reactive dog training

Passive-aggressive reminder that not all dogs are happy being social with other dogs. Not every dog who dislikes other dogs does so because they’re poorly socialized or afraid. Not being “dog park material” does not make that dog a bad dog; it just means they’re happier elsewhere. Please respect what your dog is telling you about themselves. You’ll both be happier for it.

Story Time!

Story time with Wesley. This is a client I have worked with for roughly 6-ish months, we’ll call them L - a now 14 month old neutered male lab/mastiff mix - and A - L’s owner who wants what’s best for her puppy.

L and A came to me as a referral around six months ago. A adopted L from a shelter, was told he was a two year old pit bull mix, and has never had a dog before. A lived with a roommate, and L was about 65-70lb. She came to me because L was extremely reactive to people and other dogs, and was cowering away from her roommate and any people who came close to him. She specifically stated she wanted no harsh corrections, no prong collars, no shock collars. I invited her in for an evaluation so I could see what L was doing in person; upon arrival, L was very clearly NOT two years old and not a pit bull. He was very likely somewhere in the 8 month old range, mostly labrador, possibly some mastiff/molosser type mixed in, no bull breed I could discern. He was also extremely underconfident. He shook as he came into my ring, refused all but the stinkiest of cheeses, and peed if I came within about five feet of him. A was almost in tears and told me she hated seeing L so terrified. When I brought Rogue out as a test dog, L erupted into barking and lunging, but could be redirected if he was on the other side of the store. I told A that we could work with him, but it would be a long journey and she would need to go at his pace. She agreed and we started.

The first week I didn’t bother touching on his reactivity. We did confidence building games, engagement games with A, and I even got a tail wag out of him after our first hour. L was a very curious puppy and we were able to get that curiosity to override his fear through small games and easy choices. I learned at this time that A’s roommate was shoving L in his crate and banging on the sides of it when he was in it, and that A had made plans to move back in with her parents when she learned of this. I agreed it was best for both of them. I sent her home with games to play, reintroduction to the crate, and some basic recall/focus/loose leash walking (we found turning around and Premack’s worked best with L for loose leash training).

L recovered quickly once at A’s parents’ house and began to slowly accept his crate. We added in a front clip harness because of L’s size and reactivity - A had a hard time controlling him and I was worried of him injuring her. We started on BAT and LAT for his reactivity toward dogs using Rogue and Remy as decoy dogs. Associates were brought in from the store with stinky cheese and junk food treats to reward when L chose to interact with them - something he picked up on quickly! After a few weeks we were able to do entire classes on foundation work with Rogue on her mat about eight feet from L without him stressing (sometimes Rogue would even get a wiggle and play bow from him). A reported only a few incidents on walks, and all involving dogs rushing straight up to L, but she was able to redirect and get him a safe distance away.

After several months of building up L’s confidence, the once-timid lab mix puppy found his stride. We ditched the front clip harness as A no longer needed it and L now walks on a flat collar and 6ft leash. Recently, A reported that L’s jumping and biting/mouthing was increasing as he grew more confident. We did impulse control games (It’s Your Choice) and implemented 5 second time outs as well as more redirection, but L persisted and A was starting to bear the brunt of his enthusiasm. When she came in with bruises and cuts down her legs, I decided it was time to add in a correction. L would only latch onto her when he would get over excited on his walks - and he would bite her boots and not let go. We continued to work on an out command, impulse control, and A’s ability to recognize when L was going to have a tantrum, but we also added in a basket muzzle (to which he took to wonderfully after the adding of string cheese) for safety and a light leash correction. He responded well to the correction and didn’t display signs of stress. He would refocus better and finish his walk more or less peacefully. 

We have since removed the muzzle and A is now recognizing L’s excitement limits better. She still employs the leash correction if appropriate, but has reported that walks have gone well. We are continuing to work with him on impulse control and channeling his exuberance into good life choices, but I’m really, really happy where A and L have come. In L’s training, A and I have both compromised and found solutions that fit L the best and have created a happy, loved family member. All four quadrants of operant conditioning have been used with L, along with counter-conditioning, Premack’s Principle, 300 Peck, and BAT. We also are working on some focused heeling and tricks for fun! 

It’s been a long journey for L and A, but clients like them are why I do what I do, and why I keep an open mind and train the dog in front of me. 

anonymous asked:

What do you recommend for overexcitement around other dogs? My dog just turned one and lately can't seem to focus around other dogs despite me repeatedly giving distance and working this. I feel like I am making no progress and am getting frustrated. I am also worried he is eventually going to turn reactive due to frustration. I am tired of having to avoid other dogs because he loses his shit out of excitement as soon as he sees them.

Without seeing the dog in person, I can only give generalized advice so my first piece would be to contact a local trainer who can come out and see you and your dog in person. Shop around and find someone whose methods that make you and your dog happy. If you think there’s even the slightest chance your dog may be fear reactive, make sure they use methods that largely involve your dog making good choices and confidence building exercises.

That being said, I highly recommend Grisha Stewart’s BAT method for reactive dogs. I have personally used this method for years with great success. If your dog is reacting and you cannot redirect, you are over your dog’s threshold.

What is a threshold? Think of it like a glass of water. As you get closer to what your dog reacts to, water is added to the glass. The closer you get, the more full the glass gets. When your dog reacts, the glass is overflowing. Your goal is the keep the glass as empty as possible. Not looking at the stimulus = empty glass.

Use high value rewards for these exercises, something your dog rarely gets and values above everything else. I use hot dogs with Remy and a very specific tug toy for Rogue. Keep your sessions short and end on a high note!

Forgot to add, Scaredy Dog! by Ali Brown is also a fantastic book to read on reactivity.
Fear Breeds Fear

Something I have been confronted with quite a bit over the years, and in particular these past few days, is a very dangerous misconception about fear, reactivity, dominance, and aggression in dogs. 

I am so weary of explaining that aggression is not found in a healthy, confident dog and not encouraged in bitework and guard dogs. To claim that you encourage aggressive behavior in your dog toward strangers because “I want him to protect me” shows a fundamental lack of understanding of animal behavior. 

A dog that shows aggression does so because he is attempting to protect himself or something he cares about. He is showing aggression because he believes that he, or something he cares about, is in danger. To wildly, haphazardly, and ignorantly encourage this kind of behavior is beyond negligent, careless, reckless, and dangerous to a potentially fatal degree. 

Let me say this clearly: schutzhunde are not aggressive animals. They are highly skilled and highly trained dogs who will not attack unless commanded to do so. If they perceive danger their job is not to attack, but to alert their handler. If their handler gives the command to attack, they will do so, and if the handler tells them to stop, they are to cease instantly. They are not exhibiting fear-based aggression, and to build a schutzhund up with a fear-based aggression method is so unspeakably foolish; I cannot begin to express how dangerous it is. 

The bottom line here is that you simply cannot beat your pet golden retriever into becoming a guard dog, or feed off his reactivity and then morph it into something productive. An animal that is afraid will show signs of aggression, and there is nothing positive you can build off that aggressiveness whatsoever. You absolutely cannot redirect it into a guard dog-like protection. Your only course of action should be to eradicate that behavior, by removing the fear. 

You cannot beat the fear out of a dog, and you most certainly cannot beat the aggressiveness out of one. Fear breeds fear and pain breeds pain. 

All I can ask is that anyone who is struggling with aggressive and reactive behavior with their dog please take a step back and call a trainer/behaviorist. If you do not have a grasp on the basic cause and effect of fear and reactivity, you need to seek help from someone who does. Please don’t tell me your aggressive dog is just trying to protect you. He’s petrified. Get him the help he needs, for both your sake and his. 

Reblog this with a brag about your dog!

One of the things we do in my reactive dog class every week is tell everyone one thing that our dogs did great, or a funny thing, or just something to remind us why we love them. I think dogblr should try it, because it helps me get through bad days with Bear a lot.

So here’s mine: Bear held his pee till I got home today! I know that housetraining is something very easy for a lot of families, but Bear has always had issues with it.

The past year training Huck to play flyball has had its ups and downs.  I can’t believe he has gone from a very reactive dog with a crazy chase problem to a titled flyball dog, Huckleberry Phineas FD!  He surprises me every step of the way.  He wouldn’t be playing if he didn’t love the game.  He has overcome such big obstacles in his short life that we know his little heart is in it!  I love you my big boy and I look forward to many more years of racing flyball with you!

Dog Reactivity? Get help.

So one of the things that’s kind of distressing about running this blog is the number of asks we get about dogs with serious fear aggression or dog reactivity problems who aren’t getting any help or have any sort of management in their lives. No shade intended at followers for asking questions - I’m glad you do. It just says something to me about how unaware our general society is about how important it is to get these dogs help and how much dogs get set up for failure if they don’t have support and proper management. 

See, fear and reactivity don’t get better on their own - they only get worse. Each time a dog is put over threshold enough that they react to whatever it is they’re reactive to, you’re reinforcing the neural pathway. After a point, they can’t not choose that option - even if they wanted to do anything else, they’ve practiced losing their shit so often it’s the strongest impulse in their brain. 

A trainer with the proper background in reactive and aggressive dogs can help you teach your dog to learn a new set of reactions, but it’s not a one-and-done. It’s a slow process that requires a huge amount of time and effort and will be something you do for your dog’s entire life. There is, sadly, no quick fix for a reactive or aggressive dog. It doesn’t mean they’re bad animals or that you should give up on them. They just need a lot of help to overcome their previous experiences (since most reactivity and aggression are rooted in fear or feeling unsafe in previous similar instances). 

Not everyone who has a reactive or aggressive dog can afford a trainer or take the time for an intensive training protocol: this is where management comes in. You have to make sure that you set your dog up for success - never put him in a situation where he could react. This, too, requires major life adjustments. No walks in busy areas, or during the day. Probably training your dog to wear a muzzle for his safety and the safety of the other dogs around (because accidents will and do happen, no matter how responsible you try to be). Lifestyle changes are hard and difficult and also completely necessary. And there will always be some people who simply can’t adjust their life like that - due to disability, children, or just emotional stress. It doesn’t make you a bad person to have to re-home a dog whose issues you can’t safely manage (just don’t dump them at a shelter without saying what’s up - find a rescue that deals with reactive dogs). 

It’s hard to come to terms with the fact that your dog may never be able to be friendly with other dogs, or safe around strangers, or good with kids. It doesn’t make your dog a bad dog. It does require effort and responsibility to keep your dog, your family, and members of the public space safe. So please, please find a trainer (the APDT website has a great database of good professionals) in your area who can help with your dog’s problems if this applies to you. 

I’m very proud to say that the hound is now Huckleberry FDCh-Silver! It’s so crazy to think about where he was a year ago and how different of a dog he is now. He ran 5 (or 7 with false starts) heats in each of his races and ran them like a pro. He was pretty consistent 4.9s-5.0s most of the weekend. I’m stupid proud of that dog and our whole team! Huck’s team took 2nd in their division and our Open team took 1st!