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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
I've had had a private lesson, a 2 hour behavioral eval, but further private lessons and the reactive dog class are really expensive. I want to do what's best, but I'm wondering what I can do myself. What have people done with a reactive dog?
 

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I think there are a lot of variables that are important to answering that- mainly being what you want to do with him (ie, I remember you saying in your intro that you wanted to do dog sports with him) as well as his level or reactivity and the nature of it (ie, disruptive anxiety vs disruptive anxiety that may turn to aggression vs aggression/level of aggression), how willing you are to risk it becoming worse, and how much time you have/how dedicated you are willing to be on this issue.

I am a firm believer that reactivity is a problem in any dog, and that any aggressive dog can cause injury to another dog or human and can pose a threat, but realistically the nature of the aggression and the size of the dog have to come into play on this kind of decision, IMO. A human/stranger or dog aggressive great dane is a huge problem and needs professional attention at any level of aggression; still a problem if it's a very human aggressive chihuahua, less of a problem if it's a dog aggressive chihuahua, IMO, because management will be easier for a small breed than a giant one and the chihuahua is less likely to be able to really harm most dogs.

He's a Springer Spaniel, correct? They are a medium sized dog able to do some damage for both humans and dogs, and big enough to kill a lot of smaller dog breeds if they are very aggressive. They also tend to lend themselves to nervous temperaments, IME, which can mean they get worse as they age without attention being paid to the issue.

If you really want to compete in dog sports, you will likely be paying someone to train you one-one-one for the sport and his issues of reactivity could be put in there as well.

If you are going to spend the next year reading every book about this you can and willing to do some trial-and-error and he isn't that bad right now (ie, not dangerous, just annoying), I think maybe you could see what it feels like to try making a plan of it yourself for a few months and seeing how he does, but I also think that there is a level of anxiety or aggression where a professional makes the situation safer.

I think part of the reason why there are so many reactive dogs in the world is because a lot of people will get a dog and not notice warning signs when the dog is younger that it may need extra attention in being OK with strange people or dogs, or maybe might have issues with other dogs growing up, etc. For example, a young puppy displaying a lot of nervous behavior or calming signals in the presence of another dog that is perfectly calm and ignoring it, or a young puppy growling at a stranger. It's a lot easier to start working on these sorts of problems before they get a chance to escalate, especially when it's not a small dog. If it's people aggression I would continue working with a trainer no matter what, if he's having problems with other dogs... I have had a dog that had sever dog aggression and we never got her help- granted she was a 15lb Boston Terrier, but we pretty much just were careful on walks and didn't let her off leash or bring her places where we knew there would be other dogs. It was kind of a bummer and I sometimes think I didn't help her live life to the fullest because she was still super afraid (it was definitely fear based aggression) until she was eventually pts at 9 (for an unrelated issue), but it was OK.

How bad is it? Is he just a little anxious or is he seeming like he may eventually attack a dog or person? Did you make any plan with any of these trainers for long-term management? What are your hopes with this- are you trying to get him to be a competitive performance dog, just be able to compete with him a little in dog sports, be comfortable in his environment all the time, just not be dangerous even if he is a little anxious, manage as needed for the rest of his life...?
 

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I would seriously go with a couple of private lessons and then to reactive dog class. I didn't do it and I seriously regret it. I did make progress on my own but it's so much easier when you have the support and a solid plan from a pro! It's honestly worth every cent.

You should also check out the CARE for Reactive dogs site.
 

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I believe it is possible for most dogs.
I have a reactive dog who doesn't come from aggression and i don't think its anxiety, but he gets really excited when he does see another dog and makes a lot of noise and pulling like crazy to go say hi. over the past month without intense training just about once a week on average sometimes more sometimes less (I'm the only one who doesn't feel embarrassed by walking this lunatic) I have managed to get him to show improvement. He has never been to an obedience or other training class.
I think it is possible to do so with out a trainer as long as you know what your doing even on a basic level, you know the body language your dog is showing you and you approach with the right attitude and can remain calm. If the dog is trying to be aggressive, or is scared of other dogs you will probably need a trainer to help you with those issues but just keeping him calm walking around the streets when he sees other dogs is something you could work on, but don't take him into situations he is aggressive in or scared of.
 

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Discussion Starter · #5 ·
He is moderate anxious /frustrated reactive. I agreed, size is an issue. He's stronger than me. I'm disabled
I do want to do dog sports, and when with a trainer, am prepared to put a lot of time into this. Sorry if I'm not answering all your questions, I can't see your post. I am not, however, willing to have this get worse and from that viewpoint a trainer is probably a good idea. It's just so expensive. I certainly dkn t want to make it worse, which I'm worried I did in the beginning.
Ever since he was 10 weeks, in puppy class, he has been overly excited by other dogs. But despite all the socializing we did he just got worse to where I started walking him at night. I was in the hospital and we missed our last two weeks of puppy 2, which I'm sure didn't help. It seemed like it drastically accelerated over a few weeks.
 

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Did you make any sort of long term plan with the people you met with about this issue (the private lesson and 2 hour behavior eval)? To my understanding usually a behavior evaluation usually involves making a plan of action for the problem behavior.

Counter conditioning itself is not so difficult a concept, and it can be done on your own with a mildly reactive dog, but there is also a solid chance that he will get worse.

If you want to compete in dog sports then I think yes, it is important to work with a trainer. Most dog sports (agility, flyball, disk dog, dock diving, etc) are all going to involve close proximity to strangers and other dogs and will also bring the dog to a high threshold of excitement. The very definition of a reactive dog is one that over-reacts it is a dog that is reacting out or proportion to mild stimuli: a person walking by, a child laughing, a dog sitting nearby, a dog running past, and so on. Getting a reactive dog to the point where they can handle more extreme stimuli (multiple dogs very close, all of whom are at a high threshold of excitement and may be barking, running, straining at leashes, as well as lots of people acting excitedly and moving quickly, both with and without dogs, and the presence and noise of a crowd) is not easy.

As I said before, if you want to compete it is a good idea to be working privately with a trainer anyways for the sport part of it, and I think you could come up with something that involves both teaching a sport and working on reactivity. Reactive dogs do get involved in sports- there is a dog-reactive Aussie in the beginner Agility class I'm in now. They can be in group classes as well, so long as their reactivity is at a level that they can focus on the handler at least most of the time.

I would contact a few trainers and explain where he's at, what you're hoping to do with him, and any issues of cost you have, and see what they have to say. I would at least get a long-term plan in place with the help of a trainer, even if you don't ever intend to see them again. You could even just meet with a trainer once every month or two and do most of the work on your own. Any involvement of a trainer, though, IMO, is a good idea on issues of even moderate reactivity in medium/large dogs.
 

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Discussion Starter · #7 ·
"Did you make any sort of long term plan with the people you met with about this issue (the private lesson and 2 hour behavior eval)?"

The behavioral eval, yes. Right now a behavioral eval is necessary to take this trainer's reactive dog class, who the first trainer referred me to. She has us working on engagement, LLW with a flat buckle collar (I use a Gentle Leader now because harnesses kept breaking), and relaxation ( relax on a mat and the relaxation protocol. Her next reactive dog class is is 4 weeks and if we can at at all afford it, I'm going to take it, as well as an extra private lesson in between. But 250 is a lot for us, that's all.

"Counter conditioning itself is not so difficult a concept, and it can be done on your own with a mildly reactive dog, but there is also a solid chance that he will get worse. If you want to compete in dog sports then I think yes, it is important to work with a trainer. Most dog sports (agility, flyball, disk dog, dock diving, etc) are all going to involve close proximity to strangers and other dogs and will also bring the dog to a high threshold of excitement. The very definition of a reactive dog is one that over-reacts it is a dog that is reacting out or proportion to mild stimuli: a person walking by, a child laughing, a dog sitting nearby, a dog running past, and so on. Getting a reactive dog to the point where they can handle more extreme stimuli (multiple dogs very close, all of whom are at a high threshold of excitement and may be barking, running, straining at leashes, as well as lots of people acting excitedly and moving quickly, both with and without dogs, and the presence and noise of a crowd) is not easy."

No, it's not. When it first started, I read Fiesty Fido, but "Look at Me" was a big failure. Then I heard of "Look at that" which was better, and we are still using, and the behaviorist endorses, but he still has a decent threshold distance.... something I didn't understand at first because he did so well off leash with other dogs. Everyone told me "He's just excited". Well, he may be, but he acts like Cujo. :). He isn't aggressive, just wound up, and would accomplish nothing in a regular class. My goal is to get him back to normal training classes.

I'm wondering if he'll calm down when he is neutered.

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Playing games with your dogs and getting him to focus on you with other dogs around will help give him lots of exercise before you try to train him so he is more tired out and has less energy so take him running or treadmill or playing a game of fetch for a while to get him running back and forth. And if you do walk him bring treats along to distract him and try to keep him at your side focused mostly on following what you do if you stop he stops and not because he's ran out of leash. Trying to walk slower will help you control him as well since dogs naturally walk faster than us they have to focus more on walking slow. Keeping him by your side will help if you see a dog to grab his collar to control him or getting him to sit if he hasn't seen it yet. I suggest having him on the side with houses not with the road so you can act like a barrier that he isn't aloud to go past. These are things I use with my dog as he is strong (not quite stronger than me tho) and they get stronger the further out they get so you have more power if you can keep your arms with you. I myself like to keep the leash up top of the head as if it's down low they have their entire body behind the pulling but if it's up high it pulls back the head and neck (a bit like halting a horse, you pull back on the head not the torso) these are just some control techniques I use.
 

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I have successfully trained a reactive dog (a 200 lb one no less) on my own. I found the trainers I consulted and their techniques to be pretty much useless, they could not even control my dog as well as I could and all they could offer was management tools that did not address the issue or even work that well.

What worked for my dog was working on internal flow and resistance and absolutely nothing to do with counter conditioning.

I used primarily the pushing exercise from Natural Dog Training, but the system has five core techniques which also include tug/bite and carry, collecting, speaking on command and rub a dub (massage).

The Five Core Exercises of Natural Dog Training

I would also add that I doubt neutering will calm him down, in fact, I think it is likely to be the opposite, an intact dog is able to mature naturally, sexuality is how we mature, it is an emotional transformer from instinct (prey/predator modality), to sexuality (male-female modality) to the complexity of personality and social and drive energy. You want to be working with this social/drive energy with your dog.
 

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@Gnostic Dog, I appreciate you having a different take on learning theory. :)
However, I always find the info you give lacking info, at least for me. How exactly does one apply these exercises to resolve behavior problems?
 

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Yep! My boys at this point all pass as ''normal'' for the most part in public. 2 are constantly in group classes, often working in close proximity off lead and even at a distance. Just looking at them, most people would not guess they are ''reactive''.

I have done most training on my own, however I have attended workshops/seminars on reactivity and aggression, am constantly in group classes (sports not for reactivity), read/watch books and dvds, etc.

Most people really do benefit from the guidance of a trainer experienced in reactivity. Counter conditioning for example is so simple in theory. But yet most people I have seen attempting it are making big mistakes! Even their understanding is incorrect (constantly hear that it ''distracts the dog from reacting to the trigger.'' Big mistake and if just distracting you're not CC'ng and will not make any progress!)

Anyway, as far as what I've done...
More of a book than forum post and really training reactivity can be pretty complex so will be pretty general!

I use a big mix of methods.

Counter conditioning for sure, but personally I'm in the camp that believes that at some point one needs to make the switch to operant conditioning (in particular R+). I use CC to create comfort and also get an automatic, uncued head turn toward me.

I spend a lot of time just training (shaping behaviors, heelwork, you name it) in the presence of my dogs' triggers. This where they make the most progress. This can be tricky and so easy to make mistakes. Need to have some behaviors rock solid first, need to have good handling and management skills, need to be able to ready your dog very well, understand thresholds, and need to understand when to apply and remove the pressure (important for CC too!).

By apply pressure, I mean making it in some way a little more difficult by decreasing distance from trigger or increasing intensity of trigger (trigger moving more/faster, adding sound, something that makes it harder). With success and having fun training (should be using R+ to train the behavior you are actually working on be it a sit or complex trick, heelwork, etc.) the dog gains confidence/feels less conflict with the trigger present. Also you are widening the range of alternative/incompatible behaviors the dog knows and can perform reliably in the presence of the trigger. By removing pressure I mean the opposite (generally increasing distance from the trigger or giving a break). Super important as it's just way too easy to ask for too much and cause a reaction, or even fall into flooding!

Understanding the 3D's (distance, duration, and distraction), criteria shifts, and rate of reinforcement is also crucial. A lot does go back to adding/removing pressure. But lots of other things to know as well.... how to work one D at a time, how to increase criteria for one D and drop criteria for the other 2, how and when to change rate of reinforcement, etc.

I learned the most about how to add and remove pressure with my dogs from attending Pam Dennison's REWARD Zone. I've learned a lot about the 3D's, criteria shifts, and other technical aspects from the trainer I regularly take classes with (Diane Balkavich). Both have taught me a lot about how to train reliable behaviors (cued and default) in the presence of triggers. If ever able to attend a workshop with either, I highly recommend it!

Pam of holds REWARD Zone workshops regularly at her place as well as periodically at other places in the US. Also of course has her books and DVD's out.

Diane is really more well known in the Freestyle world. She does travel some and offers a workshop series called "Tools for Trainers." Focuses on the technical aspects of reward based training. Understanding and applying good mechanics and technical aspects of training is important to really anything one wants to teach be it a trick or tackling reactivity.
 

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@Gemma92 - For what it is worth, and I recognize you want to hopefully resolve the reactivity issues, but there are a TON of reactive dogs involved in dog sports. In my agility classes, out of 7 dogs, Levi has been one of 3 that is not dog reactive.
 
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Just want to mention that Nose Work is a dog sport that accommodates reactive dogs, even beyond what most sports manage (dogs who are comfortable working around people, the scent of other dogs, and in at least some new environments, anyway). Sometimes, it is really nice to have something you can do with your dog "just for fun," to help bond and feel like a team.

That said, working on reactivity is absolutely worth the time, energy, and money. Truly.
 

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My boy is reactive towards strangers, stranger being anyone he has not decided he can trust, and large dogs. I do work with him by myself and have never had a trainer or behaviorist. He is better then he was when I first started working with him, but no where near as good as I think he'd be if I could afford a trainer or behaviorist.

I follow the CARE site that you were linked to and I also am a member of a reactive dog FB page the follows the CARE protocol. I recently posted on the FB page and was told that I was wrong by calling my dog's name when he spotted a trigger, that it was teaching him that looking at me when I called his name was what was getting him the treat and not seeing the trigger. Had I had a trainer or behaviorist working with me I"d have known that a long time ago.

If you want to go about it on your own, then I suggest reading up on all you can about working with reactive dogs, and join some groups that are focused on working with those types of dogs, you are going to need help and encouragement. It will also help to figure out all your dogs triggers, what makes the reactivity worse, and how best to work with your dog.
 

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Based on the modern definition of reactive, yes.
Dynamo wanted to eat my cats, chase cars, bark and lunge at dogs that invaded her turf (the local streets near our home), bark and lunge at every squirrel, cat or any other prey item. I considered her a normal high drive puppy (I got her at 6 months old). With training we went from good manners to excited rally obedience (the practically danced in heel position she was so excited) and then agility. She finished her career to the last weekend of her life as a nursing home visitor. So, yes.
She was trained to do things using positive reinforcement and trained not to bark and lunge with methods and tools I can't recommend on this forum for her 'reactivity'--keep in mind, she was the opposite of fearful in all these behaviours. She was awesome and I miss her.
Sonic, my new guy, is reactive, in some ways the same as Dynamo, high prey drive that is not handler focussed (squirrels, geese, birds, coyotes, yes, coyotes-no, he doesn't get off leash to practice), but also extremely handler sensitive, and has fear issues with barking dogs (especially on a short leash) and environmental sensitive (noisy cars, flappy things, etc.) So dealing with his reactivity is a completely new adventure--and one I can discuss freely on this forum.
I'm using BAT (the concept of counter conditioning in the presence of triggers), but much prefer the Look at That game, the concept of (from a suitable distance) looking at the scary or tempting thing and looking back to get a treat (google LAT), which turns it into a fun game.
The LAT training is coming along great.
I highly recommend 'Control Unleashed', a book that is worth a double dozen of dog classes. I put Sonic in a reactive dog class and it was awful because the dogs just stared and barked at him and by the end of it he was doing the same, so if you go into training, be careful.
He's coming along great. I do a lot of clicker training which builds confidence, and yes, we are getting somewhere with all that.
 

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My dog Pip is still a WIP. She was an intensely fearful/reactive (human-reactive) dog when I got her from the shelter at the end of last August. She's been making great strides. I use all positive methods.

Walks are a lot of managing her stress levels, but I can take her to the local Petco and not have to worry about any meltdowns or lunging and barking at people. I am also very proactive and tell approaching people she is shy and not to pet her and usually can redirect them to ask for "touch" which she can do at this point.

I had her enrolled in a basic obedience class earlier in the year and it helped with her being able to focus around other dogs. But it also hurt in her reactivity to big dogs, but we have remedied that pretty quickly by doing set-ups with calm, big dogs.
 
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