Theory

When walking a reactive dog, you have to feel secure and always put safety first. There are so many triggers out there and you cannot control the environment as best as you might try.

You'll often need to act faster than you think, so having excellent defensive handling skills is a must!

Triggers can come around corners, race up beside us, trap us on a tight sidewalk, step out of a store, or come rushing at us behind a fence. Let's look at a few concepts:

  • Defensive handling with the leash
  • What to do when the faeces hits the fan
  • Focusing on recovery vs reaction
  • Testing your dog's Conditioned Emotional Response (CER)

Insert Video

DEFENSIVE HANDLING WITH THE LEASH

When walking a reactive dog, you have to feel secure and always put safety first. There are so many triggers out there and you cannot control the environment as best as you might try.

You'll often need to act faster than you think, so having excellent defensive handling skills is a must!

Triggers can come around corners, race up beside us, trap us on a tight sidewalk, step out of a store, or come rushing at us behind a fence. Let's look at how to best handle that leash:

What to do when the faeces hits the fan

Okay, so your dog bursts into flames. Barking, lunging, snapping, snarling, and straight-up embarrassing you. You feel the blood rising to your face and it takes everything in you not to give them a correction or holler at them to try to save your dignity.

I feel you.

Number one: SAFETY. Your job is to provide safety first and foremost. This means keeping your dog, yourself, and the public safe. So don't drop the leash and fall to the ground, weeping. Hold on for dear life and find a way to keep everyone safe. That might mean holding on for dear life until the moment has passed. It might mean walking them away to get some distance. Whatever it is, we just have to focus on our dog and safety right now.

Next up is IGNORING. I don't mean ignoring your dog - I mean that you need to ignore other people. If they're talking to you, expressing frustration or anger, flinging unsolicited advice or judgments at you, pretend you don't speak English and block them out. Look at your dog and take a deep breath. Loosen your jaw, lower your shoulders, and focus on your dog.

Last is RECOVERY. You need to get somewhere your dog feels safe; away from the trigger. If that means you head home, that's okay. If it means turning the corner or going backwards, fine. If it means that you keep walking away from the trigger, perfect. Whatever is going to work in that moment to get to safety. That's all that matters. Don't try training right now.

Focusing on recovery vs reaction

Recovery is best done when your dog is in the green zone and can think clearly. Eating (licking or chewing), sniffing, playing, and sleeping. These are the best ways to recover from stress when you're a dog. We call it "rest and digest" for a reason.

On the road, you can do a food-scatter in the grass, you can give them an extra long lick of the syringe/squeeze tube with wet food, you can "fart around" as I like to call it (play games, gentle tug, catch treats, do tricks for treats), or you can simply head home for some rest.

Whatever works. You can try all of these or just a few. It's Choose Your Own Adventure at this point.

One thing might work one time and not the next, so you have to be open to playing with the options.

Testing your dog's Conditioned Emotional Response (CER)

At this point, you've been creating a positive association with your dog's trigger(s) and there are some typical challenges that go along with it. Let's review those and troubleshoot:

  • Dog is barking/lunging/reacting
    • The trigger is too close/intense. Feed anyway as you lure/walk them away. You need distance and your dog needs safety!
  • Dog won't take food
    • The trigger is too close/intense - get some distance and work from where your dog feels safe. If that distance is not realistic, let me know in the discussion and let's talk about it! There's a lot we can do.
  • Dog won't listen to me when the trigger is present
    • That's okay - at this point, your dog doesn't need to do anything except eat. Don't ask for any behaviours when the trigger is present - the food should be there to create an awesome association rather than being contingent on a behaviour.
  • I'm not consistent enough
    • Get consistent! Let's work together to find some ways that you can make this process easier. Having food packed at ready for all walks, a note on the door, shortened walks, a qualified walk & train professional to help you along...there are so many ways I can help!
  • We can't get away from triggers
    • That's a toughie! Living in a busy city means triggers are everywhere and difficult to avoid. This is where we have to get really creative. Can you use a tool to reduce the exposure? A Calming Cap, a Happy Hoodie? Can you take walks at less busy times or try a quieter route?

Get in the Community - there are so many ways I can help!

What are we looking for?

A Conditioned Emotional Response (CER). Just like Pavlov's dogs would drool at the sound of the bell, we want your dog to perk up and anticipate good things when they see the trigger at a safe distance. This is what we call a CER.

At this point, you'll likely still have outbursts if the trigger is too close or intense. That is normal. At a safe distance, hopefully your dog perks up and looks towards you. Is that happening?

YES! Most or all of the time!
AMAZING!!! That's awesome. Keep going. We're going to play a new game next week that builds on this, but don't get greedy. Keep at it this week and don't stop.

Sometimes - maybe half the time or less.
Even if it's just now and again, that's great! We want this to happen all the time, so if you must, tighten up management and bring the best treats ever - make it as clear as possible to your dog that THIS. IS. THE. BEST. EVER.

Nope - hardly ever if at all.
It takes consistency and time. It also takes high value food and a dog who is able to learn and retain. Let's reassess that stress level, management, currency, and troubleshoot together.

Hang in there. You've got this!! 

Success message!
Warning message!
Error message!