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Hi all,

I have a 7 month old GSD puppy, Leo, that is reactive mainly to dogs when we go on walks. Children playing can also cause him to start barking. When he sees another dog his hair goes up and he barks and lunges. Even the sound of a dog barking can set him off.

He was socialized when he was a puppy, but I guess he needed more. While I know this isn't something that can be cured per se, I would really like to know how to manage it. He's got boundless energy, and I'm also really active, and I always hoped that we'd be able to go on hikes together (with some training is this a feasible goal?:confused:)

I looked through the sticky on reactivity, but I feel like I'm having a hard time with working on it. My goal has been to counter condition him, but it's hard to do this with barking. Once we get close enough for a dog to bark, Leo is already reactive.

In order to start slow, I have been playing recordings of dogs barking, and giving Leo treats for listening but not responding. When we go on walks I'm not sure how to get close to the trigger when most of the time I can't tell there's a dog in the backyard until it starts barking at us.

I'm just feeling slightly hopeless, someone please tell me this can get better!
 

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You may be pushing too far too fast. Don't worry about getting close yet. You don't have to and shouldn't for now. Goal with counter conditioning is to try to always work underthreshold (aware of trigger but able to think and work with you) and create a cer (conditioned emotional response) before moving on to the next step. So no need to get closer for now. Dogs barking or in the distance = bar open. Barking stopping or dogs leaving sight (either you and your dog leaving or the other dog leaving) = bar closed. Once you see your dog immediately turning to you with a relaxed/expectant expression as soon as he sees a dog in the distance or hears barking, you have a cer and can move a bit closer. :)
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It can get much better! It sounds like you are doing your research and trying to figure out how to work on this, which I think is a great sign that it actually WILL get better. In the meantime, you have my sympathies...I know from first-hand experience how overwhelming it can seem at first.

I agree with kmes about going slow. If walks expose you to lots of triggers and put Leo over threshold, you might want to cancel walks for awhile. Instead, find places with larger distances from potential triggers. In my town, that means parks where leash laws are enforced, so that my dog and I can walk at one end of a grassy field and see potential triggers passing at the other end. Another good place can be parking lots (esp. at vet hospitals, for seeing other dogs), or across the street from school playgrounds (for kids) or fenced dog parks (depending).

Once you find a few places where Leo can see other dogs/kids/whatever and stay calm, then you have an opportunity to work on counter-conditioning. Counter-conditioning takes time, but is massively effective after you've done enough of it. Dr. Patricia McConnell's booklet on counter conditioning, called The Cautious Canine, is really excellent. So is the companion booklet, Feisty Fido.

Hiking might be something you need to save for later, when he is a little older and has learned some different coping skills. Hiking can produce reactivity in a LOT of dogs, including dogs who otherwise don't seem particularly reactive. There's just a ton of environmental contrast created when you've walked through quiet woods for three hours and then suddenly a stranger (or strange dog) appears, headed straight at you, often doing freaky things like wearing a hat or carrying sticks. My current dog is not particularly reactive, but hikes are still something we had to work up to over several months of practicing the basic skills, just to keep her from rehearsing problematic reactions.

You might also want to get a notebook (or create a spreadsheet, whatever works best for you) that lets you track the work you're doing with Leo. Even something as simple as keeping a few notes on each session (distance from trigger, how many repetitions, how many over-threshold moments) might help you note trends, see your progress, and feel less discouraged at apparent set-backs. I know with my dog, I sometimes feel like we have SO MANY things to work on, and since we always have SO MANY things to work on, it feels like we're never making progress...until I look at my notes, and go, "oh, wow, look at all the stuff we've done! Working with a professional trainer can also help provide some of that structure and support, and is definitely something I'd recommend if you can find a good one.
 
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