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Keep walking. It's just a dog

Updated: Jan 3, 2023

Claire used to walk a meticulously planned route every morning and evening. She had determined the streets most likely to NOT have a dog in the yard or one that was also out for a stroll. Why was she avoiding any and all dog encounters? You guessed it – her Standard Poodle Jake went bonkers when he saw another dog.

Despite taking him to puppy school when he was young, watching countless episodes of Lucky Dog on TV, and subscribing to BARK magazine, Jake had always fit the description of “reactive” or worse “leash aggressive.”

A black Standard Poodle is sitting in front of a TV and watching it. There is a view of a gray-haired man in a gray and black hat talking to a brown-haired lady in a brown coat and gray scarf on the screen.

Claire was flummoxed by this embarrassment of a companion she had to contend with every single day. The one bright light in her continuing saga of getting Jake the exercise he needed was to take him to the dog park on good weather days. Because the off leash Jake is the angel to the on leash devil.

Sans leash and in the fenced dog park, Jake was polite, playful and deferential to the other dogs. The humans who brought their own dogs there had even remarked to Claire about Jake’s good manners. Claire accepted these compliments with a smile but was cringing inside.

Image result for poodle in dog park

It was not for want of effort that Claire could not control Jake on leash. Here are a few of the tactics Claire had tried to get him to be better behaved on a walk:

  1. Equipment – her mudroom is a veritable pet supply store of head and body harnesses, weighted dog backpacks, special collars, clickers, and leashes of all lengths and materials. None helped with Jake’s issue.

  2. Treats – Claire had plied Jake with Charlie Bears, dried liver, Bil-Jacs, cheese bits, and morsels of boiled chicken. In the house, Jake would happily do whatever was asked of him in exchange for any one of those goodies. Outside, he wouldn’t touch the food.

  3. Technique – Getting Jake to sit when he saw another dog only made him focus on it more intently. Walking him briskly and purposefully past a dog, as in “keep walking; its just a dog” did make the encounter mercifully briefer, but it was still painfully humiliating.

So how did Claire ultimately get Jake to walk past other dogs without losing it?

Two things occurred that made all the difference in Jake’s reactivity:

First, a new neighbor moved in next door with her Labradoodle Gertrude. Claire and Marybeth became fast friends, as did their dogs. Jake was so enamored of Gertrude that his full attention was on her when the two women walked their dogs together.

A windstorm brought the second remedy. Claire took Jake with her into the yard to clean up the twigs and branches that the storm had left behind. To her surprise, Jake picked up a substantial branch and carried it with him the entire time they were outside. On a whim, Clair leashed Jake and took him and his stick for a walk. Jake seemed to regard the prize in his mouth as his mission in life. He walked proudly past a dog without a glance, head held high while chomping on his stick.

Claire now has 4 options for outdoor activity with Jake: playing in the yard at home, a visit to the dog park, a companion walk with his best bud Gertrude, or what Claire calls “Jake’s cash and carry walkwith a stick. And none of these choices cause Claire any embarrassment whatsoever.


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