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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
We have an 18 month old rescue that we got a little over a year ago. He's part shepherd (don't know the other part) and has been very challenging. We are to the point where he knows basic obedience (sit, stay, lay down) and he will do things like play fetch like a champ, gives kisses on demand, goes potty where/when he's told, walks nicely on a leash***, is tolerant of the stray cat outside who is constantly rubbing all over him when we walk out the door, and so on. He has some bratty adolescent/puppy behaviors still (like he steals the cloth napkins off of the table and will sometimes take books out of the bookcase, tries to jump on guests, tears his bedding blanket when he's bored, barks out the window, things like that), but I know that with consistency those things will get better in time. He is crate trained and sleeps in his crate overnight (and must be crated when we leave the house, though there is usually someone home, so this is an occasional thing, like a few hours per week, tops).

So, you noticed the asterisks. He is very, very reactive to cars. He lunges, screams, barks, foams at the mouth and snaps at whoever is walking him. He is about 75/80 lbs so not easy to control when he gets in this state. We live in a quiet area but we usually encounter three or four cars on our one-mile walks (which we do twice daily) and it's to the point where we absolutely dread taking him, even though we still do so. In the late morning, I take him myself, but in the evening, I have my husband go along with me.

This is making my husband hate the dog. :( He wants to get rid of him and he keeps asking me to call the rescue lady to take him back. I say that it's been a year now and it's not fair to the dog to send him back. I do agree that my life would be much easier without him; I do regret getting him at times. But I'm hopeful that he will outgrow his annoying behaviors (as mentioned above) with training and consistency. He has come so far since we have gotten him! I'm losing hope over the car issue, though. We have tried desensitization, as suggested by a trainer. It seemed to get better for a very short while but now it's worse than ever before.

I just don't know what to do. Any suggestions or advice would be helpful. Thanks.
 

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Start here: Care for Reactive Dogs

Watch the videos. This is all about desensitization and counter conditioning. It's a very simple concept based on Pavlov's research. Implementing it correctly is the key. Don't allow the dog to practice the behavior. Once you've got a good grasp of how to D/CC, set up training sessions as described on that site.

Best of luck. You might also like to look in the training and behavior section for more on reactive dogs.
 

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I have two herding dogs, and we've been practicing watching cars and not reacting since they were young, because it seems BCs in general seem to have some predisposition to chasing cars. What I did with my guys was teach them to look up at me every time a car passed, and I said the word "car".
Your guy seems like he might be a little far passed the point to be able to do that. I would try doing some LAT (Look At That) training. Essentially instead of forcing your dog to look away from the thing it finds scary, you reward it for looking at it. This will hopefully overtime change the emotional response of your guy to cars. You'll have to figure out the distance that your dog can maintain calm and not go over threshold (this could end up being quite a distance away).
There are lots of members here who have dogs that are reactive to a variety of stimuli, so I'm sure they can help you more than me. In fact, I think @PoppyKenna would be a good resource to talk about reactivity.
 

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Discussion Starter · #4 ·
Thank you! The CARE site looks great and comprehensive. I'm going to talk to our vet about medication for him; I think we are past the point of him being receptive to treats. He won't even look at treats (like turkey, sliced up hotdogs, cheese) when he sees a car half a mile away down our street. Maybe some anti-anxiety medication will help him calm down enough to allow for the training.
 

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Thank you! The CARE site looks great and comprehensive. I'm going to talk to our vet about medication for him; I think we are past the point of him being receptive to treats. He won't even look at treats (like turkey, sliced up hotdogs, cheese) when he sees a car half a mile away down our street. Maybe some anti-anxiety medication will help him calm down enough to allow for the training.
What about stationary, parked cars?
 

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Discussion Starter · #6 ·
He's fine with cars parked in driveways/parking lots, but if they turn on (I think he notices the lights? Or he can hear it), he can't look away and whining/hackles/eventually barking and lunging.

I wish I had an explanation for this behavior! When we got him, he was four months old and was leery of cars, but never violently so. We would just say "come on!" and keep on walking, and it progressed to mild wariness to meltdown mode to now being totally out of control. Looking back, we could have/should have somehow nipped this in the bud earlier, but I had no idea it would get worse instead of better. Kicking myself now, but trying to remain positive and not lose hope on this issue.
 

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Oh, I've also got an extremely reactive little guy (just posted a thread myself so maybe I'm not the one with the best answers but thanks Shandula!). I know how frustrating it can be.

Definitely give the CARE site a good read through. I'm working on implementing it myself and it's been helpful so far.

LAT has been awesome for us (but not without a few snags as you can see from my other post!). My dog is very food motivated and an eager learner in that regard so once we figure out thresholds he is awesome. That's probably key for your guy - by the time he starts reacting he's too close and it's not helpful.

For now, is there an alternative place you can exercise him?

I'd also look for maybe a park where you can get deep inside and far away from cars. Move slowly toward the road and watch his body language carefully trying to find that sweet spot where he notices them but is still able to take treats. Then sit down there and every time he looks at a car he gets a goodie (a REALLY good one, like real meat or cheese). Quick looks are best to start so if the cars aren't moving super fast I'd let him glance and then get his attention and treat.

Alternatively, you can try just giving him treats constantly as soon as he notices he car and stop once the car is gone. This would be classical conditioning. I think LAT works best when there are either a lot of cars going by or the trigger is present for an extended period of time; if it's only a few cars gone quickly CC would be more effective.

Hopefully your vet can give you advice too. My experience so far has been like pulling teeth. My current vet that my family has used for years told me that meds were ineffective along with a bunch of other bad advice ("he's just protecting you" or "it's a reaction to your anxiety") and a different one said meds may help but assumed I didn't know anything about behavior mod so suggested a bunch of not so great methods to try instead. I'm no expert, but have worked with a very awesome trainer and had some success so am not totally in the dark either. I've hit a wall for now on the meds front, hopefully if your dog needs them you'll have more luck.

Just stick with it, you'll work it out! If this is the only thing that sets him off, IMO, he won't be too bad to work with.
 

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The vet behaviorist we visited said to hold off on meds until implementing a complete behavior mod program for at least 3 weeks along (adding in a DAT collar and Zylkene).
 

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Discussion Starter · #9 ·
I took him into the vet today and he suggested L-theanine. He said that he definitely has an anxiety disorder; he could tell by the way he was acting in the office (which was actually really awful; his tail was between his legs and he was slinking around close to the floor while barking his head off... he never acts like that!) The vet had to muzzle him to give a rabies vaccine, which I understood, even though he's not aggressive, and of course the dog hated it, which made him slink around more and cry/whine. Sigh.

So anyway, we will start the L-theanine as soon as I get it from the health food store (by this weekend) and I think we will go over the CARE site and minimize his exposure to cars for a week or so, then start it. I need to have a plan to get us past this, even if it's just a matter of tiny steps as far as he is concerned.

Thanks for the advice and commiseration!
 
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