I have made mistakes. I choose to learn from them and then leave them in the past. I am looking forward. Two steps forward, one step back. Still counts as moving forward! That is all I ask. One day we will get there and it will be glorious!
We have definitely made some progress in the last weeks. I have tried so many things, I think I finally have some tools what work for us. Here is a list of some things that are working the best for us. They are not in any particular order, just some really good strategy for a reactive dog.
Moving towards triggers and when I see him alert (beginnings of going over threshold), we turn around. Instead of always trying to getting us away from everything. I believe the mideset of scanning and trying to get away from everything causes angst.
If I know the trigger is under control, I don’t look at the trigger. It helps keep me from inadvertently feeding into his reaction. I think someday I will be able to, just not yet.
We don’t leave the car, until he is calm. I used to think I understood what people meant by that. He never tries to get out of the car, unless I give him a command. The difference now is, I climb in the back seat and tell him to lay down. I keep the windows open, so he can hear dogs and people all around us. We have practice collar grabs since he was a pup. He is totally fine with it (you could also pressure the leash down). If he reacts, I grab his collar and apply pressure.
I always try to use food first. I don’t do it in anger or make it harsh. Calmly, softly say, down and as lightly as needed, pressure him into position. He is getting better at just laying down on his own. Yes, this is force, but it calms him down. It is working for us. We do this until his breathing becomes calm and he settles into a comfortable down no matter what is going on around us. The most important part here is I use touch reward. I pet him gently, scratch behind the ears and tell him he is a good boy. We are fully connected, before we leave the car.
We start out walking with as few distractions as possible. He gets to spend some time sniffing around. Then we work/play, which can be anything. It is really just something we do together that we both enjoy and demands we be very connected. We practice heeling, all speeds, all directions and rally commands. When we are working, we will move towards triggers. I don’t want to lose him, just let him know they are there and we are having fun (he likes to work). Before we head home, we sit and watch the world go by. He gets treats whenever he asks (he asks when he feels stressed). Bonding.
This is a big one. Focusing on what he is doing right. It may be for just a split second, but dogs love being good. I have to try to fit in praise EVERY SINGLE CHANCE I GET! How can he learn to be confident, if he is only told about the things he does wrong?!? He needs to know when he makes the right choice. Reward what you want to see more of.
Touch rewards as often as possible!!!! They make him feel good and calm him down. Double play! I want him to like me touching him. He will be less likely to react to my touch if we are in the midst an out of control moment. It reconnects us and his eyes smile into my soul.
Not correcting too much or too strongly. If I accidentally step on his foot or he jams himself with a hard correction, he wants to fight me. If he reacts too much, we get away from the triggers. I do not need him practicing fighting me. This has to be fair and choices must be available to him. Keep practicing these things, work on the behaviors you want and try not to use force.
Big corrections are not the answer!!!! Yes, I have swung back and forth, round and round. I do give some corrections as interrupters. Inflicting pain won’t be your answer. It just won’t. You both lose, sad.
Working on building our “Watch” command.
If you start to feel frustrated, run to your safe zone (home, to the car, behind the bushes). Don’t ask for any behavior from your dog, just run together. Don’t look around, just RUN!
VERY IMPORTANT!! Your dog also has a frustration limit, learn it. Try not to go past it, be respectful of your canine who counts on you.
Even though your dog may appear as if they can’t hear you, many times they can and will surprise you.
Remember when they go crazy, they are getting an adrenaline rush. Like skydiving, it becomes an addiction.
Stop looking at your dog as naughty or bad. Change your view, change your life.
Don’t worry about what might happen, just keep trying to figure out what works for your team. Eliminate everything else.
Have big parties!! When we get a little too close and he hesitates leaving the trigger, but he makes that choice to rejoin me, we run and whoop it up. He loves it! Plays into his drive. I am more fun than the trigger. You are not more fun than the trigger, if you punish your dog. Why should they rejoin you, if they are going to be punished. Change the relationship, make them believe you are more fun! Of course, you really are!
Do not let anyone tell you, you need to take control, by squash your dog. That mindset creates pressure during all of your interactions. That pushes your dog away and makes them tense. When your significant other or good friend acts like something is wrong, you are on guard! Don’t feed into their lack of confidence by leaving them in the constant state of wondering what is wrong.
I call him my prince now. Why do I call him this? I think it brings me the correct body posture. If you are a king or queen, you would stand tall, chest high. You would walk calmly through your realm without concern for what is around you. You have every right to be there. I have been trying to get the right words for how it makes me feel, leading my prince through our realm. “Come my prince.” I stand tall and remember he is a special being to me. He is a treasure. I must teach my prince we have no worries and how to be a good boy. I want him to feel, that confidence of being special, without the protection piece. Yes, I am protect him, but we are royalty, we don’t need to worry about it. This really leads right into the next paragraph.
I have stopped scanning the horizon like a reactive person. We just move around, where we want to, when we want to. Too much pressure, we want to move away. Yes, it is a choice. There is no rush, we work at our own pace. I am off of the reactive roller coaster, because I chose to be. Life is all about choices, isn’t it. I am always trying to make the best ones, I hope you are too!!
Get some citronella spray. I heard someone say she tells people to use pepper spray if a strange dog approaches. It is not the dogs fault, if its owners let it run free and it approaches you. Keep clam and spray citronella if need be. Then tell the owners it was pepper spray…just kidding. Then spray the owners with pepper spray…just kidding. Walk away and tell your dog they were so brave!
Keeping us in a Zen mode. Nerves of steel. I liken this to the survival skills you need to live in Minnesota. You cannot focus on how cold and dreary the days can be. This takes the sheen off of everything you do in your entire day. Instead look for the beauty of winter. You can add few pounds and hide under blankets. Warm baths and NAPS! You can take your dogs on shorter walks, if your dog has to run through deep snow. More snow, more snow!! The moonlight glittering off of the snow, nothing better. The patterns created when condensation freezes on your windows, come on that is cool! Taking younger family members sledding. My list goes on and on. If I didn’t have it, I would sit around and ruin my day, thinking I have no choices. You honestly can move to Florida if you so chose. You are are choosing to be here (family, friends, too lazy to move), whatever your reason. Love your choice. Focus on the good, on what is actually happening, not the snow storm that never appears!
I am working on getting a solid focus on me. When we get to that point, I think we will be golden. He will trust me enough to know he doesn’t have to watch the trigger.
All of the little things that frustrate us, create pressure in our bodies. I truly believe reactive dogs are extra in tune to this. We have to give up any negative thought about what is happening around us. Like, oh great, you had to come this way. You had to ride that close to us. You had to be right here at this moment. No, let it all go. Look at them as challenges to gauge your progress. Can you remain in Zen mode, no matter what is happening. If you cannot, how can you ask your dog to?
When you let those things go, your perception of the world, your attitude and your life CHANGE. Thank you Jedi for being you and giving me this precious gift.