Working on leash reactivity, advice welcome
Long post, hope it’s not too tedious 😏. Thanks in advance to anyone who wades through it:
As I’ve mentioned in other threads, Beau is a 3-yr-old intact male GSD, mostly if not all working lines in his pedigree. (He’s half West German lines, I don’t know enough to tell what all those lines are. Other half is DDR and Czech.) I have a problem with his occasional leash reactivity and I’m feeling frustrated by the behavior. It started when he was around 2.5 or so, and with work it’s gotten better, but not gone. Hoping another perspective will help. Any and all input is welcome.
He is not aggressive with every dog we see on leash, not even close. Mostly he ignores, or gives at most a passing glance to other dogs we see on our walks. Some he whines at, as if he wants to meet them, not many. We don’t do that and it passes quickly. Any dog who barks or acts aggressively towards him, though, even from behind a fence or wall, he will respond to with lunging and serious noise. All future encounters with those dogs will then inspire proactive lunging and noise from Beau, whether they start things next time or not. There are 3 or 4 such encounters likely on our usual walking routes.
I can get him to stop with a very loud stern No, Leave It! (sometimes repeated), most of the time. It actually quells the other dog more quickly than it does Beau. I can sometimes (but not always) prevent it by telling him to Leave It right before he gets near the dog, and rewarding him with a ball (this for dogs behind walls/fences) while walking. If we are walking by a likely target who’s also on leash, even across the street, Sit and Leave It and chance of reward will sometimes prevent Beau’s bad behavior, sometimes not. So far Watch Me has only worked once, he has a hard time watching me when a threat-dog is close by. Sit and Leave It works less often if the other dog is off leash and Beau is leashed.
I think it’s a mix of defensiveness and resource guarding at the source of the behavior, sometimes one or the other, sometimes both. The first time I carried a ball with us, his reactivity increased greatly - any dog who even looked at us was a problem that day. Next day he was back to base line, ignoring most dogs, ball notwithstanding. I think I am the resource even without the ball, though - he goes nuts at one pair of young GSDs that belong to our neighbor, that he ignored for months until one day I showed some interest in them, and one of them barked in an inviting way (he’s maybe a year old, sweet and friendly). Beau has acted like he hates him ever since. Mostly, though, he’s behaved this way with dogs who warned/threatened him first from behind a wall or fence, or approached him when he was leashed and they were not (at a public park where leash laws are ignored). Off leash he seems to have no problem with strange dogs, he greets them in a friendly way and that’s it, unless they try to mount him. Even then, aggressive displays are his last resort in those cases, not his first, and only for very persistent dogs.
My hope is that eventually he can be trained to stop resource guarding (if that’s what it is sometimes) and to ignore even the threatening dogs if they are contained. Is that possible, or a pipe dream? If possible, how do we get there? If not, what should I be aiming for instead?