Downeast Dog News

No Charge, Please!

Take Away Your Dog’s Charge Card
By | Jun 01, 2018

It’s commonplace to witness off-leash dogs charging at top speed towards the object of their attention - joggers, other dogs, passers-by, bikers, etc. If you are a jogger, you have an aversion to dogs running up and nipping at your ankles. If you are a dog owner, you don’t like strange dogs appearing out of nowhere at top speed, headed straight for you and your dog. If you are a dog, you will likely feel uncomfortable, if not defensive or fearful, at the sight of a dog racing up to you. If you are the owner of a dog who habitually charges at people and dogs, you are probably embarrassed and wish there were something you could do to change the situation. You have even noticed that your dog exhibits a similar behavior when he’s on-leash; in fact, he gets over-excited at the presence of stimuli in general.

It’s a big problem.

Dogs are genetically programmed to chase, and when they see movement or anything that grabs their attention, off they go as fast as they can, like it’s a race they absolutely must win. If a dog has been allowed to do this a few times, it can soon become his go-to behavior.

You can modify this behavior, but it will take work and time… and a dedicated effort to prevent future infractions.


Everything always seems to come down to patterns: what are the predictable events that lead to charging? Helping our dogs learn a new pattern while doing our best to prevent the old ones from repeating themselves is our key to success.

The Three L’s: Look, Lock, Lunge


In many cases of charging or reactivity, there are predictable, sequential events. The first one is the “look:” that moment when your dog notices the trigger (in this example, it's a dog way over yonder, but it could be anything). The look might just be a small turn of the dog’s head; “oh, there’s a dog over there.”


After just a few moments of looking, our dog might “lock” onto the dog in the distance. “Oh, boy! There’s a DOG over there!” This “lock” is a look that has gone on long enough for it to gain intensity - through a more tense and forward body, a closed mouth, or other subtle/not-so-subtle changes. There’s a build-up of emotion, observable in his body language.


The lunge is a sudden, physical action towards the dog. The look/lock has boiled over and is expressed through the charge.

Emotions influence decisions in both dogs and humans and the above scenario clearly describes a highly aroused, emotionally-charged dog making a decision that is very natural…. but very inappropriate from the standpoint of the rest of the world.

Changing the Pattern

We need to take an active role in modifying the behavior by introducing a new behavior the dog can do instead of charging, and we have to make it very worth his while! For this example, we are going to teach the dog to look away from the dog at a distance.

Timing is critical - we MUST interrupt the look. If we wait until the lock, it’s too late.

A typical setup:

Dog is on leash outside a dog park or other area where there are dogs (no dogs should be able to interact with him for this). If a dog park is too exciting, find an individual dog you can use as a “decoy dog.” Choose your distance so that your dog is aware of the other dog but is unlikely to want to lunge. This is his “threshold.”

Pay attention to what your dog is focusing on. Each time he looks in the direction of the dogs, say “yes!” and reward him with the most delectable treats he’s ever known. Repeat, repeat, repeat (remember, we are trying to establish a new pattern, and it takes many repetitions to do so).

Keep your repetitions short but numerous. Stop while you are ahead. Practice again in a few hours or the next day.

Adjust the distance you are from the other dog based on your dog’s interest in the rewards. You will probably have to adjust the value of your treats, too. Meat… or a fun game of tug or other game - don’t be stingy! You are building a new pattern.

If things are going well, you can make it a bit harder by 1) decreasing the distance, 2) increasing the time the dog is allowed to look at the dog before you reward him, or 3) increasing the animation of the other dog.

Take away his charge card!

Do not expect your dog to be able to refrain from charging until you have built up his skills sufficiently for him to be able to self-interrupt the "look."

Happy training!