Jazi’s Adventures in Dog Training post, as requested by a few asks.
I’ll be honest, the biggest reason I’ve hesitated to post this is because I don’t feel like getting into an argument. I’ve had enough of those, I’ll talk about this in detail but I would like at least one of my posts to go without screaming.
Recently, I’ve taken on a reactive client- a young dog I’ve known for about a year when she came through my puppy classes at 4 months old. L*, like most of my reactive dogs, is poorly matched with her current owner. She changed hands 3 times before she came to me as a puppy, each because she is ‘too much’. She is a rottweiler/bullysomething owned by an elderly couple who’s biggest and most energetic dog was a yorkie, and they are largely unprepared for what it means to own a working breed dog. They’re more than a little afraid of her and misread moat of her signals, which compounds the problem.
L is not only reactive, she is also a bad puller. She was started in a front clip harness after panicking in a halti no matter how desensitized she was to the pressure, and while her walking skills improved, she quickly figured out how to stand on her hind legs and slip it when she was reacting to an incoming dog. Clearly, that was no longer going to work.
For two sessions, I tried Creed’s prong on her, giving her a clear and consistent consequence for poor behavior. The majority of corrections were self inflicted, and her stress lowered as she quickly caught on to the more strict 'rules’ of a walk. I taught her owner how to use a prong, making sure that he understood not to hurt her or be unfair with it, and made him practice with it several times before allowing him to buy one himself.
He practiced keeping his emotions either upbeat or neutral, he practiced walking in a sterile area and then outside the store with no other dogs present with her at low stress and giving calm focus, we talked about threshold and timing and rewarding good behavior to replace the bad and LAT/LAM, and then last week… we added a dog. Creed, to be specific.
Her owner was dubious that she was ready, but I was more worried about whether HE was ready. L started off by roaring at Creed, he moved her away, and she deliberately chose to disengage. He kept his head and she continued to choose correctly again and again. She would look at Creed and stiffen, then offer the behavior of huffing, taking a step back, and gazing intently at her owner. (Me: reward that! Right now!)
L, a dog who, 4 weeks prior, could not even glance at another dog or dog-shaped item 50 feet away from her without having an explosive reaction, was more than capable of walking about 10 feet away from Creed side by side in a perfect heel, calm and relaxed and without stressing, tail and butt wiggling happily when he glanced down at her and scratched her ears for doing SO well and trying SO hard just for him. Her owner, who came in 4 weeks ago trying to get me to take her off his hands, was laughing and smiling and playing with her, calling to me how proud he was of her and how amazing he thinks she is.
L has a long way to go before she’s done. She’ll be coming to a few of my BAT workshops where I have group walks specifically to help dogs like her, and when she’s stronger with that we will wean her off of the prong and settle with a martengale since she is a collar-slipper. She is still fairly mismatched with her owner, but this has made him feel far more capable of handling her into adulthood and has prevented her from going through a 4th upheaval prior to turning 2.
I see repeated on here frequently- don’t use corrections for reactivity, reactivity and aggression is based in fear, corrections make fear worse. I would agree that SOME reactive or aggressive dogs are acting out of fear… but some are not. L started out as a frustrated greeter puppy. When she became a teenager, her frustration in being held back on a flat collar or harness in greeting morphed into reactivity. Changing her emotions towards Creed would not help here, as the problem was that she wanted to be social and was lashing out at the barrier preventing her from reaching her target. Unfortunately, to most people, this looks like serious dog or fear aggression.
Away from public eyes, I have had conversations with various dogblrs that perscribed to positive only training end up with a dog that was reactive and not out of fear. These folks work for months and sometimes years, just like I did with Creed, getting increasingly frustrated with the lack of improvement with +R and finally trying a prong, slip, or e collar… and the dog’s stress plummets as it is taught that the behavior is unacceptable please try performing something else.
Note that I am not saying to slap a prong on all reactive dogs and call it a day. I’ve used +R BAT on the vast majority of my reactive clients because those have been fear based. But those that aren’t, sometimes a different method is necessary. It’s always better to change your methodology to match the dog, rather than try to force the dog into the neat little box you want it to exist in.