Sorry for the delay in getting this out today. Not feeling really well as CP has brought home a bug, again.
This is such a big topic that I’m going to break it down and simplify things to just a starting place. Melanie over at Horses, Kids and Homework! asked about how she can work with her dog who is showing some same-sex aggression. While I’m not going to tackle same-sex aggression yet, I will be giving some tools for dealing with reactive dogs.
Today’s techniques are bare-bones basic. I’m going to direct this post at Mellie at times, but everyone should feel free to try this with their own dog.
Now Mellie, have you been following along much? Remember when we talked about training the “Watch Me” command and I said that it was a building block? This is the situation I was referring to.
From here, I’m going to assume you have a good working “Watch Me” command. If not, please go back and work on this first and foremost. I would avoid situations where your dog is reactive if at all possible until your dog has the jist of this command down.
Next, you will need access to the stimulus that causes your dog concern. In Mellie’s case, she’ll need a friend who has a friendly male dog to help her with her Fido. Since I don’t know his name, he’s become Fido for the purpose of this post.
Got your friend with a dog? Good! Now load up on extra tasty, high value treats. Seriously Mellie, this is going to be a stressful time for Fido. I’d consider any leftover roast, a turkey breast or cooking up several pieces of chicken so you’ll have enough HVT (high value treats). Working through this behavior requires more treats than we use during the average training exercise.
With both dogs on leash, start out apart at a distance. We want the distance to be however great as necessary. You’ll know you’re in the right spot when Fido can notice the other dog, but does nothing more than watch. Fido will probably perk his ears, tense his body and watch the other dog, but will look at you, even if only for a couple seconds when you say his name. I suggest starting out rather far apart with you and Fido moving forward just until he takes notice of your friend’s dog. Have your friend and her dog move around at that distance. Practice the “Watch Me” command, rewarding Fido for his successes. Is Fido able to pay attention to you? Is he starting to relax with the other dog around at that distance? If so, good! If not, try increasing the distance between you some.
When Fido is comfortable at that distance, have your friend and dog move closer. Again, work on “Watch Me”. Is Fido still responding to you? Then lets close the distance a bit more and practice “Watch Me” some more. Continue this as your dog is able to remain calm and focused when you’re working. We don’t want to push Fido’s threshold too quickly. Also, if Fido is giving you an automatic “Watch Me”, I want you to reward him with a jackpot of treats. We want to reinforce this with lots of HVTs and praise. Make a big deal out of it. Heck, make a party out of it just between you two!
This is going to take several training sessions. And this is only the beginning.
In the mean time, when you walk Fido be armed to the teeth with super yummy HVTs. If you come across a situation that causes Fido to be reactive, I want you to do one of two things, or possibly both, given the situation. I will trust you to use your best discretion.
If reactive stimulus is at a distance and you’ll be able to move away from it without it catching up to you, I want you to do a quick U turn and swiftly walk in the opposite direction away from it. A u-turn is incompatible with barking and lunging. Reward the u-turn and Fido’s focus on you. (You can do this while you’re still walking).
If the stimulus is far enough away that Fido will still listen, but is maybe more tense than in training sessions, give him a jackpot! Absolutely feed him tons and tons of treats while the stimulus is in your vicinity. We want Fido to begin to associate good things with that other dog!
Important things of note:
Pay attention to tension on the leash. You’ll be communicating tension, which can set your dog off when he might be otherwise calm. Owners can create situations by tightening up on the leash and not staying relaxed.
Avoid pushing Fido’s threshold too much. If you MUST walk past a trigger (or in his case, another male dog), keep safety in mind and cross the street before Fido gets tense. And here again, give Fido a jackpot!
If Fido is too tense to eat or ignores the treats, he is much too close to the stimulus. Move farther away from the stimulus.
The techniques I’m sharing with you are more about managing Fido’s reactiveness and slowly desensitizing him. It really is up to you to continue managing the situations for Fido vigilantly for quite some time.
Also, I don’t know how close to Tacoma you are, Mellie, or how practical taking training sessions up there would be, but Kathy Sdao runs a reactive dog class there. I have a friend who takes her Great Dane to her classes and they’ve come a long way. She’s much more qualified to help you with this issue than I am, and she’d have access to observe behaviors, which I don’t. You can find Kathy’s website here.
In addition, read everything you can about the issue. Here are a few books I recommend to get you started. (Remember, I have this issue too and with Freya’s specific issues, have chosen to manage the behaviors for the time being.)
Feisty Fido by Patricia McConnell
Click to Calm by Emma Parsons
How to Right a Dog Gone Wrong by Pamela Dennison (also read Bringing Light to Shadow, which led to this book being written. Good read!)
Fight! by Jean Donaldson
Mellie, I highly recommend Kathy Sdao’s class. Being able to observe would be a great help in this case. If that’s not possible, hang with me, let’s discuss this more and I will try to help you. Keep me posted on your progress and I’ll work on part 2 for you.
Alright class, any questions?