When I first got Bloo I couldn’t walk him on a leash near people, dogs, squirrels, cyclists or anything moving basically, without him lunging, barking and pretty much going nuts. It made for some stressful walks for both of us.
In the last year though, through repetition and lots of patience, we have made loads of progress. We can now walk down the street on a leash while runners run by, cyclists ride by and people walk close to us. We still get a bit distracted by squirrels, in Bloo’s defense they are just asking to be chased. We also still have some work to do when we see other dogs on a leash.
Training with positive reinforcement
During the last year and a half I have spent countless hours reading up on how to train a reactive dog. In my research I have found there are two philosophies of thought. One is to train by counterconditioning and desensitization and the other is to train by correcting the behavior. Bloo and I have tried both.
Because Bloo is so reactive and pretty much scared of everything, we have been training him using counterconditioning and desensitization. In other words, I’m training him to change the way he feels about the things he’s afraid of so that he has less anxiety and less reason to react.
An example is, his need to lunge at bark at other dogs on a leash. This isn’t uncommon by the way. Dogs want to naturally sniff out a new dog and when they are on a leash they feel restricted and some dogs react by lunging and barking.
The trick is to make it a positive experience instead of a scary one. We do this by giving him treats and praise when he first sees his “trigger,” (the other dog on a leash) so that he associates it with something positive.
We have been working on our leash skills for months now and this week we finally made a breakthrough.
We were out on a country road where no one usually walks, practicing how to not pull on the leash. All of a sudden this runner shows up running behind us with her dog. I saw her out of the corner of my eye and immediately pulled Bloo off the beaten path so he wouldn’t meet his threshold. He sat, looked at me, then looked at the dog and looked at me. I kept feeding him treats and telling him he was a good boy. I could tell he was on the verge of reaching his threshold but I couldn’t go any farther off the road. He was a bit nervous but never lunged or barked. He just kept watching the other dog and watching me and eating his treats.
This is a huge breakthrough for us. We’ve been working on this for weeks but this is the first time he didn’t lunge toward the dog and start barking. We’re making progress. This dog training stuff really works.
Reactive Dog resources
There are a ton of resources out there on how to rehabilitate a reactive dog. Here are a few of my favorites:
- CARE for Reactive Dogs – This is a website with a protocol on how to train your reactive dog. There are a ton of resources in the resource section.
- They also have a Facebook page which has been so helpful for me. You can ask questions and post your success stories.
- Canine University – This gives a little more information on reactive dogs and how to train them.
- Muzzle Up Project – a site that teaches you how to train your dog to wear a muzzle.