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Reactive Dog Support Thread

This is a place to gain some understanding of dog behavior and to assist people in training their dogs and dealing with common behavior problems, regardless of the method(s) used. This can cover the spectrum from non-aversive to traditional methods of dog training. There are many ways to train a dog. Please avoid aggressive responses, and counter ideas and opinions with which you don't agree with friendly and helpful advice. Please refrain from submitting posts that promote off-topic discussions. Keep in mind that you may be receiving advice from other dog owners and lovers... not professionals. If you have a major problem, always seek the advice of a trainer or behaviorist!

  
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Kodiak

The cheese ninja
 
 
Barked: Fri Sep 14, '12 2:21pm PST 
I was so happy after teaching Smokey to be calm at drive thrus (he has bad separation anxiety, and this means I can eat without leaving him). Well, today Starbucks gave me regular instead of decaf. I thought about drinking it anyway, and then decided that would keep me up all night and pulled up outside for them to bring me a new one. It took them two more tries. And while Smokey had learned to tolerate the drive thru experience, having someone repeatedly stick his hands in the window while I looked tense and irritable probably seemed like a totally different thing. And then a pack of teenagers started rising bikes and skateboards around the car. Gaaaah. Why didn't I drink the regular?? naughty

I know from recent threads that lots of people are having similar struggles, so want to invite anyone who wants to to post challenges/successes/questions/answers.
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Niki

1229379
 
 
Barked: Fri Sep 14, '12 3:26pm PST 
Great idea!

My last dog was severely reactive and dog aggressive. She would go nuts when she saw another dog in the distance or anything that resembled a dog (ie. a person pulling a piece of luggage). If she was off-leash she would probably run over to the other dog, sniff for a few seconds, then start a fight. I was very dedicated to getting her the proper training and sought out the help of behaviorists, vets, and other owners with similar issues.

The best advice I ever got regarding her reactivity had nothing to do with actual training. It came from an instructor who led specific classes for dogs that had all degrees of reactivity and aggression. She told me to "re-evaluate what my expectations of my dog were". It was such simply advice, but it never really dawned on me until I heard it out loud. I had all these dreams for my dog that included agility, therapy-work (she LOVED people), and just walks downtown in public. Well I had to change my plans:

1)Instead of agility classes, I made equipment and did it in the yard.
2)I couldn't do therapy work with her ... but I did take her to work where she socialized with people in the office.
3) Walks in public, with the chance of seeing another dog, weren't possible so we took up hiking. Hiking is such a solo activity where I live that it was the perfect exercise and bonding experience!

I had to make a few more changes like making 50 foot leashes to run on and experience being "off-leash" and carrying a light-weight basket muzzle with me in case an off-leash dog ran up to us (and it DID come in handy).

In terms of actual behavioral modifications - I taught her a "Let's go" command, which meant every time we saw another dog we would head in the opposite direction and she would get a treat. She had naturally excellent recall, but I improved her ability to focus on me when she got all worked up and distracted. I started working in empty areas, but eventually was able to achieve reliable recall with other dogs in the distance.

Additional resources that helped were books. Ali Brown's "Scaredy Dog", "Click to Calm", and "Bringing Light to Shadow", brought me a lot of comfort in knowing I wasn't alone in these issues. I did come across some negativity, including a vet who advised me to put her to sleep, and learned how to address the concerns of those critics as well. I recently read a sobering post about a dog who had issues beyond what his caretakers could provide, and I understand there are cases where euthanasia is necessary. (http://anapoeland.blogspot.com/2010/11/goodbye-huckleberry.html)

I realized my dog had a problem that could be managed, but not completed solved. Her reactivity was never going to be cured, but it something I was willing to deal with for the rest of her life. I took full responsibility for her and her actions and never once took her reactivity issues lightly.
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Kodiak

The cheese ninja
 
 
Barked: Fri Sep 14, '12 5:48pm PST 
That blog post was so terribly sad. It reminds me that it could be much, much worse. If I think about the situation, I can understand why it set him off. It seems to be generally territorial/defensive aggression of somewhere that's "ours" or fear of strange/loud things, like bikes and skateboards, when he's on leash and can't get away. I'm also blessed with what seems to be a normal escalation: he barks, then growls and lunges if we don't make a quick getaway, but I haven't seen him snarl, snap, or bite. I'm also blessed with a nearby beach that's not too crowded, so we're able to get some exercise without constant fear of an episode. He is fairly calm in the house- as long as I keep the windows and blinds closed, he maybe reacts to 5-10 things a day (or starts to react, depending on how well I manage the situation). I know a lot of people are in much more difficult situations. My heart goes out. hug
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Niki

1229379
 
 
Barked: Fri Sep 14, '12 8:10pm PST 
What kind of dog is Smokey? Is he ever off-leash?

Reading that blog post was one of the saddest pieces I've ever read about dogs ....I can relate to it on so many levels and really felt for his family. I really encourage anyone in rescue to read it as well, it is a reminder that there are times when we can't save a dog. It was so sincere and heartbreaking. frown
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Smokey

Let's play tug!!
 
 
Barked: Fri Sep 14, '12 9:04pm PST 
Technical difficulties with photos, but he's a chihuahua/Frenchie mix. He's been off leash at the dog park, and is off leash most days at the beach. The dog park mostly makes him anxious, unless there are only a few other dogs. He isn't reactive, but he hovers around me, starts pouring drool, and doesn't play much. On the other hand, he loves the beach. It's much less densely populated, and I think he feels safer knowing he can run away if he needs to. He takes great joy in chasing seagulls and meeting people and dogs. His social skills are not perfect- he sometimes moves his butt away from being sniffed, and he barks at the other dogs some, but it seems to be a demand for more attention rather than fear or aggression, and he seems positively gleeful about chasing and being chased. He even doesn't mind joggers when he's off leash on the beach- he jogs along with them and bobs his head up to be petted.

Edited by author Fri Sep 14, '12 9:16pm PST

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Niki

1229379
 
 
Barked: Sat Sep 15, '12 11:49am PST 
Oh Smokey is a tiny one! smile My reactive dog was 35 pounds .... which made management possible. If she had been a larger dog or a stronger, muscular breed than it would have been much more difficult.

How long have you been fostering Smokey for? He might just need time to build his confidence. A lot of dogs just don't like the dog park - it can be overwhelming and full of "rude" dogs that don't communicate well with others. I'm glad you've found other outlets for him to feel more comfortable. Keep up the work and confidence building (training with treats is great for that)!
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Smokey

Let's play tug!!
 
 
Barked: Sat Sep 15, '12 1:17pm PST 
He's a little guy- about 22 pounds. I'm so thankful that I can pick him up and get out of dodge when I need to. I've been fostering him for 3 weeks or so. Although the rescue apparently didn't know anything about it, the report from the previous owners sounded like he's always been reactive, but I think that comes out less in the suburbs than the city, and they also just didn't take him many places- he lived most of his life in the backyard. The dog park thing does seem to just be general nervousness and lack of confidence, especially because his off leash manners are generally very good, but the rest of it doesn't. I'm very lucky in that he's only mildly reactive- he can pass a lot of people and dogs on leash with no problems, but since we live in a populated area, this still translates to not being able to live a normal life. If we go out in the car, I have to be careful that no one parks too close, passes on a bicycle, panhandles at the window, etc. If I take him to a restaurant and tie him up, he defends our territory. I usually tune it out (and so does Kodiak!), but there is a constant barrage of noise and stimulation sitting outside in the city. Garbage trucks, delivery trucks, people on bikes and skateboards, people wearing hats and sunglasses and carrying big packages, other dogs, etc, etc. At home, noises outside set him off and he absolutely loses it when delivery men come in, even though I put him in a crate in the bedroom with the door closed; he can still hear them. I don't think this type of reactivity usually improves on its own, because in his mind the intruders only left because of him scaring them off. I live in fear of getting pulled over for running a stop sign or something. I think I would get shot if I turned around and tried to put him in a crate. I guess the going plan is to open the window a slit and explain. I am not going to have him ride in a crate in the back seat all the time because he's made progress, and that will only continue if we keep working. Another thing I worry about is that one day there will be loud construction outside for a long period of time. I think this could unravel him. And short of driving out to the desert and sitting there all day or walking up and down the beach for hours, I don't know where I could take him where he would be calm. I guess I can blare classical music. I am doing my best to help him with these things, though, any time I can think of a way. He's come leaps and bounds with drive thrus. I started a dog socialization group because I don't know anyone here, and I think we can do some trials with people riding bikes and tossing treats. A marine who was a dog lover fed him some cheese, and I think he may not be afraid of men in uniform anymore. With the restaurants, table service is too much for us right now because of people approaching with trays, etc and not being able to suddenly get up and leave, but we've gone to a taco truck, which went pretty well, and I could also sit at an outside table and drink my coffee. It's nice how food experiences have the counterconditioning built right in smile. He barks, growls, and lunges at other dogs outside the apartment, but one couple in our complex loves him, and even if they are talking in a large group, he considers it safe because his friends are there, and runs up to them with his entire butt wagging. He responds really, really well to simple counter conditioning, but the challenge is bringing the stimuli to a manageable level, because no matter how good my treats are, right now his nerves can't handle 50 scary things in 10 minutes. I'm pretty new to all this, so a lot of the problem is me. I let my attention wander to whatever I'm doing instead of focusing on him, and then I don't notice the bike (or whatever) before he does. And the "what if. . ." worries are a big part of it. We're working on it, but it's tough. Even his little bit of reactivity is really stressful and sometimes overwhelming. I can only imagine what it's like for people with dogs who go over threshold at far-off sight of a dog in the distance.
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Ridley

Cry cry cry!
 
 
Barked: Sat Sep 15, '12 3:49pm PST 
Had a bad experience today, so rather than beat myself up over it I figured I might as well make use of this helpful thread.

Took Ridley with me today to Petco to pick up some kitty things. He was doing SO well... walked past several kids and dogs, no reaction whatsoever, wasn't even interested in them.

Then we went down the isle... where we were was right in the corner of the store, so its like its blocked off on 3 sides and pretty tight. A kid walked by us several times, didn't pay any attention to Ridley, and Ridley didn't pay any attention to him.... which was great! It finally seemed like he left and I was still picking up a few things, when suddenly this kid just appeared again out of nowhere right behind us, and Ridley absolutely lost it. Barking and bucking up and making a scene. I pulled him aside and this kid (boy, looked maybe 13-14) just sort of morphed away into another isle. I finally got Ridley under control, and tried to hurry up and grab what I needed.

As I was doing so, a little girl a few isles out said "Oh look, a German Shepherd!" to which what I'm assuming was her father, the next isle over, quickly shouted "Come here, stay away from that dog! Not all dogs are friendly like OURS is!".

Don't get me wrong, I didn't want the girl coming up to him after what happened either... but the tone? Yeah, coulda lived without that. My dog is perfectly friendly, but he does NOT like random children sneaking up to him from behind, especially one who (IMO) was acting pretty suspicious in the fist place (he passed us three separate times... and I was in the middle of the isle, so its not like I was blocking his way).

We've made such good progress. His dog reactivity is, thankfully, a thing of the past and for the most part he has been doing great with kids. But this was just such a discouraging setback, and the attitude from some random dude in the store isn't helping how I'm feeling about it.

Just thought I'd get that one off my chest frown
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Niki

1229379
 
 
Barked: Sat Sep 15, '12 5:04pm PST 
Ridley - I had to stop taking my reactive dog into pet stores, even with the reassurance all dogs were on a leash. Setbacks will happen, so just trying to minimize them and being able to maintain some control was the best I could do. My behaviorist told me to carry treats with me everywhere I went. But she got worked up enough, even high value treats like roast beef couldn't calm her done. So avoidance of places closely populated by other dogs became the obvious answer for us. If I had more time with her (she passed away due to an unrelated autoimmune illness), I think she would have made more progression over time. And there's a much better chance if the dog is younger!
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Niki

1229379
 
 
Barked: Sat Sep 15, '12 5:14pm PST 
Smokey's parent - I know how tough it is, but it does sound like you're headed in the right direction! Petco sells some treats that are supposed to help calm dogs down. Some people also swear by rescue remedy (make sure apply properly though). You could also try one of those DAP infusers and in the worst case scenario, discus anxiety medications with your vet. In the meantime, I would make sure she was sufficiently exercised (as you do) and crated in the quietest place possible.

I think what helped me own a reactive dog was remaining calm and unemotional in all situations. I never yelled, panicked or got worked up during the worst of it - but I know thats difficult and unnatural for many people. Of course, one huge outlet was channeling my frustration into research about how I could make the situation better.
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