Don’t Look at Me in That Tone of Voice
I hate dog staring.
Correction I hate dog staring that is not on command!
95% of my training and what I teach my dog revolves around controlled eye contact, but that is the difference it is controlled and taught as a dog obedience exercise.
When dogs make their own decisions to “stare” at things, chances are it is about a half of a second before they lose complete control!
Staring (that is not taught) is almost always bad!
Dogs STARE right before they make bad/aggressive decisions.
People don’t realize that something so simple is a precursor to naughty behavior.
It is as if for a moment your dog sees something and is then determining how he is going to behave in that situation. You have a very short period of time once your dog stares, to stop or change his mindset and his behavioral plan.
Remember this is a precursor and something that you are looking for before your dog becomes reactive or aggressive! Recognizing this sign can help you stop the bad behavior.
Dog to Dog Aggression
Dogs that are dog aggressive are notorious for this behavior, although it might be fast most dog aggressive dogs will freeze and stare prior to a show of aggression.
This freezing posture and staring is an indicator toward the impending aggression.
And it is at this point and when you “know what he is thinking” that you have a chance to change the behavior and stop the aggression.
People often “wait” until the dog stops, stares, and then begins barking and lunging before they try and correct the behavior.
When what they need to do is recognize the tiny signs BEFORE the full blow aggression starts.
Remember when you were a child and you were thinking about doing something naughty, and your mom use to say “Ah ah! Don’t even THINK about it!” She could tell that you were thinking about sneaking something you shouldn’t because she could see you stop and think, or the slightest change in your normal behavior.
We all thought that our moms had eyes in the back of their head, and knew what we were thinking.
We need to be the same type of parent for our dogs! We need to stop that behavior in the “thinking” mode, because often it is impossible to stop once the aggression has started.
Barking and Lunging on the Leash
I often get emails from people wondering how to stop their dogs from barking and lunging toward things while they are walking.
“I can’t get his focus on me when he is barking and lunging on the leash”.
And, my mental response is “Of course you can’t, you have already lost the battle”.
Not only do I believe that the foundation of eye contact and obedience is probably lacking in these types of dogs, one the behavior gets this bad… you have already lost the battle.
Because dogs condition themselves with bad behavior, and that conditioning leads to more and more bad behavior in the same situation.
So your dog is dog aggressive; he sees a dog at 100 yards away and his body or his head freezes the moment he sees it and he starts to stare (it is at this moment you have a chance to impact his behavior) after a second or a fraction of a second he begins to bark, growl, dig his nails in and lunge on the end of the leash. His aggression may even feed aggression from the other dog. Even if it doesn’t this excitement and frenzy feeds his agitation and it gets worse and worse as the dog approaches or he approaches the dog.
If leash corrections, prong collars, (I had an owner that said she poked her dog) or other forms of compulsion are used the behavior gets worse and escalates.
And, he is learning to ignore you and the compulsion that you employ.
He is also conditioning himself that when he sees a dog, this behavior is successful because he is getting an adrenaline rush out of the aggression. So the next time he sees a dog the behavior will be the same or even worse.
So by allowing him to get aggressive you are losing not only the battle but probably inevitably the war.
It is that fraction of a second before he goes “nuts” that you have an ability to change his behavior, by changing his mindset.
Each dog is different yet similar.
Some dogs will twitch their ears first or show other precursor signs.
But most dogs will stare.
The duration of the stare, however is different for each dog. Some dogs will stare for a fraction of a second; while others may stare for a second or more.
Some dogs get reactive at 10 feet away, while others may show signs at 100 yards or more.
You have to get to know your dog and not push him past his boundaries.
If your dog will not give you eye contact at home, with no other distractions around… why would you even consider that he would give you eye contact when he sees another dog or a person?
Even if he is not blatantly dog aggressive, if he is not being taught and reinforced at home with no distractions and then moving slowly to more and more distracting environments then he has no chance to give you good behavior when he is totally inundated by his environment.
In order to be successful you must be doing your homework at home.
Carry Treats and/or Toys
You are not reinforcing in and of yourself to change behavior.
In order to change behavior you must be reinforcing. So learn to carry toys and or treats in your pockets or a fanny pack.
Your dog will learn that you always have his favorite stuff.
Once the behavior is learned you will no longer need the treats/toys, but in the learning stage your dog must realize you have great stuff!
Recognize the Signs
Look for your dog’s specific signs and then aim to NEVER see them again.
If he twitches his ear at the sign of another dog; that is the time to get his attention and focus on YOU!
It is also a time when you can turn around and go the other direction and ask for other forms of obedience (sit, down, stay, high five, etc.) It doesn’t matter what you get your dog to do, the idea is that you just change “what he was thinking or planning!”
My Dog Use to Be Afraid of People
So instead of letting him stiffen and STARE at them as they approached; I would take notice of his behavior and if their advancement began to bother him in a small way I would change our direction and then get him to give me eye contact (which relieved his fears) and then I would get him to do a number of tasks for me. Sit, down, sit, down, high five, spin, shake… while he is doing this he has a hard time focusing on his fear of the advancing person. It also kept the person from asking to pet him or interacting with him at all since we looked indisposed!
The same can be done for dogs that are dog aggressive.
When you notice the precursor behavior, you must change your dog’s mindset and his plan for what he wants to do (aggression).
Because once he is in the middle of his aggression, it is almost impossible to get him to focus on anything, food, toys, affection, yelling… it doesn’t matter what you use at this point you are losing and it is best just to back up and get out of that situation and try next time to avoid it with training.
- Work at home on your obedience and focus
- Begin to recognize the precursor behaviors BEFORE your dog explodes
- Carry great stuff!
- Work slowly to decrease the space that it takes to get closer to the distractions
- If you have a setback, don’t focus on it or get aggressive back, get out of the situation back up and train harder!
I have been a professional dog trainer and pet sitter for over 20 years. I am a Certified Professional Dog Trainer, through the international Certification Counsel of Professional Dog Trainers. I have trained and worked with police, Schutzhund and personal protection dogs. I trained Assistance Dogs in a men’s prison and ran my own nonprofit organization to take adult dogs from shelters and to train them to assist children and adults with disabilities, at no charge to my clients. My nonprofit organization and I were nominated for several awards of merit and even made the front page of the Denver Post. I was a veterinary technician for many years, where I learned about all aspects of health and preventative medicine. I have trained and worked with exotic animals and cheetahs. I introduced a temperament testing program in my local shelter and sat on the board of directors. I volunteered with my dog “Mr. Snitch” and helped local children learn to read. I have attained obedience titles and several blue ribbons. I am constantly in search of ways to continue my education and excellence when it comes to animals, their behavior and their health.