You’re working on your dog’s polite greetings and your neighbor encourages your dog to jump enthusiastically on her chest. You want your dog to wait politely at the door but your spouse allows them to rush out willy-nilly. Your reactive dog is struggling with greetings in public, and yet well-meaning neighbors keep rushing up to you with their “friendly” dogs.
How do you handle these situations?
The good news – dogs are contextual. What that means is that if your husband lets the dog rush out the door and you ask your dog to wait, then when it’s your turn your dog will almost certainly wait. Dogs figure stuff like that out quickly. Actually so do children, which is why kids choose which parent to go to when they want something – they stack the odds in their favor! So if your neighbor allows your dog to jump on her chest, but no one else does, you dog will figure that out as well.
Don’t get me wrong. Varied rules are not ideal, especially when you are talking about things that you absolutely positively never want to happen. Because if you can set it in the dog’s head that a given behavior is never going to happen, then habit takes over and that is easier on everyone. Regardless, your dog is very likely to figure out your rules vs another person’s rules eventually, if imperfectly.
If something is really important to you, and I mean really important? Pick a totally different time and talk to the person. Explain your interest, ask for their cooperation and go from there. If they refuse to cooperate with you then you don’t have a dog training problem. You have an interpersonal problem with that individual. Address that as you see fit depending on your relationship with the person.
And if it’s not that important to you? If it’s okay if your dog behaves one way with you and another with your family member? Pick your battles. Just let it go! The less you fuss about in general, the more cooperation you’ll get when you really need it.
How about on a walk? You are trying to teach your dog not to bark and lunge at dogs that come too close, and people come barreling up anyway. What can you do about that?
This almost never happens to me. It’s so rare that I can count out every example over the last year. And the reason is simple. I am pleasant, assertive and aware of my environment, and I have a plan that takes place automatically when I need it.
Here’s what that looks like – “Hi, I’m trying to work my dog through some challenges right now. It would be super helpful if you could bring your dog to you and put your leash on or hold the collar. I’ll cross the street to make it easier for you. I really appreciate your help.” This request for cooperation should be yelled ahead at 25 yards or whenever it is appropriate so the person can hear, process, and respond – before they have lost control of their dog.
It works surprisingly well. I’ve noticed that when people consistently struggle with other people and their dogs, it’s often because they are not paying very close attention to the environment, so by the time they see a problem coming it’s too late to intervene, or they simply haven’t practiced the words that they need to say in advance so the lack of early communication makes it too late to intervene. Develop your friendly-assertive language in advance! It is much easier to intercede when another person is involved if you’ve already decided what you’re going to say and how you’re going to say it.
Don’t waste your time yelling things like “There’s a leash law!” I have yet to hear a person respond “You are so right! I totally forgot. Thank you for telling me.” That’s ineffective language which did not advance my goal of changing their behavior. I used to say things like that until I got some perspective (See my blog, “The weed people“). Work to get the person on your side.
Finally, sometimes you might find that changing your own behavior is a whole lot easier than changing other people. I suppose I could try to change their behavior but sometimes that’s too much work and effort, so I change my own.
For example, if I know my neighbor is going to allow my dog to jump on her chest and I don’t want that? Well, when I’m around that person my dog will remain on leash or will stay in the house altogether. I don’t even have to explain if I don’t feel like it. I just change my behavior and life goes on.
I hope something in there helps you. Good luck!