Jekyll and Hyde

April 9, 2012 § 23 Comments

A curious thing is happening to our Lil’ Miss Maple. The shy, timid, and inquisitive furball who used to make morning and evening walks an amusing delight has transformed into a rambunctious, stubborn, and… well, rude, canine citizen. Miss Maple’s personality began to gradually split into two opposing extremes shortly after her 1st birthday.

At home, Miss Maple is the most mild-mannered, docile, and easy-going pup a dog owner could ever wish for. The only time the little tyke will ever let out a sound is when her ears perk up upon hearing a stranger approaching or the doorbell ringing. On those occasions, her low-pitched growls and high-pitched barks are, for the most part, controllable depending on her assessment of the “threat”—the further the distance of the “threat”, the more subdued her warnings. When off-leash, say, at the dog park, Miss Maple would often scurry with her butt tucked in from the inquisitive noses of other canines. It takes a while for her to warm up, which she does eventually with certain dogs. Once the meet-and-greet is over, she will happily go about playing fetch on the same field as her fellow four-leggers.

Now, the other side of Miss Maple (the hostile side that has us very confused and perplexed) surfaces whenever she is walking on-leash. Once she catches sight of a dog that is about to cross our path, this seemingly sweet-faced Poodle puts on a demonstration of her Cujo-esque prowess. Don’t be fooled by her small package. Miss Maple has a “no-holds-barred” approach and will lunge and bark at most dogs, both big and small (even the most aloof and non-provoking types who are just minding their own business).

It took us a while to figure out what was happening. After following a trail of clues from various searches on the Internet, we came across the term that precisely describes Miss Maple’s on-leash outbursts: “leash reactivity”. [Note: Some informative articles on this topic can be found here and here and here.] *sigh* At least we now know what we’re dealing with.

First things first, we have to re-examine the way that we’re walking Maple—or, rather, the way that she’s walking us! Our munchkin takes control of the leash about 95% of the time. The other 5% is when we find ourselves temporarily in the lead while she lags behind sniffing something wonderful on the ground. Second, we’re going to apply Dr Patricia McConnell’s (author of Feisty Fido) techniques for helping dogs to overcome leash reactivity. Third, I’ve registered myself and the Lil’ Miss for an 8-week Good Canine Citizen Course facilitated by the Singapore Kennel Club. The first class starts this weekend. While I’m a little nervous about the program, I’m also really hoping for positive results.

If anyone has had a similar experience with a leash-reactive dog and managed to troubleshoot the challenges of this problem behaviour,  please do share your success story. The more insights we gain, the better equipped we’ll be in our endeavour to help Miss Maple!

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§ 23 Responses to Jekyll and Hyde

  • raisingdaisy says:

    It’s hard for me to picture that sweet little face having a “Mr. Hyde” side! I haven’t seen “leash reactivity” with Daisy, but I’m so glad you posted about it so I’ll know what it is if it ever happens. Sounds like you’re taking all the right steps to get your Little Miss back in line! 😉

    • I’m sure Daisy will continue to be cool as a cucumber on her walks. Leash reactivity is something I don’t hope for any pupster to acquire. I feel so bad that Miss Maple is going through this right now. Part of the reason is because she was under-socialized and under-walked during those formative months as a puppy before we got her, but I also know that we do tend to let her have her ways especially on the walks… which, of course, only exacerbates the problem. *sigh* I just hope it’s not too late to take some corrective measures with positive training!

      • raisingdaisy says:

        I just read your Training Log and I’m so impressed with how fast Maple is learning better leash behavior! I don’t think it’s ever too late to teach a dog better behaviors, it’s just a matter of consistency after the training period is over. (And I think we all tend to let our little pups slide on their training over time, despite our best intentions. It’s all that cuteness that makes us crumble! 🙂 )

        • Fortunately (or unfortunately), that’s one of the great traits about Poodles—they learn fast, both the good and bad habits (lol)! Bistro and Honey are amongst the few dogs in our condo that Maple has grown to like over time. Initially, they also received their fair share of raging barks from the munchkin before she concluded that they are worthy of being her canine friends. 😉 Thanks again for your comforting words, especially the crumbling bit—glad you understand!

  • totomameee says:

    TOto is not the perfect dog on leash too but I don’t think he has a leash reactivity problem but TOto ‘drag’ us around too and usually TOto is walking ME … And we realised TOto walks better without a leash, I think with the leash he feels secure that we are definitely right behind him. WIthout a leash, he will keep looking back and dare not walk too far away.

    I have not read about this problem at all, hopefully Maple gets over the problem soon.

    But I don’t like this ASPCA method of managing, “If you have a small dog who doesn’t mind being picked up, manage reactive behavior by picking him up and tossing a light jacket or towel over his face so that he can’t see approaching dogs.” I think this doesn’t helps and only encourage their inner ‘Small Dog Syndrome”! I think this is a worst problem than the leash reactivity symdrome!!!

    • I think TOto was given lots of wonderful opportunities as a pup to socialize, which has given him confidence around dogs when leashed. Miss Maple, on the other hand, is very insecure. And, you’re right, carrying her and covering her eyes may only reinforce her insecurities! The three articles offer a range of (sometimes contradictory) methods, which is why we’re going to try Dr McConnell’s techniques first and see how that goes. Wish us luck!

      • totomameee says:

        Wow Maple is doing so well, I bet she get over her issues very soon! Be persistent and consistent. Usually such outdoor training, are done by my husband. I got no patience, and consistency hahaha!

        • That’s exactly my fear… my hubby has his way of doing things and I have mine. We’re trying to follow the same rules as closely as possible, but there is bound to be some slight differences. Hopefully Maple won’t get confused. *sigh* If only TOto could come over and guide our munchkin towards achieving doggie greatness!

          • totomameee says:

            Maple is doing extremely well and just for 4 days!! I think Maple has already gotten the idea. Poodle indeed! Nowadays TOto decide himself if he wanted to come back, or heel or stop! Haha, don’t be too strict on Maple yah! I think she is doing great!!!

            Just teaching Toto the action ‘BACK UP’, we need 4days! Terrier *roll eye*~ hahaha ~

  • Poor you. Georgia was a reactive on-leash dog when we got her and being (back then) 27 kg, it was tough to control her lunging. She’s now a wonderful walker, thank goodness because she’s 46kgs!

    It sounds like you’re getting great professional advice already. My 2 cents…

    Use a short leash when you see other dogs approaching. Until she calms down, avoid them by crossing the street or otherwise making the other dog owner aware of MM’s issues. Keeping her UNDER the threshhold of reactivity is key. On-leash meetings are NEVER a good thing anyway as the dogs are unable to display proper body language.

    Personally, I’ve found having a command to attract Georgia’s attention to be useful. I use “look at me”. Works a treat even with cats!

    Be very persistent and firm with her especially if she’s in control 95% of the time as you say! Many littledogs get away with this because they’re little! For myself, I like to be in control ALL the time. Things can go wrong so quickly. And when that happens, no one wins, big or little.

    Also, based on the experience of many dogowners here, it is NOT uncommon for dogs to have a behavioural change as they mature. Especially girls! For Georgia, it was around 2 years old. She got very angsty, especially with dogs that lunged and yapped at her. It does however just seem to be a phase that they grow out of, with appropriate intervention.

    So take heart! With your help, MM will be her cute bubbly demure self again in no time! Good luck!

    P.S. sorry for the very long 2 cents. It’s a topic close to my heart 🙂

    • Thank you for your two cents! Knowing that Georgia once had a past that involved reactivity on-leash and, more importantly, has overcome it is welcome news to us. I am so determined to get through this obstacle with Maple that this topic has grown to be something close to my heart, as well!

      Yes, I’m beginning to see how dogs meeting on-leash may not be the most conducive way for them to interact. I’ve been involved in a few leash tangles with other owners because our pups were going around and around us trying to sniff each other as best they could. For now, we’re going to keep a comfortable distance and just focus on maintaining a low (super LOW, like subterranean) threshold.

      On our walks, I’ve already begun practicing “look at me” and am amazed by how responsive Maple is to this simple command. I don’t know why I didn’t start on this waaaaay earlier!

      We’re also concurrently working on “heel”. Admittedly, Maple is the one leading us 95% of the time! There’s always tension on the leash with her pulling us from her position in front. When we first took her out on her maiden walks (she was confined at home prior to her joining us) I was so adament about having her “heel” nicely by our side. Slowly, over time, we became too relaxed… and, well, now we have this bigger predicament to deal with. Yes, little dogs, they just look so darn cute and fragile!

      Maple turns two next month in May, so it’s quite possible that this process of her maturing is triggering the behavioural changes that we’re observing. I really do hope to see Maple’s demure self again—oh, how we miss it so!

      Thanks for the words of encouragement! 😀

  • miss ene says:

    Ooh, I find that behaviour very familiar with Moon too! She’d be walking happily beside me on leash but the moment we pass another dog out on a walk or past a gate with a dog within, she’d lunge forward and get all excited. Like what you wrote, she probably wasn’t socialised when she was a puppy as she definitely enjoys human company more than that of the 4-legged kind!

    What I find useful in keeping her in check when she goes slightly mad while on leash is to keep leash very short and do the Cesar Millan method of going ‘tsst!’ very loudly in her face. I do it to keep her attention and like what you wrote above, to get her to ‘LOOK AT ME!’ (and not at the other dogs). It seems to work 80% of the time and she’d stay focussed (looking ahead) and walking past the barking dog inside the gate. Not so useful with other dogs out on a walk on a leash across the road though. She’d still be dying to get to them!!

  • miss ene says:

    Oh one more thing: I’ve realised that the moment we allow Moon to interact with the other dog on leash, they do the sniffing-butt ritual for all of 5 seconds and Moon is satisfied. She’d then want to continue her walk, completely ignoring the other dog. I suspect her leash reactivity is because of her wanting to go check out the other dog so once I allow her to do that, she is satisfied and life goes on 🙂

    • Yup, like Moon, Maple much prefers to be in the company of humans! Maple also has a surprisingly high tolerance for children (thank goodness) because she grew up in a home with two young toddlers.

      With gated dogs, Maple would often get nervous and quickly trot by while keeping a huge buffer distance between herself and the gate. No barking, just a look that says “Let’s get outta here!”

      Dogs on leashes are a different matter though. And, yes, it’s exactly the same for us… A dog can be on the opposite side of the road and Maple would still want to charge! (argggh, yank out hair)

      The dogs that Maple will eagerly want to approach are the ones in our condo—but not all of them, just a handful that she seems to be able to gel with. We’ll often let her go and greet them but, because she’s so fast and our leash is only 5ft long, we either end up running behind her or she gets yanked when she reaches the end of the line. Both situations, unfortunately, don’t really work in our favour…

      I think, for us, we have to start with the basics. And that means re-learning how to walk on-leash. From the sounds of it, Moon seems to have that one down pat—one less stress to worry about!

  • Bassas Blog says:

    I have heard about “leash reactivity” and I do hope that Maple will be able to overcome it.

  • Paws To Talk says:

    We love Maple! Sometimes we pull our mommy when she is walking us. mainly it is because we are excited to get out and explore. It is not the right way to walk though. Maybe we need leash training too?
    Bella and DiDi

  • Novroz says:

    Ow…so sorry to hear this…I hope you and maple can work this thing out. She so darn cute, couldn’t believe she could be hostile

  • Grace has had her challenges when greeting other dogs on a leash, so I can relate. We also find that keeping “a short leash” at those times is very helpful, removing as much leeway as possible for trouble! Good luck. The training log is a great way to capture your progress!

    • In a way, we’re kind of glad to hear that “leash reactivity” is not such an uncommon behaviour, which means there is bound to be a few empathetic dog owners who can relate with our troubles! Thanks for the tip. We’re training Maple to “heel” close to our side, and keeping a short leash is definitely helping us to accomplish that. 😀

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