Managing reactive behavior

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Postby Jazzy1 » February 13th, 2011, 7:33 pm

Hello all! I know I have not posted since I joined; but I have certainly poked around.

I would like to ask for some help in managing Veronica's dog reactivity.

Veronica is somewhat fearful, reactive and can lack confidence (in certain situations - in other situations she is inappropriately over confident).

She has poor dog - dog social skills and is very dog reactive; despite living with littermates until 10 weeks of age and being socialized since she was 12 weeks old. She is not DA; she does not want to hurt other dogs, she has never tried to hurt another dog. My best assessment @ 6 trainers and 1 behaviorist later and just observing her myself is...she is spoiled and wants to be the center of attention. She wants to interact with other dogs and wants them to defer to her. She wants to be "dominant"; but she is really not a dominant dog and this tension between how she wants the interaction to go and what the other dog has in mind creates allot of stress for her. She is also insecure and fearful, especially in new situations; and especially with new dogs.

I have been working with her on her dog reactivity for about 3 years. We have been very successful; but we have never progressed beyond a certain point. We have not been able to get to the point of phasing out the use of treats. We have also not gotten to the point where she will offer the desired behaviors without prompting. In other words, she is always waiting for the opportunity when she will see the dog before I do and get a few good barks in.

She also has episodes of back sliding. She will do extremely well, then we will have an encounter...usually with another dog that is reactive in some way. It is almost like the other dog being reactive gives Veronica an excuse, like "he started it"! Once she has an opportunity to react, that sets her off for a few days and she is in react mode and we have to up the ante to get her to behave...then once she has the experience of ignoring a few dogs, she's back on track.

The positives are her "reactions" have toned down significantly. When she does react now it's mostly some barking and half hearted not even really lunging, pulling. At one point in time, she did the full on snarly, lunge with spittle flying. The other positive is that when she has a setback, she recovers more quickly and is back on her game in a matter of days vs. weeks/months.

Other info that may be more or less important...she is more likely to react (even if it is just tensing and orienting to another dog) if it is the only other dog in the environment; like encountering a dog on a walk. If you take her somewhere crawling with dogs like an outdoor concert...she is almost "sensory over-loaded" and less reactive.

At training class there are certain dogs she will react to and will bark at them when they first see each other or if they get too close. She can do training exercises with them and then we can get quite close, but she always looks for the opportunity to get a bark in...sort of like "watching mom, ignoring dog, watching mom, whip of head, up yours flea bag, watching mom, ignoring dog".

So what I would like to know...is can anyone offer some advice to help us get past this point. We seem to be stuck in a constant cycle of make progress, get really good, almost perfection (but still relying on treats), setback, repeat. We only get so far and cannot progress beyond that point. I know it's me, I just don't know what to do differently.

The methods I've been using are teaching "watch me"/"leave it" mark & treat and also Conditioned Emotional response. I didn't really know I was using CER, I was mainly shoving handfuls of treats in her mouth when I didn't want to be embarrassed; but then I read that it is actually a technique; and honestly it works better than "watch me"...but only to a point. We cannot get past a certain point.

I think I also have to work on me. I know I get tense. It's not a "OMG what's going to happen" tense; and I didn't even realize this may be a factor...because I'm not even remotely worried about managing the situation and Veronica is not actually DA...at all. I get tense because I get caught up in the whole "dog training" thing and every encounter is an opportunity for success or failure. Not the dog's, mine. So I think I actually start to get performance anxiety and my body tenses. I also get caught up in the "if she reacts, then we backslide"...which after 3 years, you think I would say "so freakin' what, then we backslide and we keep working and we get back to where we are and we keep trying".

I mean it's not the end of the world if she never gets any better; she can really go just about anywhere I want her to. It would be nice if she could go there and I didn't have to have 100% of my attention on her 100% of the time; it would be nice if I could just trust her to behave politely on her own. It would be nice if the behaviors became so ingrained, that I didn't have to have a treat on me constantly. But what it really is...is I am failing at something. I know I am...and it's killing me. Any ideas on what I can do to get out of this cycle and get to the next level?
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Postby FAB dogs » February 13th, 2011, 8:43 pm

I highly recommend the book Control Unleashed. It's been quite helpful with my reactive dogs. They've still got some room for improvement, but it has helped get them (and me) to a point where we can work towards the next level.
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Postby pitbullmamaliz » February 13th, 2011, 9:03 pm

Along the lines of Control Unleashed, have you tried teaching her the Look At That game? That's been a godsend for Inara and I.
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Postby Jazzy1 » February 13th, 2011, 9:20 pm

We have Control Unleashed; and actually took a control Unleashed Class 1 1/2 years ago. The class could have been handled better...6 reactive dogs in a small room...not such a great idea.

We do the "Look at that game" and it will work...to a point. Again, I can't get past the point of needing treats; and sometimes something sets Veronica off - it could be the other dog being reactive, but she will then react and then it's 3 steps backwards and we have to take a few days to build up to the "Look at that". That is usually when I use the CER; and shove treats in her mouth when ever a dog comes in sight; and she quickly gets on board with, "Oh look a dog, give me my treat"...giving me her attention just long enough to eat the treat, then she's looking at the other dog again, then get her attention treat, head whip looking at the other dog. Sometimes she will focus on me for 5 - 15 seconds before looking at the other dog again - but that's because I have a treat in my hand...if I didn't have a treat...I would be screwed.

I know Control Unleashed has some relaxation exercises in it; we may have to re-visit those...but we didn't have allot of luck with them so they got abandoned. I suppose I should re-visit the on-off switch game again too.
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Postby Jazzy1 » February 13th, 2011, 9:22 pm

I just want to add; I don't want her looking at the other dog for an extended period of time; because she is revving herself up to react. The longer she looks at the other dog, the more likely she'll react.
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Postby furever_pit » February 13th, 2011, 10:14 pm

Your "performance anxiety" is more than likely playing a role in this, like you have acknowledged. I know I have an insane effect on Dylan when I am nervous about a trial or something.

Do you ever remove her from the stimulus so that you can get her attention back?
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Postby tiva » February 13th, 2011, 10:32 pm

Hi Jazzy! Liz, can you explain what wonders you and Ginger worked with Inara? On another forum, I was telling Jazzy about the amazing progress Inara has made since you guys started sticking her in the closet (that sounds kinky). You know what I mean: the "sucks to be you" routine.

Vanya starts his first class in 3 years tomorrow, after being kicked out of quite a few for his yodeling. This is a class just for noisy pit bulls. We all hide behind barriers at first. The instructor promises that, no matter how noisy Vanya is, he won't get kicked out. We'll see. I have a closet scoped out and permission from the instructor to try out your special closet routine. Wish us luck!
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Postby TheRedQueen » February 13th, 2011, 11:04 pm

When you say that she's not DA, what exactly do you mean. I know you said that she doesn't want to hurt the other dog(s)...can you explain more, because it wasn't really very clear in your post.

When you say that she's "dominant", what exactly are you referring to, as I'm not clear on that either.

For instance, if she's allowed to get nose to nose with another dog, what does she do?

If she is off leash with another dog around, what does she do?

Have you looked into or tried BAT? (Behavioral Adjustment Training)
http://ahimsadogtraining.com/blog/bat/
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Postby tiva » February 13th, 2011, 11:56 pm

TheRedQueen wrote:
Have you looked into or tried BAT? (Behavioral Adjustment Training)
http://ahimsadogtraining.com/blog/bat/


Jazzy, BAT has been fairly helpful for Vanya, who's a lot more reactive than Veronica. I describe how I combine BAT with Look at That at his blog:
http://vanyaproject.blogspot.com/p/leash-reactivity.html

This is a great post by the trainer Sarah Owings about her experience using BAT with a reactive pit bull:
It's completely worth reading.http://vanyaproject.blogspot.com/2010/10/inspiring-post-by-sarah-owings.html

Vanya, like many reactive dogs, often wants to get closer to the other dog. The problem is: when he greets, he often tips over into reactivity. He hasn't had much chance to greet new dogs since we adopted him 3 years ago, in part because we live in a remote place, in part because my fears of his reactivity, and in part because I haven't found good play partners. He plays far too roughly, except with his familiar dogs.

I didn't try BAT for a long time because it seemed as if it couldn't possibly work, since proximity rather than distance is Vanya's functional reward, and nearly all our practice dog partners are also reactive, so we need to keep distance.

But then I realized that I have 2 slightly different goals: 1) find an appropriate play partner for Vanya; and 2) help him learn to be calmer near dogs when he can't go up and interact with them. BAT, mixed with other techniques, is useful for helping him with 2), because it teaches him a learned response to the sight of other dogs: look at them, then relax and look away and wonderful things will happen.

Our functional reward for a calm behavior can be a variety of things. Often it's a playful run sideways for a sniff in the grass, a tossed treat, or a peanut-butter smear on a bone. (We zigzag, in other words, diagonally closer to the other dog, but we always have to stay outside that other dog's threshold distance as well). We also use a variety of other techniques:

From Sophia Yin and Sarah Kalnajs: we work on focus and obedience while in the presence of other dogs, starting first at a great distance, where Vanya can still offer his targeting, sits, jumps, heels, weaves, and other nifty tricks.

From Control Unleashed: we do a zillion LAT around other dogs--I say "Look at that" and point toward the trigger. He glances, I click the glance, he whips his head back to me for his cheese. We get a little closer.

Mat work: we practice the relaxation protocol around other dogs, far away. And we do LAT on the mat as well, and simple obedience exercises.

Parallel leashed walks: we've been working on parallel leashed walks with a friend and her two reactive dogs. Some weeks it goes quite well, and we can walk with only the width of the street between us. Today Vanya needed more distance from Gustaf.

Pass-bys: with Jake, the large calm intact very mellow yellow lab who lives in an outdoor kennel by the bike trail. We walk back and forth, passing Jake, who stands and wags his tail and play bows a lot. Vanya sometimes whines a bit at Jake, but not much more. We'll approach Jake and say hi as long as Vanya is calm. Sometimes they sniff noses through the kennel fence, then Vanya turns to me for his cheese. Mostly, these days, Vanya just wants to walk by Jake.
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Postby mnp13 » February 14th, 2011, 12:20 am

Jazzy1 wrote: and she quickly gets on board with, "Oh look a dog, give me my treat"...giving me her attention just long enough to eat the treat, then she's looking at the other dog again, then get her attention treat, head whip looking at the other dog.


This is when, in my classes, I feel that the dog has started training you. "I'm going to misbehave on purpose so that I get a treat." And when the dog starts to work the system, to me that says that it understands the system. And that's when we introduce a correction into the mix - be it simple ''ah-ah" or "no" or a little tug on the leash.

And yes, I know that's not a "popular" training theory, but :| :)
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Postby FAB dogs » February 14th, 2011, 8:34 am

And sometimes it's just a matter of rearranging the situation. Sometimes dogs just don't get along. This is an email that I just got about an upcoming class:

We have 9 folks interested and the instructor says she wants 2 smaller classes for 45 minutes each rather than one big class. See if this sounds good for all:

7:00 Class -- Tina, Sara or Dottie (whichever dog likes Avery), Paula and Kristen
8:00 Class -- Val, LeighAnne, Susan, Garnet and Dottie or Sara


Sarah and Dottie are sisters who have sister shepherd mixes. One of the dogs has no problem with Avery. The other one starts screaming the minute Avery enters the building. And Avery, who is a reactive dog to begin with, has no problem returning the trash talk. I know it, Sara knows it, the instructors know, and we just work around the problem.

If the two dogs are in the same class and we break into smaller groups, Sara and I are always checking to see where the other one is. If her dog is off leash, I walk Avery behind the A Frame. If Avery is off leash, she takes her dog outside. Before either of us turns our dog loose, we'll shout across the barn warning the other. It can be a hassle, but in the long run it's easier for everyone involved rather than run the risk of having a bitch fight break out.

By avoiding the situations that cause the reaction, the dogs are slowly learning that they can be together in the same building without having to respond to the other's presence. Will they ever become best friends and play together? Probably not. But as time goes by, the reactivity is lessening.
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Postby furever_pit » February 14th, 2011, 9:07 am

tiva wrote:Vanya, like many reactive dogs, often wants to get closer to the other dog. The problem is: when he greets, he often tips over into reactivity. He hasn't had much chance to greet new dogs since we adopted him 3 years ago, in part because we live in a remote place, in part because my fears of his reactivity, and in part because I haven't found good play partners. He plays far too roughly, except with his familiar dogs.

I didn't try BAT for a long time because it seemed as if it couldn't possibly work, since proximity rather than distance is Vanya's functional reward, and nearly all our practice dog partners are also reactive, so we need to keep distance.


Dylan is/was the same way - he really wants to be closer to the other dog. When he started to react and would not focus on me, I did an about turn and walked away with him. It was two corrections with one stone (1) the self correction for not paying attention to his handler so he got a leash pop when I was walking away and, (2) leaving the other dog. Good behavior got him what he ultimately wanted, to get closer to that other dog plus treats and praise. Eventually, he just stopped paying attention to the other dogs at all.

mnp13 wrote:This is when, in my classes, I feel that the dog has started training you. "I'm going to misbehave on purpose so that I get a treat." And when the dog starts to work the system, to me that says that it understands the system. And that's when we introduce a correction into the mix - be it simple ''ah-ah" or "no" or a little tug on the leash.

And yes, I know that's not a "popular" training theory, but :| :)


Agreed. IMO, there is a time for correction and that is when the dog knows and understands the commands and the "game".
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Postby pitbullmamaliz » February 14th, 2011, 9:10 am

tiva wrote: Liz, can you explain what wonders you and Ginger worked with Inara? On another forum, I was telling Jazzy about the amazing progress Inara has made since you guys started sticking her in the closet (that sounds kinky). You know what I mean: the "sucks to be you" routine.


lol Absolutely. The basic gist is that because Inara is hyper-motivated to greet/see the other dogs, using something like BAT wouldn't work for her - it would almost be a punishment and backfire. So Ginger, my goddess of a trainer, came up with the idea of removing Inara to someplace where she can't see the other dogs when she starts being obnoxious. She also wanted a cue for it, so Inara knew it was coming. I started with "too bad" but that's our NRM and Ginger didn't want to taint that with "punishment." Hence the "Sucks To Be You Sequesterings" were born. Saying "sucks to be you" kept me cheerful as I was dragging Inara into the bathroom. And there we stayed until she settled. I'm posting links to a few of my threads here in the training section - I kept a pretty steady update of Inara's progress.

This is our first class, before the STBYS. Kind of so you can see where she was, behavior-wise:
viewtopic.php?f=19&t=32118&hilit=ginger

This is our first "normal dog" class, where the STBYS was born:
viewtopic.php?f=19&t=32804&hilit=ginger

And then just more class updates so you can see how far she's come - if she can do it, any dog can!
viewtopic.php?f=19&t=33399&hilit=ginger

viewtopic.php?f=19&t=33928&hilit=ginger

viewtopic.php?f=19&t=34231&hilit=ginger

We've been able to compete and place in obedience competitions. We have our first Rally competition at the end of March. So have faith and get creative!
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Postby tiva » February 14th, 2011, 9:53 am

Where's the video, Liz? I want to see Inara and you doing so well!

Wish us luck--tonight is Vanya's "Positively Pitties" class, where 5 pit bulls try to train behind their barriers. Our local humane society offers it, to help encourage and support people who adopt pit bulls. I'm as stressed about it as you were about your first class. (And it's all your fault, Liz--if you hadn't been posting about your journey with Inara's reactivity, I'd just be happily hanging out with Vanya on the farm).
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Postby pitbullmamaliz » February 14th, 2011, 10:17 am

lol I'm glad I can be the driving force for you and Vanya! That really does mean a lot. :)

You guys will do great. It's going to be stressful and obnoxious, but give Vanya and yourself a chance. And I know you've got your sequestering room. Just try to have fun!

And sorry, no vid. I wish!
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Postby TinaMartin » February 14th, 2011, 10:26 am

You guys will do great. When I was doing classes with Gator it took 6 months to get him to the point where his feet would be on the floor with other dogs around. I think I wore my trainers side door out! We were positioned right next to it so I could easily make a fast exit.
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Postby Jazzy1 » February 14th, 2011, 8:56 pm

Thanks for the replies guys.

I got slammed at work so I won't have time to thoroughly read and think and respond until tomorrow - but I wanted everyone to know I do appreciate your replies...and I will be back!
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Postby Jazzy1 » February 14th, 2011, 10:31 pm

TheRedQueen wrote:When you say that she's not DA, what exactly do you mean. I know you said that she doesn't want to hurt the other dog(s)...can you explain more, because it wasn't really very clear in your post.

When you say that she's "dominant", what exactly are you referring to, as I'm not clear on that either.

For instance, if she's allowed to get nose to nose with another dog, what does she do?

If she is off leash with another dog around, what does she do?

Have you looked into or tried BAT? (Behavioral Adjustment Training)
http://ahimsadogtraining.com/blog/bat/


To me; genuine DA means that the dog wants to attack/bite/kill the other dog. Veronica has never tried to do any of those things. She has never so much as scraped another dog with her tooth. In fact the times when she seems to be the best behaved are when she feels threatened; like the few instances when we have been walking and another off leash dog has gone to the edge of it's property barking like a lunatic...Veronica is suddenly entralled with me; almost like she is genuinely trained to ignore the other dog. We have also had the experience a very small number of times when Veronica has been approached by an off leash dog that has stuck it's head up her tush. These were "Oh crap " moments where a DA dog would have had the other by the throat; and Veronica has just whipped her head around in a panic to see who was giving the proctology exam and allowed me to lead her off.

Meeting other dogs on leash does not go well. Veronica used to throw off submissive signals like crawling towards the other dog (now she knows she is not meeting strange dogs so she doesn't bother to try). But she would approach with head lowered, very relaxed, then she would sniff the other dog's muzzle, maybe give it a poke or 2 (rude and intrusive), then inspect the rear, then move back to the front and stiffen, sometimes she would actually put her head over the other dog's neck, and then the snarling would commence. No biting, just snarling. Then when we took her away she would try to crawl over to the other dog, roll over on her back exposing her belly, look perfectly friendly and submissive...wash, rinse, repeat.

We used to joke that she liked to run her mouth so much, she couldn't possibly bite another dog, she couldn't keep her mouth shut long enough. This was during her transition phase when she was allowed to meet strange dogs and me and @ 8 trainers and 1 "behaviorist" were going back and forth on weather she was DA, dog friendly or reactive. One time when she was 18 months she met a rescue dog up for adoption on pit bull awareness day and they snarked. The rescue worker told me "the other dog started it, and Veronica had a small cut on her snout". It was literally like a shaving cut, dab it with toilet paper and it disappeared; but that event set off her significant reactivity. It is no where even remotely near that point now; but for months after that incident she was hyper alert for the presence of other dogs and would go into full on cujo, lunging, snarling with spittle flying mode.

The dominant piece comes from her putting her head over theother dog's neck and/or trying to smoosh it into the ground. It also comes from the behaviorist who said said she was an alpha female and while not DA, she did not like other dogs and wanted to control their behavior. I agree with her that she wants to control the space where other dogs are concerned. I disagree with the alpha female piece - unless alpha females are insecure, fearful dogs. I think Veronica wants to be dominant with other dogs; but she clearly isn't; and I think that conflict creates allot of tension.

She has had very llimited off leash experience with other dogs. Three of the trainers we worked with thought that Veronica was completely dog friendly and that I was creating a self fulfilling prophecy because I was worred about her being a pit bull and DA. Veronica did a play group with these trainers. Her and 3 other dogs. 2 big dogs and 1 little dog. The trainers said Veronica was "fine". I thought she was obnoxious and pushy. Then it was just the little dog a few times and the owner was like "Oh it's fine! He plays with big dogs all the time". Trainer thought Veronica was wonderful. Again; I thought she was rude and pushy. I posted the video on a pit bull forum and most agreed with me that Veronica was inappropriate...but still, she did not make any attempt to hurt the little dog. She would corner it and poke it with her nose or try to smoosh it into the ground...but when the little dog had had it and barked at her and chased her off she ran.

Here are the videos:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yMrfuByhus0

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3foxiRDo_G4

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qHi_yZD5rtw

(I'm videoing, the gal in sandals is the trainer)

Veronica has a "boyfriend" currently; Brooke's Socrates. They get along really well and Veronica enjoys spending time with him. We try to meet a couple of times per week to walk and then let the dogs play on leash for a bit. We talked about letting them play off leash; and they would probably be fine and it's not like we wouldn't be there moderating...but still; they enjoy each other so much and she has such limited contact with other dogs; I would hate to see it go bad.

Here's an example of one of their play sessions. It is interesting that Veronica's play style is (I think) more aggressive in the first half and more reciprocal in the second because it was one continuous session.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fvQPdV-9zvw

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lKYFP1130vc

I hope this answers your question.

I have not previously looked into BAT; but I will as it has come up several times across forums.
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Postby tiva » February 14th, 2011, 11:37 pm

Veronica has a boyfriend! I love the videos of her playing with Socrates. They are adorable.

I agree that she was way too pushy with that poodle-thingie.

I also agree that it's confusing when each trainer tells you something different. I think you've had more contradictory verdicts from professional trainers, but Vanya almost meets you contradictory training reports.

Tonight was his first class. We spent about 20 seconds of the 75 minutes in the main training room. Yippie! But at times we could open the door and he could look into the training room and see 4 other pitbulls (several of which barked the whole time) and not flip out. Most of the time he walked up and down the hallway, practicing obedience exercises to calm him down a bit, so he could glance into the room at the other dogs for a moment.

He did get to meet dozens of new people, which makes him a happy boy.

The trainer agreed that he was the loudest pit bull she has ever known. He's not barking and lunging in a vicious manner, just in a very, very loud manner--singing, shrieking, screaming, yodeling, warbling.

But she didn't kick him out of class, which is a first for Mr. Vanya! He gets to return next week to hid hidden hallway.

Jazzy, I should take a video of Vanya so you can pat yourself on the back for how good Veronica is.
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Postby dlynne1123 » February 16th, 2011, 3:11 pm

Jazzy1 wrote:We have Control Unleashed; and actually took a control Unleashed Class 1 1/2 years ago. The class could have been handled better...6 reactive dogs in a small room...not such a great idea.

We do the "Look at that game" and it will work...to a point. Again, I can't get past the point of needing treats; and sometimes something sets Veronica off - it could be the other dog being reactive, but she will then react and then it's 3 steps backwards and we have to take a few days to build up to the "Look at that". That is usually when I use the CER; and shove treats in her mouth when ever a dog comes in sight; and she quickly gets on board with, "Oh look a dog, give me my treat"...giving me her attention just long enough to eat the treat, then she's looking at the other dog again, then get her attention treat, head whip looking at the other dog. Sometimes she will focus on me for 5 - 15 seconds before looking at the other dog again - but that's because I have a treat in my hand...if I didn't have a treat...I would be screwed.

I know Control Unleashed has some relaxation exercises in it; we may have to re-visit those...but we didn't have allot of luck with them so they got abandoned. I suppose I should re-visit the on-off switch game again too.



Sometimes reactive dogs need to progress at different levels. We worked on calming signals at home for months before applying to a reactive dog class. So it doesn't hurt to revisit the Control Unleashed book. You may have made progress since then to help prepare her. My dogs I consider to be life long works in progress, and we do great, and once in a while set back. My over all goal it to not pass threshold and to not get too much trauma and cause a set back. I do'nt avoid, but I set up scenarios where I have all common factors controlled, i.e. other handlers, other dogs, etc. I don't want them to be set up to fail.

Wish you good luck! Keep us posted in your progress!
Ryder - Rescue APBT
Panser on a Roll - APBT (American Bully?)
Gretchen - the red headed cat that thinks shes a dog
Prudence - the new cat on the block to put the dogs in their place!
Punchlines Better Than Lojac - APBT (RIP)
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dlynne1123
Hyper Adolescent Bully
 
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Location: New England

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