Living In The Moment Based On A Plan

It’s often said many people either give the dog too much information, “stop no hey no agrh get off down…”, or perhaps do not do anything that has any real consequence or value to the dog, “That’s good old Buster he’s just a jumpy dog”. Either way the behaviors that the human is looking to decrease are getting rehearsed, thus becoming stronger.

Many times with clients I will explain that getting in front of the behavior is very important in having good timing. Being aware of the surrounding context and being ready is one of the major ways to keep dogs paying attention outside or even inside around hectic events such as door greetings.
 
Once you’ve established a good solid reward history and a humane consequence history what follows are some ideas to tighten up the training. Always factor duration and distance as well as level of distraction.
 
Here are some common things surrounding dog reactivity I have found most people deal with at some point. This is a general overview. The devils are in the details and each person’s mechanics, timing and dedication are different, this is also true of dogs and the varying cognitive differences and behavior histories they have. This is about decreasing the probability of unwanted behaviors not creating “perfect dogs”.
 
Dog reactivity
This is a fact of life. No matter if the dog has aggression or is simply frustrated, start a D/CC routine ASAP. You’ll be glad you did.

Dogs do what works, and if you have good mechanics and good timing, you can get the reactive dog to take steak and not blow its top at dogs it sees. Getting in front if this behavior is essential, so don’t wait until the dog has stared down the other dog, don’t stand still, and the nano second your dog so much as notices the dog, Mark & Treat, use a salient word like YES  or NICE. Everyday phrases like “good boy” do not have and real predictive value as we say it all the time. Distance is the main thing to keep in mind with leash reactive dogs. As soon as your pooch takes the first food reward, your mechanics should be geared towards moving away from the dog that is causing your dog to react.

When you see dogs and your dog does not react, reward him still. If he is offering the behavior of calm observation of a dog he’s most likely at a distance where he feels ok about it. This is a good time to pay as well, it will help generalize that dogs; far away and closer will also pay as long as the dog is under threshold. This has a cumulative effect over time and soon the dog will see dogs and before you can mark the behavior of looking at dogs he’s turned around and looking for a reward. The dog is now offering attention when it sees dogs. If your reward history and management of the dogs distance has been consistent as to not have any rehearsal of reactivity, this offering of attention will take place at some point. I’ve found that if the human can hit a 80% mark & reward and 20% management criteria, you can get  98% reliability, leaving 2% chance of pop ups and sudden environmental exposure of dogs.
 
Reactivity behind glass whether it’s a sliding door to your home or the car window is a bit trickier as it happens infrequent (less time to actually train), unlike leash reactivity where each walk is a training session, and usually window reactivity happens when the human is not next to the dog, so the consequence is delivered late after threshold has been broken, and usually window barking is fully rehearsed when the owner is not home.
 
Management of this is the first step. So take a second and realize that your dog’s behavior and stress level are potentially at risk here. You just might have to block that wall to ceiling sliding door, or window, so start thinking about that.
 
When you are home, keep the window blocked if the dog is to have access to the room. Try and figure out what has the dog vexed. Is it a dog that walks by the same time of day, is it prey, kids on skate boards, the neighbors coming home. If it is anything on a schedule you can use that in your plan as a way to start counter conditioning the dog on a regular basis. Remember reward history is big for dogs as well as sequences, use them to your advantage.
 
If it’s random it's tougher and management by way of blocking access and view will at least reduce stress for you and your dog.
 
Once you start the counter conditioning, which can be done in a variety of ways make sure you are looking for the dog’s offering of calm behavior and reward the heck out of it.

After a few weeks, months or maybe days, (depending on the dog and the history with the human) when Scruffy’s reward is getting to lick a peanut butter Kong each time a dog passes the window, you may see your pup coming to look for you a few minutes prior to that scheduled walk. Or you may get bark bark, look to you for tasty thing. This type of behavior chain can be a good thing, as long as the dog is actually barking at a sound and not just barking for you to get him food.  Expecting zero barking is not reasonable, accepting a few barks and then calming down is reasonable, after all dogs bark.
 
The more random out bursts from environmental sounds are also common, car horns, people yelling, a door shut down the hall. Let the dog get out a few barks, after all it’s his job to alert humans, so don’t freak out it will assuredly make the dog feel less safe if you do.
 
I usually say something to the effect of “Yea I know, thanks for letting me know, it’s ok”. Then I wait a second or two and if need be I ask for “that’s enough”. My dog has been timed out enough so he’s figured out that the crate maybe his destiny, he also been allowed to bark and get it out. He usually settles within 3 seconds, maybe 5, depends on if it’s a motorcycle.
 
You can try to redirect the dog on a toy, but I’ve seen allot of behavior chains created this way. When your does hear a sound that would normally make him react and he does not, reward him. This speaks to the offering of behaviors that dogs will invariably do at some point. Look for them and reward them.
 
When in the car and your driving; I suggest a frozen work to eat toy or a marrow bone for the really over the top reactive dogs. You cannot drive and train. If you have someone willing to train, then it’s the same principal, mark and reward for things that the dog would normally react to. The car moving away has a distinct advantage here, as the duration of your stimulus that elicits a reaction will be shorter. Of course waiting at lights and getting the car filled with gas (reactive to people approaching car) will need a different criteria, perhaps a constant reward, like the marrow bone or kong.
 
If you have a mildly reactive dog, you may be able to jolly talk him out of it or even toss a treat, of your good, but again I do not suggest driving and training.
 
You can take your dog to a parking lot and hang in the car where there will be people and dogs and so forth and do some really great training for car barking.
 
1- Make sure you park where the dog will not be beset upon by sudden movement from its peripherals.
2- Have a cache of amazing food rewards and YES & Reward the dog for anything it sees and alerts to.
3- If it’s specific stimuli that sets the dog off, save the high value rewards for those, use lower value for other things.

After you see the dog offering you his attention upon sight of things that would normally make him react, you’re on the way to seeing a reduction. Always consider distance and duration and when you park closer to the entrance or closer to more movement keep the duration shorter, than when you are farther away. In general shorter is better. As a rule of thumb don’t do long sessions, 10 min tops. Having successful sessions is better than ones that may include a few blow ups by the dog.
 
The last step for reactive dogs, provided they are not aggressive is to start meeting dogs. It is not advised this be done willy nilly with any dog. Finding an appropriate dog as well as having two handlers that are in sync with the greeting process is essential for it going well. You will erode your counter conditioning work if you have repeated greetings that get snarky or downright ugly. So be cautious and don’t take chances.
 
Training on the go is real world dog training. Being able to shift your criteria of what you’re paying for, or what your paying with, within the moment can be the difference between a dog that is tuned into you or a dog that is not. Leg work and patience are key components for the human in this training.
 
Speed Bonding
Being with dogs and letting them be dogs is something many people have trouble with. One of the great pleasures of training at our facility is the dog cannot really get into any “trouble”. The one table the dog might jump on is easily X-pened off if it’s chronic, even after sufficient time outs. The dog can be a dog, and I always encourage people from the second they walk in, “Don’t worry about training anything, and just let the dog investigate”. Some people get embarrassed if there dog jumps or won’t sit, or listen …and I just say, “its ok, let the dog relax a second”. Obviously the chanting of "stop sit down off" has had no effect on the dog in the past or in this moment, so why continue. People are amazed at how much “better” the dog is once it has ran around a bit and allowed to relax and recieved some good old head rubs.
 
I do this because it is seldom done, and provided the dog is a happy go lucky type of dog with no fear issues, why not start out with bit of fun, especially in this new place that smells like dogs and treats!
 
After a few minutes of what I call “speed bonding”, where I let the dog do a bit of jumping (within reason), where I simply engage the dog with food and happy talk and let it run around play with toys, then around 10 min in its truth or consequences. Then I start asking for sit’s or luring into positions, ignoring or timing out for jumping on me, getting ahead of behaviors and doing preemptive strikes as fellow trainer Erica Young CTC calls them. Where you see the dog approaching and you know it’s going be jumpy so you hand signal for a sit or ask for one and back it up with a hand signal, depends on where the dog is at. This preemptive strike is a good way to establish what the sequence is, when you approach dog, you should sit, because that’s what’s going to pay. Now I am also asking for these sits, stays etc…all along, but my main concern is getting to know the dog. I also start requiring the dog's owner to also train at every turn as I call it, so they are engaged and active. All the while it's kept fun and with no stress for perfection. It's about getting the dog and people to relax.
 
There is a balance between what to allow and what not to allow. Taking the context into consideration is first, second what is the reward history, and third what is the dogs state IE: How much energy does the dog have, does it need to expend it first? How hungry is the dog, is the food reward high value enough, and is it hand shy or reach phobic?

Being connected to the moment that the dog is living in, and free of human baggage such as self esteem and ego by way of your dog’s behavior being “perfect” sets you on a new path towards dare I say enlightenment. You can get what you want as well as give the dog some or all of what he wants, there is no fault in calculated compromise, especially when it leads to the dog feeling good about the whole affair, which in turn will also help the human have a better time.

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