Confessions of a Dog Trainer: I Have a Reactive Dog (Part 3)
It's a Jungle Out There!
Many of you have been following my blog discussion about my dog Charlotte and her behavior of barking and lunging at other dogs when living in New York City, a behavior I had wanted to change. You may want to catch up on part one and part two before reading ahead.
As promised, I am going to talk about some of the things I did that helped curb her reactivity towards other dogs. These are things I did in addition to handling exercises designed to keep Charlotte’s attention on me AND the behavior modification to help her feel differently about dogs. I spoke about management as an important variable in training because it helps to create an environment in which the dog has little or no opportunity to practice the behavior you want to change. By allowing Charlotte to practice the behavior of barking and lunging, she was only getting better at barking and lunging. Management in this case meant doing my best to avoid or minimize situations where Charlotte could practice barking and lunging. It’s a busy world out there and can sometimes feel like moving through a maze. All of this training can help make the experience feel more like a game vs. a mine field of potential triggers.
You Never Know What’s Around the Corner…
No kidding! The expression is supposed to be upbeat and hopeful. That’s not the case if you’re someone like me, a dog owner with a reactive dog. I used to dread turning the corner of a building. Charlotte and I were ambushed a number of times by another dog–-the encounter always sent Charlotte into a frenzy. It was even worse if the other dog was not good with dogs either. The problem with corners is that there is no opportunity to gauge distance because when you turn, the other dog could be suddenly upon you!
I handled this in two ways. First, I started going wide around corners. That way if a dog was coming, I was ready and could redirect Charlotte’s attention or go in the other direction. The second thing I did was teach Charlotte to tuck in next to me in a heel position, with my body acting as a barrier between her and the other dog.
Now You See Him, Now You Don’t!
Sometimes I chose to avoid passing another dog because I didn’t feel that we had enough space between the dog and Charlotte to navigate calmly–-I weaved in and around cars parked on the street. This allowed me to avoid triggering encounters by using the parked car as a visual barrier. Just be wary of the oncoming traffic and keep your dog in between you and the parked car.
The Human Barrier
Sometimes I didn’t have a choice but to pass another dog on the sidewalk. In those cases I cued Charlotte to switch to my other side, the side of my body farthest away from the dog, so my body could act like a physical barrier. This technique wasn’t always 100% successful because of the lack of space between Charlotte and the other dog, but it definitely decreased her tension. Social pressure is a big deal for reactive dogs. By placing myself between Charlotte and the other dog, was able to reduce some some of that pressure. Putting it on a verbal cue made it easier for her to switch sides while making it a game.
More games to come in my next blog!
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