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My dog is about to turn 2 in a couple months. He is a 70 lb black lab, whom I've had since he was 10 weeks. As soon as I got him, I began to socialize him at a nearby 25-acre dog park with a lake. He would be overly frantic and excited and almost completely manic when we got there and would not listen to any of my commands. I corrected this behavior over time as he got used to the atmosphere of the park and eventually he would listen to my commands and I would not let him enter until he was calm, composed, and quiet.​
Leo has never been aggressive towards another dog, never been in a dog fight, and never bitten anyone or any other animal.
Recently, I moved to an apartment that has a small dog park (about 40 yards by 30 yards) and I take him there in the mornings and evenings to do his business. The previous behavior has returned, double-fold. He is so frantic that, despite putting him on a leash, he rips his head out of his collar (which is definitely not loose!). This behavior occurs in the park when he sees any other dog approach, or outside of the park when we are approaching and there is another dog or dogs in the park. Once he gets in the park, he acts aggressively towards other dogs, trying to dominate them by intimidation, humping, or barking at them; As time goes on, the other dog will get used to him and then they both calm down and he's back to his normal, playful, and friendly self.​
This being said, I cannot let this behavior go on, but I'm scared he's going to get out of his collar and run into the streets. I've been thinking about using a spray that will distract him from his behavior, but I seriously would rather not resort to this option unless absolutely necessary. Please help me!​
 

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A few things likely going on...

You recently moved, that can be a bit stressful to a dog.

Socialization means more than many dogs - it's different areas, different dogs, many people. Dogs tend to get used to specific environments, so the same dog park over and over won't offer any stress - but when introduced to a new area.. I always brought the pup to different parks around the city, always a different environment and different dogs. Try bringing the dog back to the old park if you can to test this theory, if he's more relaxed there...

Finally, a big mistake many owners make when bringing their dog to the parks is to bring them full of energy. Burn some of the energy off somewhere else, then bring them to the park. It generally offers a calmer dog and a better experience for all.
 

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This is a force-free forum that explicitly forbids the use of aversive training methods, so you're not likely to find many people advocating for the use of that "pet corrector" spray.

Personally, I think they're a waste of money. To me, an interruption should be trained in some way before use- the dog should have an understanding of what to do after the interruption vs the interrupter just "snapping them out of it" of whatever the goal of that pet corrector spray is. Personally, I use an "eh eh eh" noise that I condition to me "look at me/come towards me for a reward". I've taken to conditioning it while training a dog to yeild to leash pressure. I apply a slow, steady pressure and as soon as the dog turns towards me mark it and reward. Eventually I move towards sharper pressure on the leash to mimic a dog running to the end of a leash as well as working on lowering the amount of leash pressure it takes for the dog to move towards me. Once they understand tight leash = move towards person with the leash and not away from them (which is often the dog's natural response), then I will introduce the "interruptor/warning" noise just before they hit the end of the leash. It's a noise a dog usually looks towards, as well, I've found. They immediately get a bunch of treats for looking at me.

First- it is doubtful that your dog is trying to "dominate" other dogs at the park. Usually, what people see as "dominant" behavior is really defensive behavior due to anxiety, fear, or over excitement and poor socialization. In this case, my guess would be over excitement, poor impulse control, and learning the wrong lessons during early socialization (not your fault, it's harder to properly socialize a dog than most people realize).

Just like with people, it is not normal, well adjusted behavior for a dog to immediately feel the need to control another dog upon meeting them. I don't deny that some dogs are more "domineering" than others, and seem to crave control over other dogs/people/motion in general and have behavioral issues associated with this. Some breeds are more prone to this kind of thing, namely herding breeds (Border Collies, Cattle Dogs, Aussies) or herding-turned-protection-type/guard/protection breeds (especially working line dogs; groups like the working shepherd- Dutch, Belgian, German- breeds and other breeds like Dobes). Labs are not a breed I have found to commonly have issues stemming from wanting to control situations, as a general rule. What is very common in Labs and Lab mixes, however, is intense excitement, poor natural impulse control, and poor social skills when over-aroused/excited (even if when not over excited they are fairly adept in social situations with people/dogs).

As said above, real socialization is not just letting a dog go meet other dogs. It is exposing a dog systematically to new places, people, dogs, and things, and in a way that teaches appropriate behavior in all those situations. Unfortunately, socializing dogs at a dog park very often teaches exceptionally inappropriate behavior towards other dogs, because most of the time dogs in a dog park are all really over stimulated, and often under exercised, and so interacting with each other in a way that is less than healthy. That's why there are so many fights/squabbles that break out there.

I agree strongly with the advice that if you're going to be taking the dog to the dog park, he needs to drain his energy in some way before he goes there. It shouldn't be his main outlet for exercise/stimulation- that is what creates this crazy, off the walls, unpredictable and unstable dog you're seeing now.
Honestly, not all dogs are suited to playing with dogs they don't know in an enclosed area. Not all dogs are good dog park dogs, and this doesn't sound like a dog that should be going to the dog park. If this were my dog, or you were a client I was working with, I would recommend avoiding dog parks altogether, at least until he is more under control.

Bringing a dog like this to a dog park is very, very likely to end in a squabble at the very least if not an outright fight if he does these kinds of things to the wrong dog.

Other outlets for his energy could be things like leashed walks or jogs, perhaps running alongside a bike or doing some kind of jorring (pulling) sport, a structured game of fetch and/or tug, or things of that nature. Having rules that have to be followed in the exercise (such as not pulling, or pulling only in the way you direct, or having to perform simple obedience behaviors before getting to chase the ball, etc) are also going to make the exercise more enriching vs something that is just going to amp him up further.

I would focus on working on impulse control, focus on you, and to ignore/be calm around other dogs.

What have you done in the past with him, training wise? How have you been training him? Have you ever worked with a professional in any way? What are the places you're getting your information about dog behavior and training, and how did you decide on the methods you're using? How is he in the house/to live with? How "well trained" would you consider him, and what areas have you focused on? What kind of mental and physical exercise does he get?

Finally- it is imperative you find some kind of equipment that can contain him and that he cannot escape. It doesn't sound like he has a good recall- having an over excited dog that often gets loose is a disaster waiting to happen.

What kind of collar are you using now? Flat collars can be great, but do tend to be fairly easy to escape from, so I avoid them until I am sure a dog isn't an escape artist or prone to situations they may try to escape.

One very good escape proof idea is using an "easywalk" front clip harness and clipping the leash to both the harness AND the flat collar. The harness itself is easy to get out of, but if the leash is clipped to both I have yet to find a dog that can wriggle out of it. I really like front clip harnesses for dogs learning good leash manners or dogs with reactivity issues because they give you better leverage for control. That said, I have heard of studies suggesting shoulder problems if they're used indefinitely, and several suggestions that they interfere with normal gait when used in heavy exercise, so I do not suggest leaving them on in fenced areas, using them to run with a dog, or using them for more than a year or two to train basic skills. Alternatively, if you want to stick with a collar, look into martingale collars and limited slip collars. It also never hurts to have a slip collar as an emergency backup, though I don't really like them generally because most dogs will strangle themselves in them. Collars that only tighten a set amount like martingales or limited slips are better because they're escape proof without being dangerous.
 

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You could also try something called the Trust Technique which is great for calming animals down. They have an online video section which you can get access to for free to see what you think. I think it would be ideal for your situation, but also take the good advice of jagger above.
 

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@Moonstream is thorough. Worth a careful read. I have nothing to add to that, just want to emphasize, bang on.
 

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First of all, I want to say thank you all for taking the time to respond and know that I appreciate it very much.

I'm going to answer some of moonstream's questions. I use an ABA method, namely, positive and negative reinforcement. Negative reinforcement is not necessarily punishment as most people think, although it can be. The negative reinforcement I use is taking away a toy or sending him to his crate for a time-out so that he can calm down.

At home, Leo is calm and relaxed, even though we just moved into this apartment. On a side note, he doesn't do well in new environments if I'm not present, which I've learned through him sleeping over at friend's houses if I've gone away for a short period of time. When I say he doesn't do well, I mean to say that he is at a constant high energy, and won't settle down. He also will antagonize the other dogs present in the home for hours on end. In my mind, I feel this is partly because Leo doesn't have another dog at home and also because he is super friendly and high-energy as it is.

For exercise, Leo goes on bike rides with me, he runs off the leash at the beach and swims in the water, we go on short walks together, and he plays at a bigger dog park that I just discovered nearby my apartment here in Jville. If Leo does not get proper exercise, it will 100% show right away in his behavior. He will be overly excited, rambunctious, tear anything and everything apart, throw himself in circles, etc. I have almost never seen this particular behavior indoors since he was much much smaller because I take the time to make sure he is well-exercised and calm at home.

As for being well-behaved, Leo is a smart dog and we have a good understanding of each other. He learns tricks and commands surprisingly fast and adheres to new routines with little difficulty. I would say that he is not as well-mannered on initial greetings because he still has the tendency to half-jump on people (even though it's been almost a year since he's done it to me), and also gets overly excited when meeting new people in a home setting.

The collar I'm using now is a flat collar and I use a gentle lead for bike rides because if he sees a squirrel or other lizard, I will (and have been) injured. He's really well-behaved on the bike and has minimal incidence. During the summer months, like now, the bike rides and walks are much shorter because the heat really gets to him and we can only spend about 20 minutes outdoors at a time.

I only use the small dog park as a place for him to do his business and hang out and play for a little while in the mornings and evenings.

Is there anything I can read or watch that might help me train him to calm down when he sees other dogs at the small dog park?

Again, thank you so much in advance, it really means the world to me because I want Leo to be happy and mentally healthy when interacting with others.

Megan
 

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You might consider looking into bikejorring and scooter jorring- they are a great way to structure a bike ride a little more and drain a little more energy, and its not too hard to teach a dog the commands, and if you already have a bike, bikejorring isn't too expensive- both the harness and the jorring tie-out will last a long time, and aren't wildly expensive to start. Scooter jorring is a little more pricey since it would require the investment of the scooter as well (usually people use specifically make scooters).

It is not uncommon for a dog to be well behaved with their owner and then much less so when they're left without, even in a familiar environment. Part of this could be "separation anxiety", but I'm more inclined to just consider it normal behavior for a dog who has bonded closely to one person and had all their training done by them. My dog is pretty easy to be with in any situation if I'm there, and near impossible to be handled by someone else, simply because she's not ever been trained or handled in a training situation by anyone but me, and doesn't know how to work for other people. Since I live alone and don't have a dog walker, this isn't something I consider a problem. This is why its important that everyone who is expecting to handle/walk/care for the dog be involved in training from the beginning, as a side note/tangent.

Most dogs totally can be trained using only positive reinforcement (and mostly non aversive negative punishment, like you're using). To expect success in that, however, you need to be very good at reinforcement based training. That means good timing, good reward delivery speed/position, good varying and phasing out reward without losing engagement, good management of environment and systematic proofing to make sure the dog is never put in a situation that is over stimulating before he's ready, and realistic about criteria when he is put in situations that he isn't ready for. You might consider working with a professional a little bit just to get some pointers/input. Note that that isn't me advocating the use of corrections- I think it's a noble and often achievable goal to train without the use of force/coercion/pressure, but to do that successfully you need to be really good at all the minute aspects of training. It sounds like that is something you're interested in doing, which is great. Like I said, this is a force free forum, so you're going to find a lot of like-minded people here, as well as people who lean more towards balanced training in their own life but understand R+ training well enough to talk about training without focusing on how they use corrections. Personally, I lean towards a policy that I think poorly timed and practiced R+ training is less damaging to a dog than poorly timed/done balanced training, especially when not all dogs are suited to corrections in training and most people use corrections in what I would consider a less than optimal way.

One book I found to be a really eye opening look into the ways to manage reinforcement and environments in training and really build an engaged dog is the book "When Pigs Fly" by Jane Killion. I cannot recommend it enough- it really changed the way I think train and it written in a really accessable manner. Also, youtube is a great source for learning more. Don't be afraid to watch things you don't 100% agree with either and take aspects of that training that you do like.

To your original question- how to train him to calm down when he sees other dogs at the small park.

Personally, I would probably avoid the park except for the dogs he gets along with best for the time being and instead just do leashed walks to get his wigglies out and potty done in the morning and evening. If you absolutely do not want to change your routine- which is fine, it's your life and decision- then I'd suggest working on identifying the dogs that he gets along with- those that tolerate his behavior and actually seem to be enjoying his company. Identify the ones he doesn't get along with, as well- those that are annoyed and upset by it, or meet his excitement in a dangerous way, or get snarky or fussy about it. Figure out who he is safe playing with and who he isn't, and don't let him play with dogs he isn't safe with.

Then, focus in teaching him good behaviors on the walk. Teach him to yeild to leash pressure (I really like Grisha Stewert's "Silky Leash" protocol), capture check-ins and work on building up cued eye contact/focus, and get a good informal heel down.

Also decide on a handful of behaviors to use as distractions and engage him with before he gets a chance to focus on other dogs. Sophia Yin has some good leash drill suggestions (https://drsophiayin.com/blog/entry/reactive-dog-foundation-exercises-for-your-leash-reactive-dog/) and Donna Hill has some good youtube videos on that (look up Donna Hill Reactive Dog Leash Exercises or something like that on youtube, it should pop up). Finger targets are another good one, as is a focused, formal heel, or walking between your feet with eye contact. Sits in the front and then back to heel can be good, too. Backing up at heel can be another one. Little, fun, easy behaviors are what you want to think of.

Part of training successfully using R+ is getting behaviors really strong in low distraction environment and then working up to higher distraction environments. You need to practice all these inside, in your home, and get them close to perfect before you go outside and try them in real life. When you use them in real life, it'll held to maintain a high level of reinforcement and give a lot of jack pots for the behaviors in the beginning to really solidify engagement. Also, start further away from the dog and don't expect him to be able to hold focus close up. Look into "threshold distance"- find his, and work at making it smaller in small increments, but at first stay well outside of it.

Back to what I said about being realistic about criteria when you get into a real world situation you haven't proofed for. You're going to be in situations where he's around other dogs and reacts while you're working on training the alternative behaviors. Take whatever you can get in those situations. If he looks at you for a split second, give him a reward and move a little further away where he might be able to look for a little longer. If you can, put a street between you and the other dog. If you you have to walk right by them, don't allow him to greet, because that isn't going to do anything but teach him excited behavior ends in him greeting the other dog.
 

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I am definitely going to look into leash training and start with him during the summer while he's inside. I've been thinking about clicker training him anyway because I know 100% that he would respond really well to that method, I've just been too busy to really implement it in his training routines.
I want to thank you so much again for taking the time to respond to me and I will post updates here on how his training is going and what kind of progress he's made!
We've been avoiding the little dog park for now in favor of short walks and then longer walks on the beach.
Thanks again and you'll be hearing from me soon!!
 
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