Tuesday, July 19, 2011

A renewed commitment to work on reactivity

Fozzie and I are working hard to give him more practice on finding better responses to other dogs than being a lunging, yodeling little man. We are seeking out friends and neighbors with dogs to give us more structured environments in which to practice looking at dogs without getting so excited. 

As I have said before, Fozzie's case is different from the reactive dog work I have done before because he is not scared of other dogs--he really likes them. Likes them so much that he can't stand being on a leash and not being allowed to greet them!

Fozzie is doing very well with our practice, probably because I am working harder at really setting him up for success and having a few more boundaries on what he can do. Here is what we're working on:
  • Don't allow him to stare at other dogs. Use the head halter to pull his face away when he starts to, allowing the head halter to be loose at all other times. 
  • Take deep breaths. When I do this, if he's calm enough to notice, Fozzie tunes right in. A great way to exploit his incredible sensitivity to human emotions.  
A difference from my old way, that is of style more than substance: don't let him pull me around. 

This statement has been hard for me to embrace, since it reminds me so much of the old-school "dominance"-talk. But I know it wouldn't hurt to incorporate a little more tough love into my own style at times, at least with certain kinds of dogs. At least with this dog, who can be a strong-willed young man.

I am impressed with Fozzie's ability to relax in tough situations when given the chance, and with his attention when I make myself interesting enough. He is generally so distracted around stimuli. A few times, I have had him sitting and looking right up at me, and lying down and flopping over on his side even when other dogs are visible.

We have some work to do, but honestly I am surprised and pleased at his ability to focus when he knows what is expected of him. 

I'll say it again, Fozzie has been my best mentor yet! 


  1. Congratulations on all your success! That's fantastic. Living with a reactive dog myself, I know all too well what it's like. Some of the best advice I ever received was to take deep breaths and sing a happy song under my breath. It is amazing how dogs respond to human anxiety.

    It irritates me to no end that dominance trainers have corrupted the language in such a way that even the word "energy" has a negative connotation. We shouldn't let our dogs pull us around. It's not good for them or for us. But I agree that the way it sounds reeks of pack leadership bull. Positive trainers have to be so careful these days.

    My dog has definitely taught me most of what I know. I expect she'll teach me a lot more in the next few years. My future dogs will owe her a huge favour!

  2. Kirsten, maybe you can teach me more from your reactive dog class when we meet for a parallel walk sometime. I'm glad to hear how well Foz did. I am so prroud of him!

  3. Kristine, thank you for the affirmation! I'm glad you understand the thing about language...it is an ongoing frustration how some unfortunate words have taken on certain meaning in the training lexicon, and now I can't hear them without my hackles going up! :) Maybe someday the old ways will be such a thing of the past that we can use those words without worrying how they'll be interpreted.

    Alex, I would love to share what we worked on! It always helps me to talk through and practice when I learn new training stuff.

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