In January, we made the decision to join a reactive dog class because we were at our wit’s end with his lunging, barking, and all-round embarrassing behaviour.
As a reactive dog owner, you’ll reach a couple of dire moments of “I just can’t do it.. I want to give up.” Some may reach points of “positive reinforcement isn’t working so I’ll use punitive and aversive methods instead. I saw it on TV/read the books so it must work!”
We can reach training burn-out and when we do, it feels like nothing is working right and everything is horrible.
We ended up dropping out of the class due to kennel cough but continued to work on counter-conditioning and desensitizing as we went about our lives. While we still take steps to manage unwanted behaviour – like taking the stairs down our building – I am actively noting triggers and lesson planning, be it reactivity in the lobby, how we can walk past dogs on the street, or how we can meet new dogs we encounter every day.
We’ve been keeping track of our progress on Instagram via #reactiveknox and it’s helped put a lot of negative feelings and setbacks into perspective. These past few weeks have been breakthrough weeks. Improving on my timing with clicking, clicking the right behaviours and decision making, and rewarding with treats as high value as I can find has catapulted us from “sorry, he’s insane” to “yeah my dog’s just a little reactive.”
So, 12 months later, for the most part, we’re finally back to where we started:
- Knox can selectively walk past another dog on the same sidewalk!
- Knox can watch an off-leash dog from a distance with excitement but returns to look at me
- Knox can recall away from another dog if it is far away
Some behaviours we’re still working on:
- Elevators are highly stressful
- Actually meeting a dog while on leash
- Reducing distance in threshold near off-leash dogs
- Reducing reactivity while off-leash (i.e. while attached to a long line)
- Counterconditioning to “dog sounds” while indoors (i.e. collars, barking, etc.)