Since that article ran in June, three dogs who have graduated from my Growly Dog class have been attacked by off-leash dogs. My clients work hard to calm their dog’s anxiety when they see other dogs (which often stems from being attacked the very first time by a rude, off-leash dog!). We help these over-anxious dogs learn to trust their handler, and we rebuild their faith that they can walk safely in their own neighborhood. We make significant progress in keeping these dogs calm and focused on their owners instead of hyper-vigilantly scanning for dangers . . . such as an off-leash dog. In some of these cases, the unleashed dog owner was held responsible and now must pay fines in addition to medical bills; one of my clients ended up having an $8,000 hand surgery after breaking up a dog fight. I have enough stories like that to fill up a very long, pathetic book.
You want to reinforce behavior you like, such as when your dog looks at but does not react to another dog a good distance away. If you have to stop an incoming assault from an off-leash dog, you can yell “SIT!” at the oncoming dog (sometimes it works) and then throw your meat treat on the ground near that dog and do a quick, calm U-turn and move away. Could the dog have some sort of meat allergy? Possibly. That’s just one more reason the dog’s owner should obey the leash laws.
Speaking of reward, positive reinforcement refers to operant conditioning, and I won’t bore you with the details right now, but suffice it to say B.F. Skinner, one of the leading researchers on reinforcement, found that positive reinforcement (to reward good behavior) is far more superior to punishment in altering undesirable behavior because positive reinforcement results in lasting behavioral modification, and punishment changes behavior only temporarily; and presents many detrimental side effects. If the problem behavior changes temporarily, it will reappear later, and it comes with even more problem behavior! Good Behavior = Reward and Bad Behavior = Punishment, does that sound familiar? Positive reinforcement training is what exotic animal trainers have used for years to teach dolphins, whales and large cats among other animals. You cannot force a dolphin to do what it does not want to do!
In Delaware, dogs are not allowed to run at large unless in situations when the owner is present and has control over the pet. An exception is for farm dogs. Also, during the night dogs must be kept in an enclosure from which they cannot escape, firmly secured with a collar or chain or other device, so they cannot stray from the premises, or are under the reasonable control of the owner or custodian. If an owner does not respect these laws and if the dog bites someone, the owner is subject to civil liability and for fines of up to $1,500.