We couldn't be more excited about Montreal's Pit bull ban coming to a halt, and the soon to be adoption of breed-neutral dangerous dog laws. Now, as dog owners and advocates, we must ensure we are being responsible with our dogs! In this article, Lori Nanan of Your Pit Bull and You, creator of Nailed it! a course in canine nail care, and Academy for dog trainers grad and staff member shares tips on how to understand & help your dog, plus how to manage new behaviours.
Q: On December 20th, 2017, the city of Montreal will be putting a freeze to their pit bull ban while they draft a breed neutral dangerous dog law, that will be much more effective in keeping citizens safe. This means that, not only can new pit bull type dogs be adopted within the city, but they will no longer need to wear mandatory muzzles outdoors. What do you recommend to dog owners who’s dogs may not have socialized as much as they used to or frequented the dog park in the last year due to BSL and mandatory muzzles?
LN: First, let me say how relieved I am for the people and dogs of Montreal. This has been a stressful time, even watching from afar, and I am so glad the city’s new leadership recognizes that laws such as Breed Specific Legislation are ineffective and do nothing to improve community safety.
There are a few things for people to be aware of as this transition occurs and among them is that for dogs who have been somewhat sequestered, a return to play and socialization with other dogs may be a little bumpy at first. Because many dogs were probably not walked as often, or interacted with other dogs less frequently, there may be an uptick in reactive behaviors until a new routine is begun and things begin to feel normal for dogs again. Imagine, as a social human, being prevented from interacting with other humans for a year. You might behave in ways that are a little over the top- when finally able to interact with members of your own species again! This is often true for dogs as well, so we may see some barking, whining, lunging, pulling and other behaviors that seem over-the-top, and maybe even unacceptable to some. Some dogs may need a refresher in the training department, and for those dogs, we recommend using a qualified trainer who is experienced in addressing issues such as reactivity using force-free methods.
Q: The analogy about social humans being kept away from others is such a powerful way to think of this situation, I can't imagine how awful that would be.
What are some tips you could share for those who may be faced with having a now reactive dog?
LN: In order to avoid on-leash displays or skirmishes, there are a few things people can do:
1.) Keep a safe distance if your dog seems over-eager. Even friendly dogs can come on too strongly to other dogs when they are excited. A good trainer can help with the process of re-introducing social time and play if slowing the process down is in order. It's not uncommon for dogs to be put off by others who are "acting up" and this can sometimes have negative consequences.
2.) If it's been determined that a dog's behavior is friendly and that on-leash meets are the only opportunity to socialize with other dogs, keep the meets short and sweet initially. Stay upbeat, avoid tangling of leashes and keep walking after about 3-5 seconds to avoid over-excitement. Over time, these meets can be extended if both dogs are comfortable and include walks together and play time if a safe spot for off-leash play is available.
3.) In cases where reactivity may not be of the over-the-top, socially frustrated type, and may become aggressive, long term management and training are in order. Have high value treats on-hand, be prepared to create distance and keep moving. A good dog trainer can help owners develop skills to improve leash handling and focus skills, designed to make dogs feel safe and comfortable when other dogs are in view.
It's equally important for dog owners to not take their dog's behavior personally. Simply acknowledging "My dog is reacting to changes in the environment that are overwhelming or scary" can really help people respond in appropriate ways, without resorting to yanking on leash or yelling at their dog. When we recognize that dogs behave in certain ways due to how they perceive things- and not to assert dominance, embarrass us, or because they are "bad"- we are more likely to come up with workable solutions.
Q: There’s no doubt that with or without BSL, there will still be a stigma towards these types of dogs. What do you think pet owners can do, to help change the way people see their dogs – to be their best advocates?
LN: It’s also important for the human end of the leash to recognize that while reversing the ban is an important first step in changing stigma and bias, we, as dog owners and advocates still have quite a way to go. Following existing laws is one of the best ways we can continue to change the tides- not only for pit bulls, but for all dogs. Things like leash laws, vaccine requirements (Rabies) and poop scoop laws exist for reasons that do actually impact public safety, and we have a responsibility to all dogs to ensure more restrictive policies like BSL are not enacted as a result of irresponsible behavior in any way. The best way to advocate for dogs is by being a responsible dog owner. Ensure people see dogs, whether you own a pit bull-type or not, as safe companions through your actions. Be educated on current laws, read up on dog behavior. Hire a trainer if there are some things you and your dog could be better at. And always remember that your own behavior is as important as your dog’s.
To learn more about behaviour and advocacy check out this free online course! https://lorinanan.com/where-advocacy-and-behavior-meet/
We would like to give a big thank you to Lori Nanan for taking the time to provide us with her expert opinion on BSL, dog behaviour and what to expect. So for anyone who's recently had BSL repealed in their city (or simply has a reactive dog) don't forget to:
Focus on slowly reintroducing your dog, and if BSL was just introduced, do try and continue socializing your dog with others. Setting up play dates with dogs in your immediate circle is always a good place to start!
Don't be afraid to call in for some professional help if needed, in fact, we recommend it. (We can help you with this! https://www.ivyleaguedogs.ca/reactive-dogs )
Leash laws, vaccine requirements (Rabies) and poop scoop laws exist for reasons that do actually impact public safety, and it's our duty as pet guardians to follow these.
Keep a safe distance if your dog seems to be overly excited.
If on-leash meetings occur with your dog-friendly dog: do keep meetings short. 3-5 seconds to avoid over-excitement, try your best to avoid tangling leashes and happy talk the whole way through!
If your dog's reactivity is not a result from being socially frustrated but rather a dislike or fear of other dogs then long-term management and training are musts! Dont forget to keep high value treats on hands for all walks, to keep your distance and to continue moving. Once again, a qualified trainer can help you through this!
Lastly, your reactive dog isn't purposely giving you a hard time, he's not out to dominate you or embarass you, he's having a hard time.
First photo: Erica Beckwith of A Matter Of Manners
Second and third photo: Lori Nanan