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So I finally took my puppy to the park after a very long break from triggers. She reacted to people as we passed - but no barking, which is good. She started shuffling and wagging her whole body but I distracted her with treats until they passed. So there was no jumping, lunging, or barking.

We only saw two dogs. With both dogs I pulled her off the trail into the grass. She broke threshold on the first dog. She's significantly regressed since the last time we did these exercises. We were 15 feet back and she was in a calm down until they passed and she jumped up and barked. Immediately we went further back in the field. The second dog we were 20-30 feet back. Every time she looked at the dog I did a click/treat. No barking.

So obviously threshold is 20-30 feet. I click/treat each time she looks at a trigger. Thoughts on this? I was working with a positive reinforcement trainer. It took me ages to find someone who didn't use aversive techniques. However she hasn't responded to my emails - so apparently I'm on my own. Any advice appreciated. We are going to do 10-15 minutes in the park a few days a week. I'm going to track progress each time and at the end of a month re-evaluate and see if this is working. If not then we might need to try something else.
 

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I think whether or not clicking and treating for looking at a trigger will be effective will depend heavily on why she is reactive (ie, the underlying emotional state that is causing the problem behavior) as well as what the end goal is (ie, what you you want her to be doing instead of reacting?). IMO, this approach is going to work best with a dog where the problem behavior is distance seeking behavior, meaning that the dog is reacting in an attempt to make the trigger go away. Usually this is motivated by fear or anxiety, and it is a fight response to what the dog sees as a threat to itself and/or its people. This method does a great job of turning noticing/seeing the trigger into a predictor for getting a treat.

So: do you know why she is reacting? Is it fear or anxiety, is she frustrated and wants to go greet the dog, is she over stimulated and expressing that by vocalizing/lunging/etc? Did the trainer you worked with have any insight on why she was doing this, and what did the trainer you worked with suggest (and also- did that trainer actually seem like they knew what they were doing)? Also, out of curiosity- how old is this puppy and what is her background?

Most of my advice is going to depend on why she is reacting. I'm going to focus on it being from fear/anxiety or from frustration in my response, simply because IME those are the two most common reasons for reactive behavior.

Personally, I am not a huge fan of this approach as the sole behavioral modification tool being used because it is focusing more on changing the emotional response to the trigger than it is focusing on teaching an alternative behavior. Depending on why the reactivity is being presented, you might be setting yourself up for escalation or retarding progress. When I give on-line advice about behavioral modification, I think it is really important to be giving equal focus to changing the emotional reaction to the trigger AND teaching/reinforcing a more desirable, alternative behavior/way of interacting with the trigger simply because there's no way for me to know 100% why the dog is doing what it is doing, and which I stress working the dog in person would depend heavily on why I felt it was behaving that way. Truthfully, that is why I am so quick to say "find a professional to work with in person." It sounds like you're sort of needing to fly this blind and do this yourself, though, so I won't give you that tagline and instead focus more on giving actual advice/resources.

If this is reactivity caused by fear/anxiety, that isn't necessarily the worst thing ever, because in that case I would want to be focusing on the emotional state before I was focusing on the desirable behaviors being offered. If this is reactivity caused by frustration, I would be focusing on teaching the desirable behaviors first and then letting the emotional response to doing those behaviors and being rewarded for them bleed into the underlying emotions.

Since this approach is focusing mainly on changing the emotional reaction to the trigger (I suppose that looking at the trigger quietly could be considered a behavior, but if this is NOT from fear/anxiety IMO that's not a useful behavior to be encouraging), IMO depending on the root emotional cause of the reactivity, it is very easy to escalate the reactivity if the trigger is continuing to approach closer and closer and then eventually under your dog's threshold distance. The positive emotional response caused by the treats is going to be over ruled by the building stress of the approaching trigger. Really I'm not a fan of working under threshold distance at all if I can help it; I prefer threshold distance to be something that lowers naturally as the dog's emotional response to the trigger changes.

If a dog is under her threshold distance, IMO that is a management situation more than a training one. The best thing you can do is take her attention off that trigger and put it onto you (ask for behavior that conflicts with her reacting and keeps her line of sight directed away from the trigger- it has to be very solid behavior that has been strongly reinforced and learned absent of triggers, though) and try to move away from the trigger. If you absolutely cannot move away from the trigger, then try your best to distract her from it. I really do not recommend using walking paths for this reason- you can't get away; once the trigger is coming at you, it's going to pass you at some point and it's likely going to pass you fairly close. Parks are great places to train, but stick to more open areas where you have space to maneuver, and plot out line-of-sight breaks in the park should you need to break her line of sight to get her to stop reacting (this can help in management situations where a trigger surprises you and you want to get above threshold distance; the line of sight break can be the different between moving 20' away and 10').

I would recommend keeping some very smelly, very high value treats in your treat bag AT ALL TIMES (even on normal walks that you aren't planning to do formal behavioral modification on). Scent is a very powerful thing. It is able to break through the over-focus that most reactive dogs get on a trigger above threshold distance where physical sensation, noise, and visual stimulation does not. When you are in a situation where the trigger is above threshold distance, stick a smelly treat in front of her nose. Unless you are WAY above threshold with her, this should be enough to get her to re-focus on the smelly thing. Then, lure her head away from the trigger and keep up a steady stream of treats for looking away until the thing has passed. If you have to lure her attention away with a smelly treat every time, that's OK. Hot dog, Pepperoni, and Liver treats are all good for this.

Other methods to look into for behavioral modification are:
"Open Bar/Closed Bar"--> again, good for changing the emotional reaction more than reinforcing a different behavior since it isn't looking for a specific behavior. The dog sees the trigger and then gets steady treats until the trigger is gone from sight, no matter what they are doing.

"Look At That"--> mostly used to change the emotional reaction, but does simultaneously teach the dog to look at and then disengage from the trigger to look back at you, first on cue and then eventually becomes a knee-jerk reaction to the trigger. I like this for changing negative (fear, anxiety) emotions more than changing emotions like frustration, personally, though I do use a modified version with my excited/frustrated reactive dog that focuses on the disengaging from the trigger park of it.

"B. A. T"--> "behavioral adjustment training" is very, very cool. My understanding of it (I just started delving more deeply into it) is that it focuses more on 'functional reinforcers', or normal life rewards, to reinforce alternative behavior. Its really good for dogs who are seeking distance from the trigger, because it's teaching them to do the behavior the handler wants to see (usually some kind of calm, healthy, normal behavior and sometimes even involving cued calming signals) and then reinforcing that behavior by allowing the dog to move further away. Grisha Stewert (the trainer who created the protocol) has both a book and some videos about it, which I have heard good things about and am actually just about to read myself.

Good books that talk about how to deal with reactivity by focusing on reinforcing what you do want vs punishing what you don't off the top of my head are "Control Unleashed" (can't remember the author) as well as "Fight!" (by Jean Donaldson). I'd also highly recommend Stewert's BAT 2.0 book and videos. McConnel also has some good books and videos.

McConnel has a lot of good stuff on her blog, as well: Barking & growling, signs that trouble is brewing | Trisha McConnell | McConnell Publishing Inc.

I'll wait for a response from you before I dump anything else on you, LOL.
 

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I've read alot of your postings, and everything seems to point toward insecurity Morgan... It sounds like the dog wants to come out of the shell.

If you had a child that was insecure and scared, what would you do for that child? Would you nurture and try to manage it or challenge the child, try to bring the child out of their shell?
 

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Discussion Starter #4
The trainer is CPDT-KA certified. So I assume she knows what she's doing. But she's ignored the last two emails I sent her so she's obviously not interested.

My puppy is 11 months old and she's a lab/boxer mix. She was found as a stray at 6 months and put with a foster family. I adopted her at 8 months. Off leash with other dogs she's a little timid at first but quick to warm up and play. She rarely barks off leash at other dogs and when she does it's usually appropriate.

On leash is another story. The trainer with the shelter said she barks out of fear. I agree with this on some levels. Sometimes it is fear because she backs away from other dogs. Sometimes it's not, though. Sometimes she pulls toward them and seems frustrated when she can't get to them. My trainer that I worked with never had her break threshold. We never went to the park. Never worked with other dogs. Never exposed her to triggers. She said that her basic obedience needs to be under control and then she can work on triggers.

So here we are. The trainer suggested taking her to the park and just dumping food on the ground the whole time. That way she wasn't staring at triggers but we're in their presence. Then she would graduate to the look and c/t game. Slowly decreasing the distance between her and the triggers without her breaking threshold.
 

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In my very humble opinion, your dog is afraid, simple as that. You cannot reinforce a change of behavior, either through positive or negative reinforcement, you can only strengthen the targeted behavior, and what you will do is put an emotional charge around the behavior. A charge that may not come out when you are around--because yes, the dog has "learned" not to do these things in your presence--but this now deep-seated stress around the behavior will eventually have to come to the surface.

This is why I believe techniques like LAT and BAT are not effective. Deep stress in a dog can only come out the way it came in, so you can't click away fear or aggression. What I have seen work on very aggressive and fearful dog is gradually trigger the dog to release this held-back stress, and then smooth it out into a pleasant and happy experience in which he comes into alignment with his owner.

So in essence I agree with @jagger, provided the dog is neurotypical. If you are dealing with a neurologically damaged dog, then it isn't so simple.
 

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Discussion Starter #6
Let me add that the park that we were working at has a walking path but it's surrounded by fielded open area. There is plenty of escape routes. So Winnie has a few triggers. She's reactive to people - but in the sense that she's excited and wants to approach them. But no one wants a big black dog lunging and jumping at them regardless of the purpose. So today when people would pass us walking I would give her treats for staying by my side and not reactinh to them. But when we were about to pass dogs - then I took her off the path in the field. We haven't done this in so long I didn't know where her threshold was - but it seems to be around 20-30 feet.
 

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Oy...

So your dog is insecure, barking out of fear and she's never been challenged. You either move her away, other people or dogs move away and she's gets treats. Lets look at this as "negative rewards". You need to start challenging this dog and start giving proper rewards - toss the treats and food out the window for now.

By challenged, I don't mean confronted or "c'mon, lets fight". By challenged, I mean to break the par for the course. Break the known negative rewards, make her realize that she's not getting what she's accustomed to.


Male aggressive dogs for example - they never get challenged and always have an insecure woman at the other end of the leash. She's either insecure around men, insecure over herself - or simply insecure over what her dog will do. Either way, the dog is insecure and she's asking me to move away - so is the dog. The insecurity is being nourished.

Now when I'm approached by this "male aggressive" dog - and it happens, I refuse to react to it - I don't do negative reward with dogs, it doesn't help them one bit. I always tell the lady to give me 10 minutes, let me work with the situation and I'll show you a different dog. One pitty went from growling at me to humping my leg in the span of 5 minutes.

I tell her to relax and not interfere, i'll accept any consequence. Let the dog do it's default - don't pull the leash, don't correct. I stand there and relax - doesn't take long before the dog realizes I'm not giving the negative reward it's used to. Dog usually ends up looking confused, little scared but taken totally off guard - I've just challenged the dog. the dog isn't afraid of me - it's unsure, it's insecure - now I've made it sure that i'm not there to harm the dog.

The dog relaxes and accepts the positive reward of affection, the negative reward never came. If there's another man around, at this point i'll call him over and ask him to meet the dog.

Now is the dog cured in 10 minutes of work? No, but now we know it can be fixed and how to fix it. She's in a comfort zone, getting negative reward - it's time to kick her out of that zone.
 

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Oy...

So your dog is insecure, barking out of fear and she's never been challenged. You either move her away, other people or dogs move away and she's gets treats. Lets look at this as "negative rewards". You need to start challenging this dog and start giving proper rewards - toss the treats and food out the window for now.

By challenged, I don't mean confronted or "c'mon, lets fight". By challenged, I mean to break the par for the course. Break the known negative rewards, make her realize that she's not getting what she's accustomed to.


Male aggressive dogs for example - they never get challenged and always have an insecure woman at the other end of the leash. She's either insecure around men, insecure over herself - or simply insecure over what her dog will do. Either way, the dog is insecure and she's asking me to move away - so is the dog. The insecurity is being nourished.

Now when I'm approached by this "male aggressive" dog - and it happens, I refuse to react to it - I don't do negative reward with dogs, it doesn't help them one bit. I always tell the lady to give me 10 minutes, let me work with the situation and I'll show you a different dog. One pitty went from growling at me to humping my leg in the span of 5 minutes.

I tell her to relax and not interfere, i'll accept any consequence. Let the dog do it's default - don't pull the leash, don't correct. I stand there and relax - doesn't take long before the dog realizes I'm not giving the negative reward it's used to. Dog usually ends up looking confused, little scared but taken totally off guard - I've just challenged the dog. the dog isn't afraid of me - it's unsure, it's insecure - now I've made it sure that i'm not there to harm the dog.

The dog relaxes and accepts the positive reward of affection, the negative reward never came. If there's another man around, at this point i'll call him over and ask him to meet the dog.

Now is the dog cured in 10 minutes of work? No, but now we know it can be fixed and how to fix it. She's in a comfort zone, getting negative reward - it's time to kick her out of that zone.
Sorry. I'm not following you at all. I'm not sure what you're suggesting I do. And I don't understand the vagueness of "challenge her" and "kick her out of that zone".
 

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Lets go back to the male aggressive dog. It's reacting to a stimulus and always getting that negative reward. Person gets scared and moves back - distance is that negative reward. Owner takes dog out of the scenario - distance is still a negative reward. Now if you give treats through any of that - what is it you're doing? Nourishing it? Reinforcing it?

The dog is reacting to a stimulus - it's not thinking about it, there is no thought involved in the "reactive" dog. There doesn't need to be, it's a default behavior now.

I have no fear of dogs at all... So when I'm confronted with this aggressive dog - it's reacting to me as a stimulus - but I don't give it the reward of distance. Now the dog is forced to think, I've just put the dog into a situation where the brain HAS to kick in - it's default isn't working, what do I do now? Sometimes you'll see dogs do different things, it's thinking now - it's confused - the immediate negative reward didn't come and there's no plan B.

The dog is going to make a choice - and that choice has to be to read me. I've forced the dog out of the default behavior of the thoughtless reacting to "any man" and now it has to decipher "ME", the individual standing in front of it. Who is this man, he's not afraid of me, do I approach, do I hide - what do I do? Generally, if I'm calm and trustworthy - dog approaches and sniffs and that's the start of a wonderful thing.

Challenging the dog is making it think. If you're doing all the thinking for your dog - telling it consistently what you want and expect, you're not going to get very far. Dogs are intelligent, let them use their brains.

I'm with Gnostic here... Look at me, don't look over there, that's management and is life long.
 

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Discussion Starter #10
Im not sure how feasible that is. In order to do that I'm going to have to have several owners with non-reactive dogs that want to "challenge" my dog. Correct? That's not going to happen. And there have been times where a dog gets close - I've seen a friend at the park or a dog is off leash. She is timid but after a minute or so she's trying to play (with intermittent retreat and bark)
 

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Im not sure how feasible that is. In order to do that I'm going to have to have several owners with non-reactive dogs that want to "challenge" my dog. Correct? That's not going to happen. And there have been times where a dog gets close - I've seen a friend at the park or a dog is off leash. She is timid but after a minute or so she's trying to play (with intermittent retreat and bark)
Key words Morgan - she's trying. From postings I've read, that seems to be a common thing - she seems to want to come out of her shell.

Forget about dogs, do you know anyone that can put her in the situation I detailed above with the male aggressive dogs? you're looking to assess her, to see what she's capable of, to see what she can do when allowed to use her own brain - when forced to use it.

Just from reading, I'm sure if I truly challenged your dog and put her into a corner - she'll either shut down or strike out and bite - correct?
 

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@MorganE84, I understand what @jagger is getting at, but if I were your trainer I would work with the dog first before exposing her to other dogs, humans. I would do the five core exercises in NDT (Natural Dog Training), those being pushing, collecting, tug, bite and carry and suppling. This will prime her for the next step rather than throwing her in the deep end.
 

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Also - you state "she's trying"... What is your reaction to that? Are you trying to manage it or reign it in?
If you backed her in a corner then she'd probably try to lick you. Given that she's dog reactive (on the leash mainly) - I'm not sure what scenario you'd set up.

And when she tries to play with other dogs while leashed I usually just let her go. I don't remember doing anything specific. Verbal praise and I've given her treats. But it's hard for dogs to actually play on a leash.
 

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Male aggressive dogs for example - they never get challenged and always have an insecure woman at the other end of the leash.
Ouch. If only us women could handle our dogs and weren't afraid of the world around us, huh. :ponder:

Morgan, can I ask: did you say your dog was reactive toward strangers at all? Imagine a random person, absolutely no dogs around...what does she do? Act afraid or does she just get excited and not know quite how to appropriately handle herself?

If it's the latter, really, a basic obedience class could do wonders for you both. I know you said you had a shortage of positive trainers in the area, do you know if there are any that do group classes?

She doesn't sound reactive to strangers or men...at all...so I'm not really sure what @jagger is getting at. For the record, though, if he approached MY reactive dog in that way he would not "think", he would have a massive meltdown and either urinate or defecate on himself (or both). Flooding would not benefit him whatsoever...but other methods have put us on a path to success.

She sounds like her biggest issue is some insecurity with other dogs. That's not uncommon if she wasn't adequately socialized with other dogs, which obviously isn't your fault. It's usually better off-leash because she has more freedom of movement and isn't "trapped" - if she needed to move away, she could.

You could start with a long line, if you're interested in working yourself. Honestly, the BAT book by Grisha Stewart is awesome. She sells really awesome long lines on her website too, but of course you could pick one up at a farm store or a pet store as well. That book can help you work with your dog on dog-dog reactivity. There's also info in there about working with frustrated dogs, which it seems your girl is sometimes.

Another thing to consider - dog/dog reactivity is pretty common and if you look you may be able to find a "growly" dog class or some other resocialization-type class. I know you said trainers were scarce, but it may be worth a google search just in case someone fell through the cracks.
 

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Male aggressive dogs for example - they never get challenged and always have an insecure woman at the other end of the leash.
Ouch. If only us women could handle our dogs and weren't afraid of the world around us, huh.


Morgan, can I ask: did you say your dog was reactive toward strangers at all? Imagine a random person, absolutely no dogs around...what does she do? Act afraid or does she just get excited and not know quite how to appropriately handle herself?

If it's the latter, really, a basic obedience class could do wonders for you both. I know you said you had a shortage of positive trainers in the area, do you know if there are any that do group classes?

She doesn't sound reactive to strangers or men...at all...so I'm not really sure what @jagger is getting at. For the record, though, if he approached MY reactive dog in that way he would not "think", he would have a massive meltdown and either urinate or defecate on himself (or both). Flooding would not benefit him whatsoever...but other methods have put us on a path to success.

She sounds like her biggest issue is some insecurity with other dogs. That's not uncommon if she wasn't adequately socialized with other dogs, which obviously isn't your fault. It's usually better off-leash because she has more freedom of movement and isn't "trapped" - if she needed to move away, she could.

You could start with a long line, if you're interested in working yourself. Honestly, the BAT book by Grisha Stewart is awesome. She sells really awesome long lines on her website too, but of course you could pick one up at a farm store or a pet store as well. That book can help you work with your dog on dog-dog reactivity. There's also info in there about working with frustrated dogs, which it seems your girl is sometimes.

Another thing to consider - dog/dog reactivity is pretty common and if you look you may be able to find a "growly" dog class or some other resocialization-type class. I know you said trainers were scarce, but it may be worth a google search just in case someone fell through the cracks.
Typically with strange people she wants to approach. She gets wiggly, shuffles her feet, and attempts to approach them. When she can't, she might jump up and down - but typically we've passed by that point. Some people she ignores. And on occasion she barks at some and acts afraid. One time it was a black women with a large hat. Another time it was a handicap teenager (I cried after that one). She WANTS to be social. I get positive reports from doggy day care (when she used to go) and from the two times she's stayed at a doggy hotel. They say she plays great. My trainer is very anti doggy daycare and dog park - but I think my puppy likes those things. At the dog park she's timid at first but opens up quickly. Do you all think it's a good idea to take her more frequently - only during non-busy times. I personally hate it when there's lots of dogs. I thought that may help her confidence.

And she's learned basic obedience at home and in semi-distracted environments. She has a strong sit, down, sit/stay, down/stay, and wait. Her leave it is good in controlled settings. It's just that the park is so high distraction that it's harder for her. And because honestly - today was the first time she's been out of my house in nearly two months.
 

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Ouch. If only us women could handle our dogs and weren't afraid of the world around us, huh. :ponder:
Ever meet a woman aggressive dog? In 40 years, I don't recall. Ever meet a male aggressive dog with a male owner? Can't say I have. It's an interesting anti-social behavior.


Morgan, detail one example that would cause your dog to react every time. If she's that reactive, there must be one.
 

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Ouch. If only us women could handle our dogs and weren't afraid of the world around us, huh.
Ever meet a woman aggressive dog? In 40 years, I don't recall. Ever meet a male aggressive dog with a male owner? Can't say I have. It's an interesting anti-social behavior.


Morgan, detail one example that would cause your dog to react every time. If she's that reactive, there must be one.
If we're walking on a leash and she sees another dog. She barks. She'll also bark at dogs if she sees them while she's in the house or through the fence in the yard. But not at the dog park.
 

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If we're walking on a leash and she sees another dog. She barks. She'll also bark at dogs if she sees them while she's in the house or through the fence in the yard. But not at the dog park.
And what if this dog gets close? Say 10 to 20 feet?
 

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If we're walking on a leash and she sees another dog. She barks. She'll also bark at dogs if she sees them while she's in the house or through the fence in the yard. But not at the dog park.
I would say a good majority of dogs do this. During a walk around the neighborhood, my dog and I will pass at least five dogs who do this. It is actually quite easy to fix this behavior.

What breed or mix of breeds is your dog?
 
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