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Chisum: Lessons in Reactivity

This is a discussion on Chisum: Lessons in Reactivity within the Dog Training and Behavior forums, part of the Keeping and Caring for Dogs category; I think you did very well here. Half the battle with a dog like Chisum is having an owner who knows how her dog will ...

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Old 08-24-2015, 06:25 PM
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I think you did very well here.

Half the battle with a dog like Chisum is having an owner who knows how her dog will react and to take the right course of action especially as you might only have seconds to decide. You've achieved that. It's not easy to do as you can't predict what's coming around the corner or how other people and dogs will behave .
You might be on a long road but its the right road, so stay optimistic.
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Old 09-05-2015, 04:07 PM
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Welp, we did our first session today!

It wasn't too bad overall, though it could have been better. We had some factors working against us: heat, children/people since it's labor day weekend that were camping and hanging around (though with as hot as it is, I figured they'd be down by the lake), and I underestimated how many super-high-value treats he'd need, so I'll need to stock up for next time.

We started with some LAT. Chisum knows this game quite well but struggled at first, I think because we were in a new location to him and he already knew there were two strange people hanging around before we got out into the field. So I had to jump straight to my highest value treats to catch his attention, and was in danger of running out early on (lesson learned!). After about 15 minutes I'd say he caught on to the game and things went more smoothly.

One thing that bothered him was my trainer and her assistant walking around and getting slowly closer as we sat and watched. I trust their methods, but he struggled with that. We had to back up a few times (with my trainer's permission).

Then we started some very basic BAT. I am totally green at it, and I had to be his handler since he won't let anyone else near him, so I stress it was very, very basic. But, Chisum seemed to do a lot better once we were able to be up and moving around - his redirections were better and he barked less overall. In this situation, any slip ups were really more my fault, as I'm trying to get better at reading his subtle body language and I need to work more on catching his attention before he gets a chance to go off and sound the alarm.

Near the end of the session, we did some walking around the two trainers in a large circle. He actually did really well with this exercise - he even got frisky enough to pounce on some bugs! There were some times when he slipped up, and there were also some kids that rode by on bikes that startled him, but he actually handled it really well. By the end, he was hot and tired and that plus the stress probably didn't help the situation. We got some water and he fell asleep on the way home. We even gave him water not too far (maybe 50 ft) from where two men were sitting and he didn't react at all - but he was probably too tired .

So overall we didn't cover as much ground as I'd have liked, but I've never done this before either. My trainers said I handled him very well (way to boost my self esteem!!) and that they've seen worse, so that's promising There's a bit of a better place to go in the area, where there is more space and more interesting things for him to sniff and check out and so next time we'll try our luck there - today it was overrun by children. I think it will be cooler too, so we'll both feel better. And I'll have my high-value treats and will probably feed him a smaller breakfast so he'll be nice and hungry and won't fill up too quickly.

I also have a few things to brush up on over the course of this next week, so I have plenty to do

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Old 09-12-2015, 03:41 PM
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BAT, session two:

I have to say, I'm getting better overall but these sessions still sometimes stress me out too My mother has been coming with me, which really helps, and my trainers are great. They complimented me today on not getting frustrated with him, which I don't, though I do get self-conscious at times.

In any case, I really need to work on my enthusiastic voice! Chisum responds really well to that happy excitement, but I'm introverted and it's difficult for me to get pumped up in front of an audience. That's usually where my mother comes in - she's a special education teacher for elementary kids, so she's got plenty of enthusiasm which he just loooooves.


Today, he was reactive as soon as we arrived. We tried to drive a little bit around the parking lot to calm him down, but it didn't work. So, we just got started. It was much nicer outside today which helped a lot, but there was a party going on nearby. He didn't react terribly to it, but the extra people and cars coming and going was a challenge for him.

We began working on redirection immediately. He was in kind of a state, so they said to just let him bark for a few minutes, to see if he'd cease on his own. When he did, we called him back and gave lots of treats and praise. Then we started building up the time he was quiet before we called him back - all the way up to four seconds.

At that point, we moved to an area with a little more space. The trainers moving ahead of him set him off, but once we got to the new area he did a lot better overall (the party was farther away and there were less cars). Again, we worked on redirection. I worked on reading is body language and calling him out if he looked uncomfortable or like he was going to react. Lots of praise and rewards for quick, one second looks even at the party across the field.

Next, we walked parallel to the trainers. At this point, they were able to be within about 6-8 feet of him, which is much closer than the 75+ from last week. He did really well with this exercise, in fact, as we were finishing up he was able to approach within sniffing distance as long as their backs were turned and they were ignoring him. He had a problem if they made movements that he thought were "toward" him, even if they were just tossing treats, but he was able to recover quickly. It was at this point that he really caught onto the "game" too -- he'd approach them and kind of sniff, then come bounding back to where my mother greeted him with lots of toys and heavy praise. He looked like he was having a blast.

As we were wrapping up, we stood in the parking lot in a circle talking to the trainers and he did really well. I still rewarded quick looks as it appeared to me that if he was given a chance, he may have started barking. My trainer thinks he just likes to bark sometimes, and I do think that's the case.

There were even two men walking together that he saw in the distance coming toward us (again, I redirected and praised for quick looks). They kept approaching and looked lost -- we were in an area where there wasn't anything around, so I don't know what they were doing -- so we wrapped it up quickly and left. They walked right in front of our car as we were turning it on, and he didn't bark at all! I was so happy!!

My trainers said he's doing really well, and so far I agree. He's got major issues, but he's smart and is willing to try which I appreciate. I also count my blessings every day that even though he's reactive, he's not mean - I think this would be much harder if I thought he had intentions to bite people or even if he were a bite risk to me. He just puts on a good show, which I want to fix, but that's all and I'm thankful for that. My trainers are confident he can make a lot of progress. They think he's adorable and can't wait for him to trust them enough to pet him - which I know he will eventually, as he did with my brother's girlfriend he met a few months ago. They said he's lucky to be with us, people who are willing to try and help him, as he could have easily ended up in a home that just took him to the pound where he wouldn't last long at all.

Now he's tuckered out. He snuggled with me on the way home, and is now passed out on my floor

For this upcoming week, I intend to work on:
> Redirection. I want to be able to get his attention when he's fixated, so I'll work outside when he's sniffing the grass and distracted...if I can redirect him from that, I think I can get his attention away from anything.
> "Let's go" - this will go hand in hand with the redirection. I'll get his attention and call him to me, but sometimes I'll just say "Let's go!" and run in the opposite direction. This will be helpful if he ever finds himself too close to something and I know he needs to get out of there.
> Proofing basic commands. Right now, those are: sit, down, come, spin, bow, and leave it. Spin and bow are tricks, really, but he knows them really well so I can use them to engage his mind when he needs to cool down.
> Working on my happy voice! This may be easier when I don't have a cold (as I do now) but I need to work on it regardless
> If it's nice, working at the lake. I may recruit my friends later on when I feel more confident in myself as well as him, but for now I would like to head to the lake and see if we run into anyone there. There's an offshoot near my house which sometimes has people, but never too many, and is very open and spacious so we can work at a great distance and get out if we need to. It's a good place to brush up on skills without overloading him.

And...I'll leave it at that for now. I'm super happy with how he did, and am eager to see how he does next week!
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Old 09-13-2015, 04:40 AM
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That's brilliant. It's really encouraging to hear of your and Chisum's progress so well done to you and your mum and trainers as well. It just shows what can be done with the right attitude and help.

It's interesting reading about it as I wasn't quite sure what BAT entailed so am learning from it. I do tend to do some of the things you've mentioned. Its a lot easier if you do have someone to guide you so as to avoid mistakes.
It helps if are light on your feet and can react quickly, and the more you practise the better you become.
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Old 09-13-2015, 08:47 AM
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Thank you Lots of practice needed here!

My trainers are helping me to read his body language, but have said that there are times he seems to make up his mind to bark even before his body language suggests it. I'll keep trying!

I didn't know much about BAT either. We did a bunch of CC and LAT and he did okay but not great. I looked into a trainer partially to help me explore other methods and partially to help me expose him to certain things without me freaking out and being self conscious. I think we're using a semi hybrid version of BAT as we do a lot of LAT in the training as well and there are looooots of treats (though he seems more motivated by those than the functional reward of moving away). So far, though, I'm very pleased with his progress.
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Old 09-19-2015, 08:33 PM
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I don't have a whole lot to report today because unfortunately I had to work during our training session, so I sent Chisum off with my parents.

My mother said he did a great job. She said he barked a little, but not much. They apparently did a lot of parallel walking. My trainer's assistant left, which Chisum barked at, but she said he recovered fine. He apparently saw other people hanging around, but only looked - didn't bark. So that's good news

The trainers are still trying to get to the point where they can interact with him. I know it's possible (he eventually warmed up to my brother's girlfriend) but he's not at that point yet. He's so skittish - even if they gently toss treats on the ground he winces. He'll even act skittish around my mother and I when we are working with the trainers (he's never that way at home). But, it's still a bit of improvement and he'll get there. Honestly, I'd like for him to be good with the trainers - I think we can progress much more quickly if he had a good relationship with them too - but I really don't care if he is the friendliest dog in the world to everyone, as long as he can exist and function in the general vicinity of other people. And I totally think that's possible.

He had a good night the other night too; we had him out with us while we tried to put up cattle fencing. There were so many things he could have reacted to - the ranger, the truck, the cattle, the large, loud, moving panels - but he didn't. There were a few times he looked a little nervous, but my mom just backed him up and gave lots of praise and he handled it like a champ. Good little guy

But again, practice, practice, practice! If it's nice again tomorrow I think we'll head to the lake and if there are people around, see what we can do.


EDIT: Also - my mom told me today that my trainer may have Lyme disease, so if you all could keep her in your thoughts, that would be great It's pretty rare here, so it's a scary thought.
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Old 09-26-2015, 08:53 AM
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My brother's girlfriend came yesterday. Chisum doesn't outright hate her (he will willingly interact with her and even climb on her lap) but it does have a meltdown when she first arrives and has times where he acts suspicious of her - mainly when she leaves to go into certain rooms or in the mornings when he seems to have forgotten she was here.

I was hoping to practice some of the things we've been working on in training by starting outside, fairly far away, and moving closer with rewards, etc. But by the time she arrived, it was raining pretty hard. :/ So we ended up in the living room when she entered and he went postal as usual. The desperate/anxious/reactive state only lasted a minute or so though, which was great, after which we were able to do a bit of our training (treat for looking, treat for approaching and returning before/without flipping out, etc.). Overall, he did really well and was great the rest of the night.

This morning was rough on him, though. She came downstairs and he wasn't thrilled about that. She has her cat here as she's taking her to our vet because she's had some food intolerance. The cat's not an issue - Chisum loves cats - but she has a bag of the cat's things as well as a bag of the cat's food to talk to the vet about. Chisum hates bags. They are the object that he reacts to the most; I don't know what it is, but they really freak him out. Turns out, the combination of this woman he's fairly suspicious of carrying a cat food bag that he knows is filled with evil is a combination that is too much for him to handle.

I ended up backing him up and talking to him in a very soothing voice. Then my brother came down and held the evil bag, and Chisum decided he could tolerate that - so he calmed down and again, all was well.



We've got our training session in about four hours, so now I need to cut some treats and mentally prepare. He's doing better overall and I don't expect miracles right away, but I've found that training makes me anxious. I need to work on that It's not the fault of the trainers - they're great - it's just that I am very introverted and nervous, and it can be very challenging for me to 1) be peppy and enthusiastic when Chisum does well, because I feel like I am performing in front of an audience and 2) have the dog that's barking/growling/lunging. He's not mean (I'm still so thankful his first line of defense isn't biting) but he's not yappy either - he has a deep bark that actually sounds quite intimidating, so he can put on a good show.

Plus, for all it's worth, there are still those days where I think, "yeah, he's making progress, but am I doing all the right things? Will this pay off in the end?" At the end of the day, he's not in any danger - if he cannot come with me when I move, he'll stay here, in the country, where he'll be just fine. I just know I have this awesome little dog in there, though -- I see that side of him every day myself!! -- and I just want to do all I can to make that little guy confident and known to the world.
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Old 09-26-2015, 05:09 PM
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We had session number four today.

He did fairly well. He had kind of a rough start to the day anyway, and he was challenged a lot, so it's understandable he wasn't perfect. But he did really well considering.

He's still super reactive right out of the car. We can usually work with it and get closer and closer to the trainer, but it would be nice if it came the day that he could get out and know who she is and not freak out immediately.

They did try a new "game" with him though - instead of throwing treats on the ground in front of him, they tossed them in the air for him to catch. This actually turned out to be awesome. He loved it, he was good at it, it kept him from barking, and I think it really solidified to him that the treats were coming from them as opposed to falling out of the sky. In fact, when he did well and we praised, he didn't know who to look to - we were all really rewarding! And even when he had to jog away with me to "reset" he was eager to get back to the trainers because they were fun!

As for challenges, there were some. One of the trainers brought her male friend along as someone new and different. He did pretty well with him, but when he spoke Chisum struggled sometimes. They also switched up what they were doing - instead of just standing or walking around, they'd kick at the leaves or pick up a stick or make a funny body position. Near the end, too, they brought out a tote bag to work with because Chisum thinks bags are the devil....he was worse with the bag (not moving, just sitting there) than any of the people! I know what I can work on this week.

Overall, I think both of us are improving. It'll be a long journey, but worth it in the end. As one of my trainers said, he just has this barking thing as a default behavior and we just need to switch that up.
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Old 09-27-2015, 09:23 AM
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I'm just catching up with your posts !
It reassuring to have trainers who know what they're doing and training you as well as Chisum.
It's hard work but worth it
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Old 10-04-2015, 10:29 AM
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Week 5:

- Friday, we had a guy deliver hay. He came in his [large] truck, stood outside and talked to my dad, and moved bales using his Cat. Chisum didn't bark once. He was a little nervous at first, but we started playing LAT and he did fantastic. I think it would have been more difficult if he could have heard the man's voice, but it's a start.

- I also received a large package in the mail, and was just sure Chisum would go nuts over it. Nothing.

- Chisum also went out to feed cattle with us this morning (cattle used to be a big trigger for him). He was right next to their feed bins, and consequently, heads and did just fine! He let out a little bark when one young bull walked straight at him, but he happily left when I asked him to and recovered quickly. So proud!

- Yesterday, we had a training session. It's our last one for a few weeks; we're going to take a few weeks off and work on some things and then start back up again, I think. But I'll still be posting weekly updates.

Chisum started off on a fairly bad foot, as he usually does. Riding in the car and getting to the location seem to make him quite anxious, so when he first gets out it is very easy for him to go over threshold. As such, I need to work on associating car rides and new locations with super, super positive things.

However, he recovered fairly quickly. Lots of barking sessions, but when we'd run away to reset he was incredibly eager to get back to the trainer. When the second trainer arrived, he reacted a bit, but not too bad at all.

A lot of his barking in regards to my trainers seems to have transitioned from fear to frustration/demand barking. They would ask him to sit or down and then would give him a treat - he loved that game and they were very proud of his performance. I have noticed that when he wants to interact with something but doesn't quite now how, he will act frustrated and bark (but it's a different type of bark), whine, and paw at the 'trigger'. We handled it yesterday by having the trainers ask him to sit or down when he would bark at them - and he would gladly comply! So it's a start

They also set up an obstacle course of bags and boxes for him. Their prediction is that when he was younger and in a fear period, he may have messed with a bag and it fell and scared him (not surprised) which led to his fear today. Honestly, after the first couple, he started to recover very quickly. I was pleased.

The last bag we investigated was my trainer's dog's carrier. She thought he'd react the worst to it, but honestly he did the best. There was no dog inside , but I really think people are more of a trigger than strange dogs anyway. I can't say for sure, he just doesn't seem nearly as bothered by dogs in the distance and historically has done a little bit better with other animals (aside from some insecurity, particularly with my larger dog, but nothing terrible).

I had both of my parents come yesterday, as I have bronchitis and am trying to take it a bit easier. It was fun to watch my dad eagerly work with Chisum, as I never thought he'd be the type. But he was having a blast, and was so proud of my little pup.


So, we've got a ways to go. My trainers are both optimistic - though both were somewhat sad he never let them touch him as they just think he's adorable. He's still very much in that young, act-first-think-later stage, and I think with a little age and wisdom he'll improve, even more so if I stay on top of his behavior and build as many positive associations as I can. My terrier mix was similar when she was younger; it's hard to believe since she's a gem now but I was concerned about her too. So maybe my little diamond will come out of the rough!


Anyway, as of now, my main goals are:
1) Work on building that positive association between car rides/new places and good things.
2) Build those positive associations with strangers, from a distance, whenever possible.
3) Make bags/boxes a good thing. This may be the easiest to work with.
4) He's still door/window charging when certain people leave/close certain doors. Not sure yet how I'm going to tackle that, but it needs doing.
5) Finally, strengthen a few key commands - sit, down, leave it, and come. I want those to be 100% rock solid.


I love working with my trainers because I get discouraged easily (maybe I'm a bit of a perfectionist?) and they're always over the moon, singing his praises. It's a nice ego boost
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Last edited by PoppyKenna; 10-04-2015 at 10:33 AM.
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