8 Aug

Reactivity 101

1929077_1122671385747_713541_nWhat is a reactive dog?

The term “reactive” is used to describe a dog that reacts to the presence of other dogs (or people) with behaviors that may not be considered pro-social. Most people can recall having seen a dog that, while out on a walk, suddenly lunges at a dog or person while barking madly. A more subtle variation is a dog that becomes still, stiff, and stares down another dog while it passes. In this case, the “other dog” is called a stimulus or a trigger. Dogs can be reactive to a variety of triggers, including people, children, skateboards, bicycles, and cars. Some reactive dogs are very friendly – but their excitement to “say hi!” turns into frustration and over-arousal. Our training can help any dog, no matter their particular trigger(s).


What does a reactive dog look like?

Your dog doesn’t need to display all of the behaviors listed below; one behavior is enough indication that your dog may benefit from training and behavior modification for reactivity.

  • prolonged eye contact with the trigger, often called a “hard stare”
  • whining or whimpering
  • growling, snapping, or biting
  • lunging at the trigger
  • extreme pulling toward the trigger
  • stiff posture and slowed, stiffening steps when sees a trigger
  • stillness (your dog stops moving)
  • assuming a stalking posture in the presence of the trigger
  • laying down and staring at the trigger

Not sure if your dog is reactive?  If you think your dog might be displaying early signs of reactivity, shoot a short video of the behavior (if you can safely do so) and send it to us at training@fetchmpls.com. (We recommend using a free account with Dropbox to upload and share the file.)


Will it go away on its own?

Reactivity rarely resolves on its own – in fact, it is highly likely to worsen over time. What begins as a hard stare may develop into lunging and snapping. It is cheaper, faster, and easier to immediately address a new problem behavior than to modify a behavior that has been practiced for a long time.


Why is my dog doing this?

Often, reactive dogs are behaving out of fear, and a smaller portion of these dogs are friendly, but frustrated.  An even far smaller percentage of dogs are aggressive. Some dogs have a genetic predisposition toward fearfulness. Some dogs have had a traumatic experience. We are able to offer training and behavior modification programs for all of these dogs, no matter their underlying issue.


How does your training program work?

We use a combination of in-home management plans, training, and behavior modification to support your dog’s progress.

In-home management is a key component – if your dog still has opportunities to practice the unwanted behaviors, they will be more difficult to extinguish. Additionally, an in-home management plan seeks to minimize daily stress, which can have a significantly negative effect on the training process.

We teach a variety of training exercises designed to increase your dog’s focus and impulse control. These exercises begin at home, and then extend into various other environments. Motivation is critical, and we work with you to identify your dog’s highest motivators – and then teach him how good behavior can pay off in a big way. We also teach leash handling skills so that you can more gracefully manage and communicate with your dog.

Our training plan addresses your dog’s underlying emotional needs, which are an integral element of your dog’s behavior. As calm, confident, and relaxed are our ultimate goals, we concentrate on cultivating these qualities in every step of the training program.

Finally, our behavior modification plan is based on results. Observable, quantifiable changes are the defining feature of the success of a training and behavior plan. Our trainers’ experience and creativity allow them to optimize the behavior modification plan for your unique dog.  


What training methods do you use?

We achieve spectacular training results without the use of force or intimidation in training. We use positive reinforcement training to actively teach and reward desirable behaviors. We take great care to make sure that your dog is not unduly stressed during training, and we do not apply physical punishers. Although punishment can work, it carries the side effect of negative emotions – and behavior modification for fearful and aggressive dogs is ALL about cultivating positive emotions.

We use Behavior Adjustment Training (BAT) protocols to help your dog become desensitized to his triggers, while simultaneously teaching him acceptable behaviors that he can employ in the presence of the trigger, while still meeting his emotional needs. This results in a dog that is appropriately communicative, as well as more confident. We combine BAT with other standard reactive dog training exercises when appropriate.

For those interested in the learning theory behind BAT, we will happily discuss the technical details. You can also learn more at the BAT website, empoweredanimals.com. You can also read here about why to choose a Certified Behavior Adjustment Training Instructor.

We also use elements of Control Unleashed and other tried and true training exercises based on classical conditioning and positive reinforcement principles.


What is the structure of your training program?

A private in-home consultation is required for every new student. This allows us to:

  • discuss and design an in-home management plan
  • meet your dog and observe his behaviors
  • teach foundation exercises for focus and impulse control
  • teach exercises for relaxation
  • begin a behavior modification plan / begin work with BAT
  • evaluate your dog for placement with an appropriate partner in a Reactive Rehab class (if applicable)

After your in-home consult, there are a variety of options to continue training. Your trainer can help you choose which option is right for you. These include:

  • Reactive Rehab classes (offered in 6-week sessions, with progressive levels offered)
  • in-home training (trainer comes to you or meets you at a park for private training)
  • live-at-home boot camp (trainer works with the dog in your absence, to assist with challenging dogs, busy schedules, or to help speed the process)


Why are Reactive Rehab classes 6 weeks long?

Our classes are designed to be repeated. While six weeks is long enough to see considerable improvement with your dog, it might not be long enough to meet your personal goals. However, we have found that 6-week classes help us to meet our students’ needs for flexible schedules. This also gives us the mobility to change classmates, so your dog is able to work with different student dogs when appropriate.

Some students enroll in multiple classes back-to-back. Others choose to take a break in between classes. Some take one class and find that their needs are met, and they are happily on their way. Others find that the feedback and structure of repeated classes better help them to meet their goals.


How long does the training take?

We wish we could give you a magic timeline, but unfortunately one does not exist. Every animal is an individual, and there are many factors that influence behavior and its rate of change, including but not limited to:

  • genetic makeup
  • exposure to hormones while in the womb
  • early puppyhood experiences
  • experiences and socialization through adulthood
  • traumatic experiences
  • pain, disease, or aging processes*
  • length of time that unwanted behavior has been practiced
  • exercise, nutrition, and mental enrichment (or lack thereof)
  • home’s ability to manage stressors in the environment
  • amount of time available for training
  • consistency and clarity of training

We can help you to develop realistic goals for your dog, and work with you to provide a training plan that best meets your needs. We continually evaluate and adjust our plans so that you and your dog are receiving the right kind of training, and exactly when you need it.

*We highly recommend that your dog be seen by a veterinarian before beginning a behavior modification plan. Any disease or pain should be actively treated. Health status also gives us an important insight into behavior.

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