As we learn to navigate the world, remember you cannot hide anything from a dog…Jedi and I are all signed up for our second round of Beginning Reactive Dog class starting in March. I believe the classroom is smaller at the location we will attend for this round. While this is not very productive for us, because Jedi’s threshold distance is still pretty far, my goal for this class is a little different.
The first time we attended this class, I had very lofty goals. I love training my dogs; I usually go home and get to work right away. Plus, just by taking the class, your dog by default will be less reactive right?
Just kidding, as I may have mentioned previously, you the dog owner get to do all of the work. While you progress faster when you put all of the tools you gain to work right away, no person or canine can change to this level overnight.
Unfortunately, our family also had allot going on during the last class and I wasn’t able to work Jedi as much as I had hoped. What I found out though, was we got exactly what we needed from the class anyway.
I am going to add some more background on Jedi here before I continue. I took a leash reactive dog walking class last May. The best advice I took away from that class was, reactive/herding dogs need you to bring them stillness. If Jedi goes over threshold, he needs me to bring calm to his world.
I typically do this, by putting some sort of visual obstruction between us and the trigger. Then, I have Jedi sit directly in front of me and wait for direct eye contact. If he is still reactive and won’t sit, I body talk him backwards, until he sits and looks at me. Sometimes I have to move him 20 steps back, but he knows now what I am asking for. I just use the backwards steps as an interrupter.
I don’t speak to him or pull on the leash. I just make the leash very short holding it to my stomach, this helps keep him from moving around me. Eventually he will sit and look at me. I tell him what a good boy he is, sometimes I throw in a couple of sits and downs, if he isn’t completely back with me yet. Then I call him to my side and we walk away.
When I move him backwards, I don’t do it aggressively, I don’t feel angry or frustrated. If you start to feel frustrated, get home as soon as possible. Run if you have to, trust me, just run home. When I started this, we never went to far from our escape zone. You have to remain calm and just wait for them to re-orientate to you. After that happens, we reconnect and he can take direction once again. He is back with me in the world and we move on.
Trust me, it is not because he shut down, that is not my point. I want him to know he has choices. He is more than willing to find the trigger and react again, if I let him. I need to be more interesting than the trigger, so I carry a tug toy, which he loves. Special treats, which he loves. We play heeling games, speed up, slow down, 360’s, can you stay with me? He loves that game too. These are things we do to build our relationship, when he is not over threshold. By doing so, it is easy for him to rejoin me after he spins out of control.
I was able to get his threshold distance down to maybe 30 feet this last summer (ha ha, you think that sounds far don’t you!). Not bad for us, it took a while to get that close when the trigger is moving. I want to share something else that worked for Jedi and I. If we tried to pass a dog and I can catch Jedi before he gets completely over threshold, we could still occasionally get past the trigger.
As soon as I see his head go up and his body start to stiffen, I would do an emergency U-turn away from the trigger. We would go back in the direction we came, just far enough for him to relax and connect with me. I would throw out some obedience commands, lots of treats. I might even let him look at the trigger, if he can remain calm. I get his focus back on me, then we would try passing the trigger again. Sometimes we would have to repeat this a few times, each time we could get a little closer. We would arch around the trigger, not moving directly at it and as always, lots of treats. The arching really helped! Many times, we were able to successfully pass the trigger, if we didn’t move directly at it.
We lived in a small suburb of St. Paul, MN. This also just happened to be the wrong environment for Jedi. While we had large fenced backyards, there was way too much activity in the adjoining yards for Jedi to EVER relax. We did what we could, learning our neighbors schedules and only letting him out when neighboring dogs were inside. We tried to be outside with him, to give him other things to do. We didn’t let him stare out the windows, watching for anything to move. Movement, hits his instincts hard. He has a ton of eye. Ever since he was a puppy, he has a hard time relaxing.
I put a good off switch on him. We went to Puppy Kindergarten (you can see the stars on his head in the photo, from graduation night), puppy agility, obedience classes, doggie daycare, daily walks and games. He met lots of kids, people and dogs as a puppy. He was always prone to over-stimulation, dogs walking by on a leash, set him off from the beginning in puppy kindergarten class. My instructor told me to tell him, I don’t think so, in a slightly stern, but non-threatening tone. I would say “let’s go” and we would then move away from the trigger.
Yes, being a dog trainer, I tried to do everything right and had the resources to do it. I know people look at us now like I did something to him or Jedi is a bad dog. I have heard other people with reactive dogs say the same thing. I have had people yell out their windows from their homes, bad things. Yes, I have cried over this. Those experiences have made me stronger, less reactive. You are only using words, they won’t hurt me unless I let them.
I know it is ignorance and I know how ignorance hurts. I take this gift and use it wisely. I CHOOSE TO USE MY VOICE to educate where I can. Yes, how you use your voice is a choice.
Choose wisely, for one day the tables may be turned. Wouldn’t it be nice to think there are others who choose to be an educating voice, when someone is backed into a corner. To choose to lift you up, instead of pushing you further into oppression. You can make a difference.
So, this was just the perfect storm, regarding the daycare incident, Jedi’s instincts and possibly his age. I picked Jedi up after the first small incident and the person handing him off to me forgot to mention that there was an incident.
When I look back on this, he did have issues that next week. I was oblivious. I didn’t know what had happened and why he was acting out. He had a solid week of very bad leadership, not knowing what was going on. It was during this week, he picked up his crazy lunging and barking. Me with big shocked eyes, looking at my little 10 month old aussie, wondering what the heck was going on. When they told me the next week at daycare, I was flabbergasted.
I have spent the last year leading up to this point, weeding through all of the training methods. Searching to find all of the best parts of all of the methods that work for me and Jedi. No one can tell you which methods are best for and your dog. Only you can use your intuition, to pick up on the things that are working for you. I am not talking about reading your dog’s mind, I am talking about what feels right for you and your dog. You don’t like something, you don’t use it. Some parts of some methods work, some parts of others work best for the both of you. It is daunting at the start, but keep searching.
We sold our house this past summer. It was a long process, that started in June and ended the last day of October. The sale of our house, fell through 2 times. The third time was a charm. We moved to a place with just over 5 acres. I have been giving Jedi some time to adjust and relax. No street out front to search for things to react to (we were just about to cover our windows), now only boring trees to look at. We are only 10 minutes from our old place and under 20 miles from St. Paul. We are very lucky to have been able to do this, a dream come true.
I finally feel like I have enough information and enough handling skills, experience…enough confidence, I am seeing small progress. My goal for the Reactive Rehab class, is to get Jedi use to knowing dogs are near him and he can be calm. I may ask that we never see the other dogs this time. We just hear the dogs barking, hear them walking around the room, hear their tags jingle, hear them panting, sniffing or whatever noises dogs make. We will remain calm. Yes, I am certain we will take the class again. Maybe next time, we can hear AND SEE the other dogs moving around. This time I am only hoping for a calm owner and a calm Jedi. We will be lost to the world around us. No pressure, no worries.