First things first. If you have a dog who barks and lunges at others dogs or people (a “reactive dog” as it’s commonly known), please hear this: you are not alone and it is not your fault!
Got it? The first and most important thing you can do to begin helping yourself and your dog through this challenge is to stop feeling guilty, ashamed, or embarrassed about it.
It’s also, by the way, not your dog’s fault. He is stressed and struggling as much as you when these outbursts occur.
Now that we’ve sorted that out, the second thing you can do right now is avoid rehearsal of the problem behavior. If your dog can’t take a walk in the neighborhood without having an outburst of barking and lunging (or several), those neighborhood walks are adding more stress to his life than anything else.
You may already have noticed there is little you can do to get his attention in the midst of a reactive outburst. No scolding OR reward that really matters to him. That’s because he is TOO DISTRESSED to notice these things, let alone process what they mean.
Meanwhile, that stress builds up over time for both of you, which makes outbursts grow more common and more severe. Although it may seem like avoidance is a “band-aid solution,” it IS the first step in long-term change. You’ll be surprised how much better you and your dog will feel without the constant worry.
So, to break this cycle, think outside the box for meeting your dog’s needs. Walk in places or at times of day when you’ll be unlikely to see other dogs – consider covering less distance in your walks, but letting your dog sniff more.
If that isn’t available, replace walks with more training and enrichment activities. Trick training, nose work training, food puzzles, food scatters, playing with you… these are all things that can be done at home to help fulfill your dog’s daily needs without exposing him to stressful walks.