These dogs do not have an obedience problem so if you have reactive dogs don’t be embarrassed. It’s not a simple obedience training fix. These dogs have an emotional imbalance; and far too often these dogs are sent back to the breeder or placed in shelters. It’s not always easy but with time, patience and using desensitizsation and counter-conditioning methods many of these dogs can have near normal behavior.
What desensitizsation means is to become accustomed to what manifests the emotional reaction and counter-conditioning means to replace the negative behavior by replacing it with positive behavior. These go hand-in-hand. To get your dog comfortable around what it fears and reward your dog for not reacting. Sit, look-at-me, (ignoring the stimulus) and receiving high value treats. High value treats are your dog’s absolute favorite food. To do this it is important to know what your dog’s triggers are and to make planned steps, using baby steps, towards full exposure.
For example my dog Eggnog over-reacted to moving vehicles. He would become agitated when he heard tires crunching on our dirt road barking and lunging at the tires. To correct this behavior I started by getting him to sit and look-at-me when I first noticed a car coming our way. I fed him treats until the car drove past. Eventually I build this up to being able to stand on the
side of the Fulford-Ganges road after a ferry arrived with a stream of cars driving by us. Now if he hears a car while walking he ignores the cars and looks up at me – I always carry treats.
Nutt-Meg is my very emotional dog with multiple anxiety issues. Recently at a large dog agility event I was able to walk her around the venue taking the time to have her sit and look-at-me in front of many dogs and as people and dogs walked
behind her. Even she was proud of herself as she kept pulling on the leash to go inside the venue and not once did she react to any dog, noise or man! This has taken years. Patience is the key. Remember - never force your dog or punish your
dog for showing signs of fear. If your dog is showing signs of stress remove it from the off-putting stimuli.
Of course if you have a reactive dog that you have counter-conditioned you should always be prepared for them to regress. You will forever need to be aware of your dog’s surroundings and possible triggers. Watch your dogs posturing, the erect tail
and the big stare. The big stare is a giveaway sign your dog is fixated on something.
Everybody should understand the big stare; many dogs find being stared at a challenge or threat and will react by barking, snapping and lunging. When meeting a new dog I never look into dogs eyes. I wait until the dog seeks out my eyes. I don’t allow my dogs to stare at strange dogs...when I see them looking I use the look-at-me command to draw their attention away. I
watch other dogs to see if they are staring at my dogs and if they are I become proactive and place myself between the dogs blocking their view. People who are frightened of dogs usually stare at dogs to see what they are doing...this can do two things; some dogs see it as an invite to come over for a pat, or some breeds see it as a threat. Needless to say they get the attention they are desperately trying to avoid. The best thing to do to avoid interaction with a dog is turn your back on it. Dogs understand that to mean you are uninterested in them and belief me they are not offended in the slightest.
When working with reactive dogs overcome their fears it would be helpful for others to know and be informed so they can keep their dogs, or kids, out of your dogs face. There is this yellow jacket you can purchase for your dog from
http://www.etsy.com/ca/listing/167352345/jacket-vest-for-dogs-working-on-issues?ref=shop_home_active. It says “Please give me SPACE”. Some communities have been promoting a yellow ribbon tied to a dogs leash to mean the same thing. I would like to see this implemented on Salt Spring Island as well as in the dog agility world; horse kickers wear a red ribbon on their tail at shows. Maybe one day everyone will know what dogs need a little space making the training of reactive dogs a bit easier.
In the meantime, there is a support group on FB for owners of reactive dogs. There you can ask questions specific to your dog’s requirements or just share your grief of a bad episode or a negative reaction from those ‘well-behaved’ dog owners. This group gives support to using the desensitization and counter-conditioning methods and in their files section they have step-by-step guides to assist you. They forbid the promotion of shock collars and punitive corrections. To join this group just type in Reactive Dogs in the FB browser.
Sadly some reactive dogs have a more serious deep rooted problem often from the hands of man. Science shows that when dogs have had a traumatic event in its developmental stage of life it alters the neurotransmitters in the dogs’ brain. In these cases the dogs require more than what a professional dog trainer can offer. If that’s your case consult an animal behaviourist: a
Certified applied Animal Behaviorist (CAAB or ACAAB) or Veterinary behaviorist (DipACVB).
Salty Dogs Agility