overwhelmed (flooded) with all the dogs and after the first couple of barks, she’s likely to be sniffing for gossip and having a great time.

Over the many years I’ve been training I’ve brought a whole lot of over-reactive dogs to any place where I knew there would be a lot of dogs, and enjoy the dog owners’ amazement at the quick positive response of their own dogs. Prior to bringing Lily to someplace where we’re likely to see a lot of dogs, I would teach her a “leave it” command, to leave and walk cooperatively away from whatever she’s focused on. After initial flooding at a dog park, I’d walk away 100 yards or so and start walking back to the park as somebody was leaving with their dog. Now it’s just you and Lily with another person and leashed dog approaching. The last thing you want to do is tell Lily to sit and stay as the person and dog approach. That’s like telling Lily to sit and stay on the tracks as the train approaches. Rather keep moving toward the approaching six legs and redirect her attention by talking happily while giving her treats until she meets or passes the dog walker. If there’s no convenient dog park around, get a friend with an easy dog to sit and stay as you and Lily approach them with Lily earning treats by NOT going “nuts.” Same applies to strollers. Borrow one and walk with it and Lily for awhile, then have a friend stand with one as you and Lily approach with her getting chicken treats for not going “nuts.” Lily’s response is fear-based, and you’re teaching her “Seen that, no big deal.”

Good luck.
Dog Charmer Tom

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