We adopted 3 large dogs in the span of 3 years: Denver the husky mix, Benji the super mutt, and Chloe the pitbull. All 3 of our dogs are reactive to other dogs during walks. Now reactivity doesn’t always mean aggression. I’m going to discuss how all 3 of our dogs react to other dogs on walks and what we have done to help each one. If your dog is struggling on walks, you are not alone. The number one tip I use for all 3 dogs is never let your dog meet a strange dog on a walk.
Denver gets excited when he sees other dogs. He whines and pulls on the leash because he wants to make a new friend. He doesn’t read the other dog’s body language on whether they are friendly or not. This was cute at first until we moved to Denver the city and to an area with a LOT of dogs. It was impossible to walk Denver without being dragged (and without him getting choked by his flat collar). We tried super long walks, biking to tire him out, taking him to the dog park, and walking him back and forth in front of the dog park to “desensitize” him.
Ultimately what helped Denver on walks was wearing a well-fitted prong collar. When he would go to drag us, the pinch of the prong brought him back to heel. It taught him that his excitement had consequences. While he is not 100% perfect, he has vastly improved on his walks.
Protectiveness and/or Dominance
Benji is an oddball. When you see him, you wouldn’t expect him to be the protective/alpha type. He is 65 pounds with a long thick torso and short little legs. He is the first dog off the couch when the doorbell rings and the first one to bark and lunge when another dog is in the vicinity. This behavior would continue basically the entire time a dog was within his sights.
We adopted him when we lived in Denver where we were surrounded by a bazillion dogs so it was very difficult to walk him. We lived on the 10th floor and would either take the stairs or leave very early in the morning to avoid meeting a dog in the elevator. We ended up moving back to Chicago to a less dog-populated area but Benji was still having reactivity issues nonetheless.
For Benji, the Educator e-collar and a well-fitted prong collar were what cleaned up his behavior. We keep him on a short leash because if he is walking ahead of us, he thinks he needs to protect the pack. He is his best self when his attention is focused on his human and not on what is going on around him. The e-collar is really good for bringing your dog’s attention back to you.
Chloe looks the most intimidating because she is a muscular pitbull but she is actually an abuse case. She was actually kept as evidence at Chicago Animal Care and Control for over a year before her abuse case was prosecuted and a shelter was able to pull her. She has carried at least one litter of puppies and has scars all over her body. Despite her past with humans, she is incredibly sweet to us and our 2 young children. However, she reacts fearfully when encountering strange dogs. Her hackles raise and her barks are panicked. She even once bit our dogsitter whom she adores because she redirected when another dog was walking past too closely.
What helps Chloe is giving her plenty of space. She enjoys walking between her human and Denver who she trusts. If we see another dog we give them a wide berth, turn around, or cross the street when possible. As long as we are moving away, she doesn’t feel threatened. You can read more about Chloe here.