But He Goes to Daycare…

“But he goes to the dog park/ daycare” is a phrase I often hear when people contact me about a reactive dog. 

Here’s the thing, for your dog, being off leash and playing with a group of dogs is a completely different skill set and emotional requirement than walking past another dog on a leash. I repeat, these are two different skills!

Taking your dog to the dog park or daycare so that your dog does well around other dogs on leash simply does not make sense; it’s like taking your child to a playground to teach them how to socially interact with humans in the world. 

Usually dogs are reactive to other dogs on leash for one of two reasons; they are uncomfortable/insecure/fearful of the other dog, or they are over excited about the possibility of engaging with another dog and get overstimulated and/or frustrated that the leash is preventing them from having that physical interaction with that other dog. In either case, there is anxiety. 

Now, let’s pretend the first example dog is going to daycare or the dog park and they are actually feeling anxious about other dogs but do “ok” off leash because they have the freedom to make choices that result in the freedom to move away from another dog. (Please note: this is not a dog that should be attending these places but that is for another post) 

However, when on a leash and seeing another dog, this dog, still anxious about seeing other dogs, and is now leashed and has lost his ability to make a choice to move away, will often react. These social “mosh pits” can teach this dog that all dogs invade their space so they need to be reactive to make them go away. 

Ok, so now let’s say the second example dog goes to the dog park or daycare. They LOVE all the the social interaction and are encouraged to play until they are exhausted. Now this type of dog sees another dog on leash and has full expectations that they can go have a slammn’ good time with them since whenever this dog sees dogs in a social situation the get to go engage and play. The leash in this situation can cause frustration to build. Add that to the over stimulation of seeing the other dog, and this dog becomes reactive to other dogs on leash. 

It’s also important to note that often reactivity in both types of dogs doesn’t start until after they start attending daycare or dog parks.

Also important to note, this is not an excuse to not have your dog on leash in public! 

The moral of the story is that helping your dog feel comfortable around other dogs on leash requires that we put the time in to create the emotional response, and skills, that are needed for your dog to ignore other dogs on leash, not take them to daycare or the dog park for off leash shenanigans with other dogs.

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