Dear Lisa: I have a 3-year-old Australian Shepherd that gets very upset when we take her on walks, especially when another dog walks by. She knows sit but she barks very aggressively and she does not stay in the sit position, and we can't control her. I think she just wants to play with them. Should we get a de-bark collar? --Active Aussie Antics
Getting an "anti-bark" collar (de-barking is when you have the dog's vocal chords surgically cut to prevent barking) will treat the symptom for immediate relief but will do nothing to fix the problem in the long run. Behavior modification is the only way to address this problem.
It appears from your question that you have taught the dog to sit, but not taught her to stay. I would begin with more training at home (and enroll her in an obedience class with other dogs) to teach a solid stay command. That way when you do go out in public with her and meet other dogs, you can give her the sit followed by the stay command as another dog approaches. Dogs properly taught the stay command are not allowed to bark during the stay.
Your pet will always look to you for clues about the situation. If you get all upset, tense and start pulling on the leash, you will signal to your dog that something is wrong. This is most likely why she gets all aggressive towards the approaching dog because you are anticipating another lunging barking episode that you dread. Start to engage your friends and neighbors who own dogs to join you on walks so that having other dogs around you while on a walk is something that is enjoyable to you.
And, when a strange dog approaches, put her in the sit/stay and then ask the owner if it would be alright to introduce the dogs. Keeping her in the sit/stay and letting the other dog come over and have a proper introduction, with you staying calm in the activity, will help to communicate to your dog that letting the other dog over was your idea and that she shouldn't fret about it. When all is done and the other dog walks away, give her a treat, praise her lavishly and only then, release her from the stay. Eventually, you will be able to release her before the dog leaves and let her sniff and walk around the other dog without much fanfare.
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