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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
In the last week I have had one appointment and made an appointment for Saturday with new clients who have dogs that are reactive to either people or dogs or seemingly both. The people who I met with already recently adopted a rehomed BC/lab mix who does not like two of the male family members particularly if they approach the only younger (high school age) female in the home. I spent a fair amount of time getting the dog to settle for me on a leash with all of the family members present on their back deck. I needed to see if he could settle at all with everyone nearby. Near the time where we were ready to wrap up with some guidance from me about how to handle the dog before the next time we meet, the people the dog has been aggressive to both ask if they should provoke the reactive behavior. OMG JUST NO!!!!!

The people I have an appointment with on Saturday asked if we could meet at a park rather than their home. This dog barks and lunges/pulls on the leash. In other words reacts to dogs and people. Oh no for the park for this dog too.

Here is why. If a reactive dog is put in conditions that will provoke the reactive bahavior (usually fear based) then the dog is rehearsing the limbic state of mind that is expressed as barking, lunging, growling and snarling. This dog will quickly become loaded with a surge of adrenaline and cortisol. This dog cannot think, cannot hear you talking and will not be able to obey orders. The more times this happens the more fixed as a standard behavior the reactivity becomes and the less likely it is that the dog will ever learn how to reduce its stress and the harder it will become for the owners to manage the behavior. A dog deep into the reactive state might as well be an alligator.

When one hires a trainer to help solve a problem listen to them and do your homework. Unless the trainer is a jerk they know more than you do about how to fix the problem.
 

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Sounds like they are expecting you to follow the reality TV dog training script. Come in, give a demonstration of the dog being absolutely bug nuts on the end of the leash, dose him with your patented special valerian herbal lozenges, take him on an 8 mile run behind your ATV, and then head off into the sunset leaving a completely unreactive dog crashed on their kitchen floor.
 

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We always knew reactive dog client situations were going to be fails when the one (or more) members of the family thought the reactive behavior was cute. As in, "Look how cute it is when my dog protects me from my husband!' Another bad case was when the husband thought it was "cool" that the dog would only mind him, but he shipped out for six months of every year. Ugh. I have a lot of respect for dog trainers, not because they can train dogs, but because they can manage to teach owners.
 

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Discussion Starter · #5 ·
@Mfmst no they are not new to dogs for the people I already met with, not sure about the people for tomorrow though.

Generally I am stuck on the idea that they know they need help because presumably what they've tried hasn't worked, but when the trainer tells them to do different approaches they want to show you their mistakes. Instead they just believe that letting their dog go over threshold to show you the problem is the first step to fixing things. I always try to tell them before meeting for the first time that they need to avoid provocative situations.

Charmed you are right it isn't just about training the dog(s) but rather teaching the people how to train and how to deal with the problems effectively. Some people are great about going all in and some just want a cowpony notes for trainers to come in and instantly cure their dog. The folks I am meeting on Saturday want to make another appointment for Monday or Tuesday assuming things go well the first time. I suspect they are expecting a miracle cure and/or that I will wave a magic wand. Dealing with reactivity is never quick and it is most importantly about the owners getting good management tools that they can use for the life of the dog. This is a big part of why I don't do board and train.
 

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Slightly different perspective - I agree that it's possible these clients might be expecting a quick fix and that's why they made this suggestion. But, extending them some benefit of the doubt - they might just believe that you might be able to observe something about the dog's behavior that they have missed, and that's why they suggested this. Just, from their perspective, having a reactive dog can make you feel very helpless and it's natural to hope that the experts might have answers and that they could diagnose the situation effectively by observing it. (Maybe not, if they were suggesting doing it without you, as part of their 'homework'...). I understand you to be saying that the harms of staging a triggering situation outweigh any beneficial information you might get from observing it (especially since you have an expert understanding of dog behavior, seeing it might not be useful to you at all). But for someone without that expertise, it is intuitive to hope that the expert might see something they don't. If the suggestion was that they trigger the behavior as part of their homework, maybe they think that this is how they themselves can see and 'test' their progress.

Anyway, one of the most empowering things I have learned is that I am the person best situated to observe my own dog's behavior. Experts have helped me learn what to pay attention to, and offered us options for how to manage and respond to reactions, but never by artificially recreating a triggering situation. Perhaps emphasizing something like that, alongside the message that it's not helpful to purposely put your dog in a reactive state, will empower them to learn to observe and understand their own dog.
 

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Slightly different perspective - I agree that it's possible these clients might be expecting a quick fix and that's why they made this suggestion. But, extending them some benefit of the doubt - they might just believe that you might be able to observe something about the dog's behavior that they have missed, and that's why they suggested this. Just, from their perspective, having a reactive dog can make you feel very helpless and it's natural to hope that the experts might have answers and that they could diagnose the situation effectively by observing it. (Maybe not, if they were suggesting doing it without you, as part of their 'homework'...). I understand you to be saying that the harms of staging a triggering situation outweigh any beneficial information you might get from observing it (especially since you have an expert understanding of dog behavior, seeing it might not be useful to you at all). But for someone without that expertise, it is intuitive to hope that the expert might see something they don't. If the suggestion was that they trigger the behavior as part of their homework, maybe they think that this is how they themselves can see and 'test' their progress.

Anyway, one of the most empowering things I have learned is that I am the person best situated to observe my own dog's behavior. Experts have helped me learn what to pay attention to, and offered us options for how to manage and respond to reactions, but never by artificially recreating a triggering situation. Perhaps emphasizing something like that, alongside the message that it's not helpful to purposely put your dog in a reactive state, will empower them to learn to observe their own dog.
This is exactly what I was thinking, but didn’t know how to express. An answer to the WHY.
 

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Discussion Starter · #9 ·
@Oonapup and @Starla thank you for those POVs. I should note that if one decides to follow BAT (behavior adjustment training) according to Grisha Stewart then there are times to arrange for set ups, but they shouldn't be done by owners alone without understanding the methods in it.

Having a reactive dog is a drag. You have to always be on the lookout for triggering events in the environment. You have to be prepared to tell well meaning folks (and occasional idiots) that they can't approach to say hello. And if your dog goes over threshold you have to deal with getting your dog back into a thinking state while people speculate about you and your nasty (but usually really fearful) dog. The general answer about reactivity is not to allow a reactive dog to routinely be going over threshold and to rehearse inappropriate responses.
 

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Sigh. I think it's a dog trainer's secret curse, Catherine. Clients seem to think we've never seen a reactive dog before, so they want to show us their dog's crazy behavior. They don't realize we've seen it before in a dog that had a merle coat. And a dog with a smooth coat. And a dog with a doodle coat. We've seen spotted dogs, and shaggy dogs, and tall dogs and tiny dogs lose their minds. it's all the same. Unless their dog also sprouts a wings and a unicorn horn that shoots confetti, we don't want to see it.

And you're right, once they are in hind brain, you really might as well have an alligator on your leash. The dog isn't able to learn. Besides, I can't teach a client if their dog is making a racket. TV has definitely skewed people's thinking that dogs can be rehabilitated in an hour. It doesn't work like that. Board and train has a huge pitfall. I can train your dog to follow my lead. That doesn't mean your dog will listen to you when I'm done training. Dog training is not fast. Slow, steady progress is best.
 

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Do the reactivity and triggering mechanisms also apply when we come home and our dogs are overstimulated with joy from our visit?

Basil still acts a fool with excitement when my girlfriend visits.

I need to do real training soon because I would like to bring her to my work (hospital) someday - for the "behind the scenes" staff. I feel like if we can get the CGC, then that will get a pass from my VP who is also a dog person.
 

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Oof, I read thins after big oops. We’ve been working on reactivity to Scary Wheels of Doom (skateboards). Blueberry had such a good day with my kids skateboarding near him. But my son wanted show me Just One More Thing Pleeease, and over threshold Blueberry went. I should have quit while ahead, darn darn darn.
 

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Discussion Starter · #16 ·
Do the reactivity and triggering mechanisms also apply when we come home and our dogs are overstimulated with joy from our visit?

Basil still acts a fool with excitement when my girlfriend visits.

I need to do real training soon because I would like to bring her to my work (hospital) someday - for the "behind the scenes" staff. I feel like if we can get the CGC, then that will get a pass from my VP who is also a dog person.

Excitement around known people, like when greeting after absence is just that, happy happy joy joy. I don't consider that reactivity. It is relatively easy to train away excited jumpies when you return home. Reactivity is almost never able to be totally extinguished. It can be trained on so that it takes more for the triggers to get the dog over the top, but one always has to watch for triggers and it is not possible to control all that appears in the environment.

To get Basil (or any over the top greeter) to be polite when you come home there are a number of things to do. First make sure your exits and returns are calm and quiet. I rarely say goodbye to our dogs, so leaving is calm. They probably float around looking for mischief and then they find the food and water, have a snack and go to sleep. When we return they recognize the sounds of our vehicles and hear the gate open, key in the lock and such. I almost always hear some barking. At this point I just tell them to sit when I open the door and they do so, but to get to that I had to make calm responses worht doing. I always made sure I had a pocket with Zukes Minis or something similar. I asked for sits and often got wiggly butts with waggly tails, but the sits appeared quickly when they saw me reach for my pocket. I gave treats and pets, now it is almost always just pets. If I have treats left in my pocket for the last training I did then there will be treats, but at this points the treats are not expected per say, but are always appreciated when they happen.

If it is any reassurance to you Basil the accepting petting without the foolishness was the hardest part of the CGC for Lily who always wanted to hop up on people and to give them kisses (licks). You can do this.
 

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No, that's not reactivity. Unless Basil is trying to bite and chase your girlfriend out of the house, what you have is young poodle that needs guidance. This is where, as a trainer, I come up with incompatible behaviors. Ping Pong treat chase is incompatible with bonkers. Go to multiple mats and lie down on them is incompatible with bonkers. And if you combine these games in a ritual, you'll teach your dog to regulate her behavior. She will know what to expect when someone exciting comes over.

It's hard to get an excited dog to stop being excited on cue. "Sit! #$%^ SIT!" Dog is too excited to sit. Now you're frustrated and the dog is still bananas. This is why I love Ping Pong for excited dogs. Favorite treat for Ping Pong is Instinct Raw Boost Mixers. They are light colored, airy, and fly when thrown. To play Ping Pong, throw a treat to your right. Wait for the dog to eat it. Throw a treat left, wait for the dog to eat it. Keep a steady, predictable rhythm of moving the dog right, left, right, left, to help the dog recognize the pattern. When they recognize the pattern, they are not in hind brain cuckoo mode, but in a thinking state. A thinking dog is a now a trainable dog. Keep Ping Pong going for three minutes or so. Get rid of the cuckoo bananas energy.

Now that the dog has run out of some energy, train lie down on a mat. Favorite way to teach this behavior is shaping. Hands down, it's fun to watch the dog get it. You'll need three welcome mats, or something that size. We start with one mat. With your dog in the room, put the mat on the floor. Dog nose bumps mat, treat. Toss a treat away for the dog to chase. Wait for the dog to return. Step on mat, two treats, throw a treat away. Wait for the dog to return. Four feet on mat, two treats, throw one away. Wait for the dog to return. Do that three or four times.

Then, standing on the mat doesn't win a prize. Leaving the mat doesn't win a prize. Say nothing. Just wait with your treats. No gestures, no helping. Eventually the dog will offer a sit on the mat. This wins five treats and praise, praise, praise. Toss a treat away. No helping the dog. Dog sits on the mat, dog wins. Does not sit on the mat, the dog does not win. Repeat that pattern three times.

Here's where the magic happens. Once the dog is running to the mat and sitting on it, sits stop working. The dog will try and sit more firmly. Standing, barking, leaving, whining, none of this is the magic key that unlocks the treats. Lying down on the mat is the Vegas slot machine jackpot. For 30 seconds, treat after treat after treat after treat are placed between the dog's paws while you quietly praise the dog. Toss a treat away and wait. Do nothing. Say nothing. Down is the jackpot behavior. Lie down you get treats for 30 seconds straight.

Dogs are opportunists. If something works for them, they will repeat it joyfully. It's the dog's idea to lie down on the mat and win jackpot prizes. Name this behavior when you are willing to bet $100 the dog is going to lie down. Since your goal is to have multiple mats, name the behavior the color of the mat. Yellow! Repeat this game for a week. Next week, second mat. Yellow wins prizes. Second mat also wins prizes. Name the second mat a color. Blue! If you say Blue, and the dog chooses blue, Vegas slot machine bells, baby. If the dog chooses yellow, nothing happens. Next week, add a third mat. Name it a color, Green. Same rules. Name the mat, go to the mat, win prizes. Mats are set up in a triangle pattern. The dog is playing a mat to mat pattern game that never ever varies. Yellow, Blue, Green, Yellow, Blue, Green...

Goal: Girlfriend comes over, you both play ping pong. Then play the dot to dot mat game. After ten minutes, the dog will be ready to say hi without going cuckoo bananas. All the cuckoo banana's energy was drained off. The dog is in a front-brain state and ready to make a friend. If this is predictable, always happens, in the same order, the dog will understand the rules when someone comes over. First we play ping pong, then we play mat to mat, and then I say hello.

Will you have to do this forever? Probably not. Age takes care of some cuckoo bananas. But, having a predictable ritual the dog can count on will make your life less stressful, guest lives less stressful, and your dog's life less stressful.
 

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Discussion Starter · #19 · (Edited)
Hind brain is utterly incapable of thinking or learning. It is the most primitive vertebrate brain region. All vertebrates have it, but reptiles only have that hind brain. Training/learning by a mammal (dogs and people alike) relies on the front brain which is the part of the brain that listens, makes reasonable responses when given good guidance and will respond predictably once you have done enough repetitions.
 

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Discussion Starter · #20 · (Edited)
No I wasn't actually drunk when I typed my previous post here. I think I wasn't wearing my glasses to have gone ahead and posted without noticing all of those typos (that I now have fixed)!

Anyway I met the main dog that inspired this thread today. He is an mpoo/bichon cross and he would probably react to a pin anding near him. Sadly he is a mess and it will take lots of work to make things better. He did classic fear reactive responses out in front of the house when I arrived. I waited him out. We moved to the gate to the back yard. He reacted to my intention to enter the yard. We sat down in the yard and he reacted to me sitting. Nope sorry buddy you can't make me go away. I rained Zukes on him and he finally settled enough to pay attention to me, but went over the top and showed intention to bite me when I repositioned my chair to do It's Yer Choice. I had to wait again for signs of being able to think again before moving along. He did finally calm down enough to do the game and I explained in detail what the process and purpose is for it. I only met the wife today so I was able to get a good amount of information across. I did tell her they had to work hard on not letting the dog rehearse the reactive responses and also urged her to teach Its Yer Choice to the rest of the family and to have all of them play the game everyday with him. I am pretty sure the wife understood how important preventing him from doing his lizard brain routines before I return. I don't think he will ever be an easy dog, but hope the folks will do enough homework for things to get better for everyone concerned.
 
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