The Class Bully
Does this sound familiar? Your dog is really very sweet. He knows how to walk nicely on a leash (although sometimes he takes you for a walk when he sees another dog/cat/bird/squirrel) and he greets people nicely as well.
But as soon as you arrive at class he turns into a completely different animal. He drags you through the door, he stares at the other dogs and barks and lunges at them whenever he gets close enough to do so.
You have become the class outcast and must sit far away from everyone else to have some peace and quiet, or you spend the entire class stuck behind a barrier. You are embarrassed and frustrated by your dog’s behavior and don’t know what to do.
School yard bully or scaredy-cat?Chances are that your dog is not a bully, he is afraid. Maybe it is the building; there are too many strange sights and smells to take in at once. Maybe it is the number of other dogs; he can deal with one or two at a time, but 5 or 6 is asking way too much. Or maybe there is this other dog who is sending signals to him that he finds threatening and he is lashing out before the other dog can. Whatever the reason, your dog is uncomfortable and trying to protect himself.
ManagementMany trainers manage this kind of behavior by placing the disruptive dog behind a barrier. And that works very nicely. It brings calm back to the class and everyone can learn their lessons, including the disruptive dog, although, he cannot participate in exercises as a member of the group. But management does not solve your problem with your dog. He has not learned how to deal with a classroom situation calmly and confidently.
Enter the ThundershirtWhile this is not the answer for every situation, boosting your dog’s confidence will often go a long way towards being able to safely integrate your dog into a group.
The Thundershirt is a useful, easy to use tool for doing this. The Thundershirt should be put on before the dog leaves the car at class, or better still, before he leaves home. Try to arrive at class early and wait outside for his classmates to arrive. Allow him to greet each one before they go inside. If possible have him approach the other dog’s rear first and sniff for a few seconds. Keep the greetings short and reward your dog as you move away from the greeting for being calm and polite. Make it fun. You must stay calm and positive. He will pick up on your attitude and mirror it.
Once inside, it may take a few classes to really become a part of the group. Don’t be in a hurry to be in the center of activity. Keep his attention more on you than on the other dogs by giving him simple things to do that you can reward.
Remember to bring a favorite chew toy with you so he has something to do during any down time. That way he won’t be so ready to look around and get into trouble. Make sure your toy is quiet (no squeaky toy please) so he doesn’t disrupt the class or unduly attract the attention of the other dogs.
Each successful class will help build your dog’s confidence and make training classes more effective and fun.
Joan Morse CPDT-KA
A Touch of Calm
Behavior and Obedience Training
Tellington TTouch Practitioner I
AKC Canine Good Citizen Evaluator