Husky socialisation - training to "leave" or "on by" around other dogs.

I recently had a comment on my blog post Dog safety - what is prey drive? (Husky Socialisation - dealing with off lead incidents & prey drive) from a guy called Chad (hi Chad!). Chad is owned by a four year old husky named Nitro, who he describes as

 the most well tempered, well trained , and loving dog I have ever had in my family.... His prey drive is truly the only issue we have with him.

Chad and Nitro live in an area with a large population of small dogs who may own people who don't understand about prey drive in huskies. Chad asked for some advice in helping Nitro cope with the barage of small fluffies getting in his face.

I immediately turned to my in-house husky expert, J, and we talked it over. Of course, we're not professional dog trainers, or dog behaviouralists, we're just folks who live with huskies. So, any advice is just advice. But we thought Chad could have success with an approach that combined:

  1. teaching Nitro to "leave"
  2. teaching Nitro to "on by"
  3. socialisation with other dogs under careful supervision
  4. wearing a muzzle when in a situation where the potential for 'accidents' is high.

Chad asked how to train Nitro with the "on by" command. J said he views "on by" as a version of "leave." To our dogs "leave" means to hold position and not take the treat/toy/temptation in front of them.

J starts off feeding Bolo, so Bolo knows that there are treats on offer. Then he starts slowing lowering the treat to the floor. As Bolo reaches for the treat, J simultaneously moves it out of reach and sternly says "no". Bolo picks it up quickly and J tries a more difficult version where he balances the treat on Bolo's nose! Not so easy!

After teaching "leave", a similar technique works with "on by". "On by" means leave it, and keep moving. It can be taught with a treat, like "leave" in the videos above or without. When the dog goes to take the treat, the command "on by" is given, and when the dog obeys, it gets the reward. WIth many huskies, racing is its own reward, and getting on moving is positive reinforcement for them anyway. Its also possible to use a correction chain with this one.

Of course, teaching these commands is not going to happen overnight. Even when the dog has the idea, there's a big difference between doing it at home where its peaceful, and remembering to do it properly out in the world, surrounded by yappy fluffies! And, as we've said above, we prefer to use a muzzle on Bolo, rather than have accidents.

Ultimately, these things are not going to desensitise Nitro to small dogs. And it may never be completely successful, but one way to attempt to do that, is to increase his socialisation. At Obedience class, my instructors taught us to use the "Three Second Hello".

  1. Ask the owner "can we say hello?" or similar. (Please note, "is your dog friendly?" is not the same thing.)
  2. Allow the dogs to sniff each other briefly.
  3. Call your dog away and distract with a toy or treat.

An Obedience instructor friend from another club taught me the "Doggy 69" as an alternative. 

  1. Ask the owner "can we say hello?" or similar. (Yes, this is the same, I think this step is ESSENTIAL.)
  2. Let the dogs sniff each other, but only nose to tail.
  3. Call your dog away and distract with a toy or treat.

I hope Chad can have a go at these different things and let us know how Nitro goes. But I think its important to remember that prey drive will always be there in a husky. Huskies that have lived happily with cats or small dogs for many years will occasionally grab and hurt them. I have taken Czar happily through an evening at Obedience Club where he has socialised in the Off Lead park, greeted everyone in class, completed class, stood around with the other huskies after class, walked across the oval and THEN he lunged at a small dog running past. While it has been proved that dogs recognise other dogs, regardless of size or breed, prey drive seems to override that. Czar didn't see a small dog running past. He saw a movement and he reacted instinctively, without diving his brain time to process the image. I guess that if he was living rough, stopping to look properly would probably mean you'd only catch the slowest prey.

Good luck Chad, good luck Nitro!