Our pet expert, Dawn Polk, answers your questions from the Girl Camper mailbag to make camping a great experience for you and your pet!

My dog is dog reactive because he wants to make new friends. What is the best way to get him to stop barking at other dogs?

The word reactive can mean different things. Dogs can be reactive due to anxiety, fear, aggression, protection or habit. Figuring out which describes your dog is the first step.

Is your dog: Socialized? Possibly abused by a previous owner? Never been around other animals? Possessive of you? Each of these behaviors may require a different type of training. We rescued our dog, Bailey, a female Old English Bulldog who was probably 8 to 11 months old at the time. Since the day we got her two years ago, she lunges on her leash at cars, people, dogs and screams and barks wildly. Our veterinarian determined she was not aggressive, but had off-the-chart anxiety. He prescribed a daily anxiety medication.

It’s up to us as owners to try and understand dog behavior. Dogs sense our emotions, and our stress can transfer to them. Remaining calm, having patience, and not yelling at the dog when they bark is important. The calmer you remain in these situations, will calm the dog too. The best advice I can offer is to work with your veterinarian to determine what state of mind triggers a reaction from your dog, and work from there.

Understanding your pet is key.

Do I need a dog trainer?

You will be better equipped to start with some basic techniques, or it might be necessary to find a reputable professional dog trainer for your dog’s specific unacceptable behavior, such as aggression. When looking for a dog trainer, get more than one referral and discuss in depth the specific needs of your dog.

What about shock collars?

Some people believe in shock collars. Personally, I don’t like that method, however, there are some veterinarians and dog trainers that recommend shock collars and have great success. Make sure you fully understand the training method if this is the route you take.

What other methods might work?

Sometimes a dog can be redirected using something as simple as a quick loud noise, like pennies shaking in a can. This may distract the dog from barking or other bad behavior. Recently while walking Bailey, we tried using a small spray bottle filled with water. When Bailey got into one of her fits, I sprayed the water towards her head. It worked amazingly! She snapped out of her anxiety and we continued our walk. Now, I just show her the water bottle and her entire attitude changes immediately. She is rewarded with praise and sometimes a treat. Remember to always remain calm and do your homework.

Do I need to keep my pet on heartworm medication in the winter?

Yes. Even though it seems like mosquito season is over, your pet is still at risk of getting heartworm. According to the American Heartworm Society, more than a million pets in the U.S. have heartworm. Every one of our adopted dogs was infected with heartworm when we got them and age is not a factor. Heartworms are deadly, puts stress on your pet’s quality of life and it is totally preventable. While it may seem expensive to give that monthly dose (also available in two injections per year), finding out what heartworm treatment costs versus prevention makes it an easy choice.

This article first appeared in the Fall 2023 issue of Girl Camper Magazine.

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