Remember that song with the lyrics, “Who you gonna call? Ghostbusters!”. Recently I evaluated a dog that was reactive and playing too aggressive with “some dogs” at the dog park. The owner said some dogs he plays well with and some he acts like he wants to kill them. My fist question was, “If you have a dog like that what are you doing in the dog park?” I added, “I don’t like dog parks because I’m afraid of my dog running into a dog like yours.” If my dog gets attacked by the dog, guess what, I’m calling the police and filing a vicious dog complaint. If you have a reactive dog they should not be in dog parks. I don’t own reactive dogs and I never go to dog parks. My dogs interact with me and not with other dogs. Don’t be lazy, interact and play with your dog.
My evaluation goes on and the owner stated “my veterinarian told me to take my dog to dog parks because he needs to be socialized”. I totally disagree with the vet’s recommendation. Dog parks are the worse place to take a reactive dog to socialize it. You do not want to be that guy. That guy with the aggressive dog that has no business being in a dog park. Why would you put your dog in that situation? You are the one that creates the negative mark on your dog for the incident and you are the one that pays the vet bills and fines. Don’t be that guy.
Veterinarians are pet medical doctors. They are not dog trainers or behaviorists. People with mental disorders don’t go to medical doctors to get help, they go to therapists. MD’s can prescribe medicine to help with the issues, but medicine doesn’t typically correct the issue it just helps you cope. If you have a behavior issue with your dog you need to consult with a dog behaviorist or dog trainer depending on the issue. Be careful if someone says they are an animal behaviorist. An animal behaviorist typical have a Masters or PH’d or is a Veterinarian with 2-4 additional years beyond their medical training. When in doubt ask. I am not a behaviorist even though I do have a Master’s Degree. My degree is in another discipline. The 6 year degree should be with animal behavior, neurology and treatment.
So the question is how can I help this dog that does not know how to play or interact with dogs. The first thing we do is put structure in the dog’s life. From my experience, the dog doesn’t listen. He leash pulls, drags the owner through open doors, only sits on the sixth time the owner tells it to sit, and has nuisance behaviors like barking, jumping and lunging. We teach wait, come, sit, down, heel, place and have a calm greeting behavior. As the dog learns we teach to ignore the trigger, which is dogs. As the dog progresses we will take him out with a pack of well- balanced dogs. The next step in getting the owner involved in our group classes. We tend to make better progress with the dog if we separate the dog and owner. Typically the owner has a relationship issue with the dog that also needs to be addressed. If we cannot re-train the owner or the owner doesn’t want to make some changes to help their dog, the dog will regress. There is no quick easy fix for reactive dogs. It takes times, work and consistency. I have seen some reactive dogs make a lot of progress. Others not as much and I believe it comes back on the owner. It’s not the dog’s fault if the dog regresses. It is something that never goes away. We cannot make your dog like people or dogs. We can teach your dog to ignore people and dogs though. The issue never really goes away but we can help the dog have a happy, enjoyable life with the owner.