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Frustration/Excitement vs. Fear Reactivity?

1258 Views 2 Replies 2 Participants Last post by  PoppyKenna
So, as always, I'm puzzled by Chisum's behavior and have turned to you lovely individuals for guidance. :p

There's really no question that Chisum is a reactive dog. There's no question we need to work on impulse control (we are) and there's no doubt that he is terrified of people. However, I'm trying to get a better read on his behavior in certain situations and it can be really difficult.

When he was younger, he was terrified of our cattle. Just as fear-reactive toward them as he is toward people. He'd have what I call a "meltdown" (barking/lunging/growling, all while backing up, tail tucked, etc) from 100+ feet away. So, I decided to use the cattle as "guinea pigs". Frankly, it was easier to test out different methods (CC, mostly) on them because I didn't have to explain things to them or worry about them too much - they just did their thing and we did ours.

We did a lot of CC and some LAT type stuff and he got better. He's leaps and bounds past what he used to be. However, now he has a strange new behavior and I am stumped. I have some videos, and will explain why I'm stumped/ask questions after so settle in because this is kind of one of my long threads! ;) I appreciate the help though.

Disclaimer: I never, ever, ever put him in a situation where anyone (human or animal) could get hurt. He got a little close in some of these, but that was my fault as handling him AND holding a camera is a lot harder than I thought it would be. Additionally, he's not working quite as well as he usually does, nor taking treats as nicely as normal, because I was having to juggle various things and it was kind of messing up our flow.

Also, in the second video, try to ignore the awful pitchfork. It fell right before we started rolling and by the time I noticed how it landed (super crazy dangerous position!!!) he had already started "reacting" to the cow in question so I kept filming. I tried to get a different shot, but believe it or not after those two little reactions in that video he didn't react I had to use it.

Anyway, here we go.

This is sort of what we usually do, and what we started out doing. He looks at the cattle calmly, he gets a treat. Pretty simple, and he's actually very good at it. I'm ultimately not sure if it's really doing him any favors (I'm currently reading the new BAT book and I think Grisha has a point when she says that treats sometimes just 'distract' and keep him from learning more about the trigger) but it worked a bit at the time, so I don't know.

Now, here's where it gets interesting:

This is a pretty typical reaction from him. Often he will also throw in some growling with his lunging, but he didn't that time. Sometimes, it's hard to get him away from whatever his trigger is.

To me, it seems kind of obvious: he's too close. However, we really struggle with this because once he gets to the point where he's semi-comfortable with a trigger, he's like...okay, I'm fine, just sniffing here....then 0 to 60 in no time flat.

This behavior specifically is something he exhibits when he's excited by something - say, birds he wants to chase, squirrels, opposums, etc. It's not the same tail-tucked fearful behavior that he exhibits around people, so I'm not sure if he's just overstimulated/frustrated by the barrier in general or if he's actually afraid.

I should also point out that when it comes to people, he can do the 0 to 60 thing too. We really struggled with this in training. After 6 weeks, he still wouldn't let the trainer within about 10 ft of him, despite progress in the beginning. He also would do the same thing - sniff around, seem totally fine and relaxed, and then out of nowhere start barking/growling/lunging (but more fearful than above). Sometimes the cause was obvious - he saw the person move. Others, it was not. It was always really hard to catch the second before he'd start doing it, and since there were times he was totally fine with their presence or their movement, it was hard to predict when he'd react.

And, the final video (naturally the darn pitchfork is on the ground again, but it was tines down this time):

I don't know if someone else can read his body language better than I, and sorry for the video quality, but here is is...calm, cool, collected. Fine. We left after that and he was totally cool.

So, my questions are...

1) Do you think he appears to be more frustrated or fearful, based upon his reaction video?

2) How would you handle situations where he's frustrated and lunging in such a way? This would be beneficial here, but also when he's behaving the same way around cats, chickens, wildlife, etc.

3) Chisum is a dog that reacts to nearly everything. Excited or fearful, it's going to cause a reaction. Do we just need to hit the impulse control work more? Any specific exercises you'd suggest?

4) Do we just need to try to have a greater berth around certain things? How do we know when we can "move up"? Even my trainer seemed to struggle with this. It's challenging too because I can't avoid everything that gets him going.

We're upping his exercise and I'm going to buy a puzzle bowl for his food, as well as start some additional mental games to see if maybe he's just understimulated/underexercised right now.

Any tips or advice that you could give me would be just awesome. Thanks!

EDIT: I tried so hard to embed the videos, but it wasn't having it - sorry!!
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If treats are distracting, then you aren't using them correctly. Most people have trouble with desensitization and counter conditioning because their skills aren't good. No one is an expert at D/CC at first. People get discouraged and they move to things like LAT and BAT. I'm sure you've seen me post this a million times but take another look at the site. Look at the videos. Look at the section on common mistakes.

Yep, too close in second video. Increase distance slowly. You have him on too long a lead for good D/CC. Might be time to start teaching a DRI, without distractions.

What is your ultimate goal? Do you want him to ignore the cows? That's what I'd assume. Keep that goal in mind. No need for him to ever be that close to the pen if ignoring is your goal.
Thanks, I will check out that page again.

We've done some pretty successful CC (well, open bar/closed bar type stuff) when using moving targets, like cars. I guess that was easier to get my head around since I don't have to manipulate him to make the trigger go away - it's already leaving on its own, unlike the cattle who just stand there.

One thing that trips me up in this instance: is CC effective if he's not afraid? I'm trying to work out if he truly is scared, mainly because he acts in a very similar, if not identical, fashion when he wants to, say, chase a cat or a chicken or a squirrel. This behavior is not his standard scary-human behavior. That's why I was leaning toward more of an LAT or BAT approach in this instance, because if he's not scared I want him to learn to behave calmly and be rewarded for that choice.

I suppose my goal right now is to have him ignore cows/cats/chickens while on a lead from a reasonable distance. He got rather close there - that was my fault because I wanted him to demonstrate a reaction as well as instances where he can be near and be totally fine. He WILL react from farther away, it just kind of depends. So I guess for now we need to back way up.

I'm largely working near the cattle right now because, as you can see, they aren't fazed by him at all so he actually recovers much more quickly than if he lunges at a chicken and the chicken takes off squawking (understandably - he's got a high prey drive!).
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