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My 20 month old Great Dane is great during walks, can pass other dogs, see cats and squirrels without much issue (he does not have much of a prey drive anyway); a little high alert attention, but a "leave it" and he's fine.

The problem is when he is approaching other dogs -- such as when we are heading to the dog park to see his friends or going to any place where other dogs are congregating -- he goes wild (colt-leaping; pulling; whining) and he's a handful at 125 pounds, and knows it.

I have taken him to several different positive re-enforcement training classes and it seems the trainers just think as long as you have treats in hand during the times he 'does it right', he will learn the correct behavior. I'm not so certain this can be 'trained', though, and looking to hear from the experts.:ponder:

For instance, today I went to a place where lots of dogs were gathered with their owners -- I'd have to say 75% of them were relaxed and just stood by their owners side. The others were exhibiting various degrees of in-attention, mine probably being the worst because he was using his strength as a way to get his way -- those with smaller 'inattentive' dogs did not seem to have the issue, though -- they pulled, but really couldn't get very far. I did bring his treats -- and had him sit before he'd get a treat -- and he was ok with that -- but only for that moment. That only held his attention for a limited amount of time -- since he really wanted to 'meet and greet'. It turned into a battle of wills, with momentary sitting politely (when he wanted another treat).

I had considered putting him on a prong, because I knew what I might face - but was trying to be optimistic and had him on martingale (he can slip out of a flat collar in a split second, so that is never an option).

Has anyone truly trained an over-reactive dog to be calm and good-natured in a crowd of other dogs? thanks for your suggestions!
 

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From your description, he doesn't sound fearful, just excited.

Fear-reactivity is very hard to work with. Excitement is much, much easier. He's still pretty young so some calmness will just come with age and maturity.

For now, ditch the prong. Any kind of aversive like that could potentially actually CAUSE him to make a bad association and become fearful which, believe me, you do not want.

Have you heard of functional rewards? Your dog wants to play with the other dogs, for example, so playing with them is more rewarding than the treat you have. What I would do is get a dog that he's good with and that he's able to play with, have that dog in a park with another handler and put your dog on a leash. Practice walking past and approaching the other dog with the eventual reward for good behavior being able to play with the other dog and the "punishment" for bad behavior being walking away.
 

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"do you think a dog can be trained to stop being over-reactive?"

Yes. Creating engagement coupled with obedience training. Once that is completed utilize the obedience and/or engagement where the trigger is present. Maintain both by not being too close to the trigger so as to ensure the dog stays under threshold and slowly close the distance using the same interaction. The dog will learn to operate more accordingly to your demands because you are more alluring than the previous trigger.

As far as exposure to the element which sets your dog off, PoppyKenna suggests another route to take if the dog is simply exhibiting excitement. If the dog is truly aggressive or fearful posturing aggressive than it becomes a bit more complicated. Regardless, of what the root cause is, upping the obedience and capturing the dog's engagement will lessen the current problem.
 

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I would second PoppyKenna's suggestion of using functional rewards. My dog learned very quickly that a calm response = getting to meet the other dog in the classes we went to. A calm response earned him some sniffing and polite greetings earned a little play time. Gradually we eliminated the play time and introduced treats so he learned that not every dog meeting has to mean play time. Of course he is still a pup, so there's bound to be some excitement, but now he is much easier to calm down and return to a calm stasis.
 

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I have taken him to several different positive re-enforcement training classes and it seems the trainers just think as long as you have treats in hand during the times he 'does it right', he will learn the correct behavior. I'm not so certain this can be 'trained', though, and looking to hear from the experts.
It sounds like you aren't quite sold on the idea that training and treats can go together. Sure, there are other methods, but treats can be effective. Some thoughts:

The reason a treat may not work is because he's "too far gone" by the time you whip it out. They call this "over threshold." Some ways to combat this:
1) Use a higher value treat for this scenario. This is a point often missed with treats. Not all treats are alike or as effective in every scenario. Wave a bloody steak in front of his nose, and I bet those dogs will become way boring in a hurry! That's an extreme hyperbole to make a point: know what treats can draw him out of that.
2) Find the "over threshold" point (usually a distance thing, especially in this case), back off a bit from it, or stand just shy of it, and bring back his attention on you. Establishing strong "look (at me)" command is crucial. Get him to sit, look at you, look out there. Reward non-lunging behavior (praise, treats, ...).
3) As someone else has suggested, punish by walking away. When he calms down, go back, and at the edge of threshold pull him back, ask for the sit posture; if he settles, then return. With patience (it may take several days/occasions), you should find a reduction in the distance between your dog and the others that causes the overreaction.
4) Eventually, the ultimate reward is being able to play. But don't give it on the tail end of misbehavior, because then you just reinforce it. (Unfortunately, you probably already have.)

To beat the drum on part of #3, don't expect immediate results. I know I suffer from this too, the rush to make something work, and the getting frustrated when it doesn't work the first, second, or even fifth time. It's our microwave culture getting to us, and dogs aren't microwave ovens. ;)
 

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oh my! I didn't realize I had some replies -- I did not get notified! It's late now, but I want to go through these at my earliest opportunity -- thank you, all -- I will get back to you with comments and let you know how things are going! thank you!!
 

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These replies are very helpful for me too. Thank you all for the great info and advice! :)

I am doing a university project on dogs and I would appreciate it so much if my fellow Singaporean dog lovers will help by completing this quick 2 minute questionnaire. We are investigating how different dogs react to situations and different environments. https://surveynuts.com/surveys/take?id=110074&c=1721117081VDDP

Thank you in advance.

Michelle
 

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esustegui says it pretty well above.

I don't like "punishment". Dogs don't have this concept as we know it. Correction is a better word....wonderful English language.

You really can't give a correction until the dog knows the exercise. Even then it's more a matter of redirection and loss of reward.

A good point mentioned was "..,too far gone...." I've been taught to call this overdrive. Dogs can work themselves up into overdrive and at first you simply can't do anything but back up , get the dog out of the situation and let him calm down. I deal with very high drive dogs even extremely high drive with added excitability. Add reactivity and you have a real hand full.

Now, your dog exhibits relative calmness in fact very good with squirrels, maybe rabbits and other distractions. This puts you way ahead of some of the train wrecks I've had to deal with. I'd keep him away from the dog parks and playing with other dogs. This allows him to interact with other dogs that also are also in "overdrive" at a lower lever. It just feeds him and rewards his misbehavior. Your dog is big and very strong relative to you. He needs to learn that being with you is very enjoyable and fun in his language or world. Be carefull meeting other dogs when you are out walking. I avoid any close encounters until I'm absolutely sure my dog is rock solid. Most other dogs are not trained at all and essentially out of control in my mind. I don't want my dog to interact with then.

So what can you do. I'd say go to as many training groups as you can looking for instructors that will help you achieve a nice balanced dog. Try to find classes where the dogs get to work close to each other. Both of the classes I currently attend have an exercise called " traffic jam". Both classes have about twenty dogs in each. We form up around the room heeling then at the command "traffic jam" we turn and everyone goes to the center and weaves their way through to the other side. 20 dogs and people crammed into a bedroom size area. It overwhelms the dogs and even the beginner excitable dogs are just looking around like what's going on. It's a fun exercise actually. We also heel towards and away from each other. Both classes are non stop with very little talk time. The effect is that the dogs learn that other dogs are not a threat or problem at all. It's a great time to work on " watch me " command as the dog will look you you for guidance.

So as you can see its up to you to direct actions so the dog only sees good or positives. He is still young but he will calm down as he gets older. All this takes time so be patient.

Byron
 
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