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Charlie And Leash Reactivity - Are We Doing Everything We Can?


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I've posted a few times about a leash reactive dog. Last time I posted I was asking about opinions on a particular trainer who'd mentioned 'leadership' who I've since had a session with.

I would really value people's thoughts on what we've done and if there is ANYTHING else we can do in terms of training or changing our situation.

 

I apologise for the subtitles - I tried to write this and it was all very mixed up initially:

 

 

The problem:

 

Charlie has been reacting on the lead - 'reacting' sounds a bit vague but we do have different types of reactions - if we see a dog running around nearby there's a sort of jumping up and down one and if a dog gets too close we have a pulling and aggressive barking one. Two dogs that didn't get the message have been bitten (not nastily, just nipped). On one occasion we had no barking so I stupidly let the other dog approach and Charlie bit his nose. These incidents shake Charlie up and, although still fairly laid back by most standards, he's on edge for a while after for the rest of the walk and after we get back home.

 

The session:

 

Some people here has expressed concern that leadership would be a Caesar Milan-esque approach. However it didn't feel like this - it was reward-based and the trainer suggested we mainly work hard on getting a consistent response to 'watch' for which we reward eye contact. Other suggestions were that we were generally more 'in charge' by making sure that both our hounds waited patiently as we put food down (they already do this quite well) and don't rush past us when we open the front door to take them for a walk (they do try to do this) and allow them on the furniture only by permission (we currently have a human sofa and a hound sofa).

Re: the actual reactivity the trainer suggested that we try to avoid these situations as much as possible - walking in different places/different times to try to avoid other dogs. He suggested that Charlie is reacting like this out of fear and this has spiralled due to the amount of people letting their dogs run up to everyone and now when he barks and a dog backs off he is having this behaviour reinforced. He's also suggested wearing a muzzle at all times out on walks to avoid serious repercussions. He also suggested a 'Halti' leash to give us more control.

 

What we've done since:

 

With Charlie being so mild mannered in the house there isn't much that we've done around the house - I'm trying to make the dogs wait while we're leaving the house and they've definitely started to be a more polite. We haven't done anything with the sofa and this has always been a practical thing for us and they take turns at sleeping on it. They're not possessive of this at all.

I've been practising our 'watch' on walks and both hounds are required to watch before they get any treats.

I use a muzzle at all times when we're out, I really hate this and worry when it's hot, so sometimes end up shortening walks.

I haven't used a halti, I have a limited understanding but recently observed a long and heated facebook debate about whether these were unkind or not so I was wary about doing this.

We've tried so hard to walk in quieter places and it's so difficult. I found a huge country park and within 60 seconds a huge bull mastiff bounded towards us. It seems like the more rural the place the more likely people are to be walking completely uncontrolled dogs.

I try to reward whenever we see another dog when Charlie is below his threshold.

 

We're also trying very hard to move house to somewhere quieter but telling landlords you have 2 greyhounds seems to get a reaction that I'd associate more appropriate with 'I'm planning on setting up a meth lab in the kitchen'

 

Results:

 

Some days I feel like we're getting somewhere. There is an alleyway full of back-gardens with angry dogs in. A few weeks ago Charlie would go nuts at each gate but now at the first sign of a noise I say 'No' and we generally walk quickly past without event - this is much more challenging on the way home for some reason.

 

Other times I despair and it seems that Charlie is reacting at a greater distance than he used to. It's no longer just the (rude) owners who are letting their dog charge at us but even when I steer around walkers in a large circle Charlie can react. This is making walks really stressful and I've been pulled off my feet one one occasion.

 

We went to a huge greyhound gathering. Charlie was an absolute gentleman here though he was extremely nervous. The difference being that all the other greyhounds greeted each other so politely.

 

My questions:

 

Hardware - I've never trusted the collars and switched to harnesses when we got our second (spooky) hound. Although I feel like these are more secure, I also feel like they allow them to pull much harder than they could with a collar. I sometimes use both and it's much easier to steer Charlie away from trouble by his collar but with harness, lead and collar I worry that I'm taking the enjoyment out of walks completely for him. I'm wondering if people have suggestions on what might work better to stop pulling.

 

When to reward - if we make it past a dog without reacting - at what point is best to reward - i.e. when is the good behaviour complete - This might be a silly question!

 

Is there ANYTHING else we can do? When I write it all down it seems like I'm complaining about something small but I'm just finding it really stressful and starting to dread our walks. I'm off to my mum's in the countryside next week and Charlie will have a great time there.

 

As always I look forward to all of your thoughts and suggestions and please let me know if I've left out anything important!

 

Matt

 

 

 

 

 

 

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I don't have any advice because I've had no experience with your situation but I want to tell you I don't think you're "complaining about something small." I don't think it's a small issue and I don't think you're complaining. You'll get good suggestions from those more experienced.

Edited by Feisty49
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It's not something small. Life can be very hard for someone with a reactive dog, especially one that's leash reactive, because a lot of people are going to put the blame on you when it's really their dog's bad behavior that causes the situation.

 

Having said that, here's just a few things to keep in mind. First off, your trainer is quite correct; whatever behavior the dog practices, he will get better at. Barking, lunging, and biting have gotten the scary dog to go away, so he is now much more likely to use those behaviors. If this is fear-based, your best bet is to try and keep as much distance between you and the other dog as possible. Learn to see the small signs of fear: panting, lip licking, sniffing the ground, ear position, and make space when you see those signs. I'd stop trying to get him to walk down that alley if at all possible. You want him to start practicing other behaviors that get him the same result: distance between him and the scary dog.

 

Also, you need to understand the difference between counter-conditioning and rewarding. You reward a dog for performing a behavior that you want. You counter-condition to change a dog's emotional state. Here's an example. Think of something that you find scary. For me, it's heights. I'm the person standing way far back from any edge of a cliff. If someone was to give me really good chocolate whenever I am just slightly closer to the cliff edge than I really like, then I will eventually start feeling the good chocolate endorphins at that distance, instead of the stress hormones, because the body can't feel two things at the same time. So then you move to a distance where you can feel those stress hormones, and start feeding me chocolate there. The idea is that right now Charlie finds dogs scary. You want to change the emotional response to "dogs mean that treats rain out of the sky... I LOVE seeing other dogs out there!" That will take a while, but it can be done. I had a dog who would run and hide when ever she saw the dremel come out for nail trimming. Now, she comes running and begs to be picked up and get her nails done. Charlie may never be that comfortable with other dogs when he is on leash, but you just need him to be comfortable enough that you can manage the situation (i.e. no barking, lunging, or biting). So the short answer is: if he sees a dog and doesn't react, you want to be feeding treats. That can be from the moment you see the dog until the time you are far enough past that you don't think Charlie is going to react.

 

Also, stress hormones can take days to fully dissipate out of the bloodstream. That's why having something set him off at the beginning of a walk is making him more reactive for the rest of the walk. He really can't help it. It's a survival instinct, once exposed to something scary, to be on the lookout for it for some time in the future. In those situations, you need to try and make sure that the rest of the time is as calm and serene as you can make it. Alter you path, or in a really bad meltdown, I might just go back home. And then there is "stress stacking"... the idea that lots of little stresses can cause a small issue to become so big that you blow up at something entirely out of proportion. Think of the day that you snap at someone for not putting the lid on the mustard right, after having a bad day at work and getting cut off in traffic and the waiter messing up your lunch order and the copier running out of ink in the middle of printing the big presentation you needed. None of those things on their own would cause that reaction, but enough of them in a short enough time will make that last little thing just too much.

 

These links might be helpful in explaining some of the concepts:

 

http://www.training-your-dog-and-you.com/Desensitizing_and_counter-conditioning.html

http://drsophiayin.com/videos/entry/counter-conditioning_a_dog_to_blowing_in_face (an awesome example of counter-conditioning in action)

http://yourdogsfriend.org/spoon-theory-and-funny-dog-gifs/

77f6598d-2.jpg

My blog about helping Katie learn to be a more normal dog: http://katies-journey-philospher77.blogspot.com/

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Guest Lillypad

I commend you on being pro-active in your efforts to deal with this issue. I have a very very shy girl and I have to say that the same training tools often apply for shy dogs that apply for reactive dogs. The "watch me" and "wait" skills have been very helpful to us. I feel your trainer has merit. I also agree with the above post. Fortunately, we have many resources via the internet to help with various situations. Thank goodness there is more good information than bad, but never the less choose wisely. Some of the sources I found helpful are: Susan Garret, (Ruff Love), Victoria Stillwell, (Reactive Dogs) and Training Positive (Videos)

 

Many great videos on bonding with your dog.

 

https://positively.com/victorias-blog/choice-training-working-with-a-leash-reactive-dog/

 

http://www.clickerdogs.com/

 

The "watch me" skill really has no beginning or end. Think of it as a conversation you are having with your dog. Start asking for the "watch me" when you leave the house on your walk. Ask often and reward often during the walk. "Watch me" skill takes time to build, practice often and in many environments. The objective of the "watch me" is to make you more interesting and fun to be with rather than the distractions around your dog. You want to convince him to "choose" you over other interests.

 

Build on the "wait" skill too. I request a "wait" many, many times through the day. Wait for the release from the front door of our house when going for a walk, wait for release from the car, wait for a release after I remove the collar after our walk, wait for release for dinner. "Wait" is not about bossing our dog, but rather about training and requesting your dog to use impulse control. There is even no reason why you could not even ask for a "wait" in the middle of your walks each day. Best of luck, I would like to assure you that it takes time and repetition, but if you stick with it you will see results that make all the effort worth it .

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You have gotten some good training advice here, so I'll just add a few things. I am not a very good trainer, but "wait" is one of the things all my dogs learn, for safety reasons. That is one you can start at home where your dogs are fairly calm, so it should go fast, but practice it on walks, too. When you stop to cross a street, or pick up poop, or just randomly, stop, say wait, and don't let the dogs start walking again until you say ok, or whatever phrase you choose. Obviously, not when there are other dogs around and Charlie is already reacting. Look at me is very helpful, but some dogs respond better than others. It helped a little with Fletcher, did not completely solve the problem. I did use it with another, much less reactive dog, and it worked quite well.

 

I had a very leash reactive dog. Fletcher was a big boy, 90 lbs, and strong. He was ok with other sight hounds, but wary around other dogs, and after he was attacked by a loose dog while on leash, he got much worse, even though he wasn't hurt. So yes, fear is a big part of it, and why Charlie may never be really comfortable around strange dogs. Learn his "safe" distance, and try to stay at least that far away from other dogs, especially at first. Fletcher's was about 1/2 block. Up to that point, he might tense, but not react, so we would turn around or go down another street to keep the safe distance. Closer than that and he would start the lunging, barking, growling.

 

Which brings me to the harness. Not a good tool for a dog that just pulls, but I felt, given Fletcher's size and strength, it gave me better control when he did react. Also, I was afraid he would hurt his neck/spine with just the collar, given how wild he could get at times, if we could not quickly get a safe distance away.

 

With time, practice, and patience, Charlie can get much more comfortable, but you will probably always need to be alert to your surroundings (more so than normal).

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The advice from the trainer sounds good for management, and by avoiding conflict as much as possible, not reinforcing the unwanted behaviour. But in order to tackle the behaviour (if he can improve - not all dogs will 100%) a qualified behaviourist with a behaviour modification plan and access to suitable stooge dogs and a safe area in which to work (like a private field or large area free of other random dogs) would be the ideal , I guess.

 

He would need to have safe and gradual exposure with very 'neutral' dogs that ignore him , so he can cease to be stressed out on the sight of strange dogs and practice new, calmer and more acceptable responses to seeing and eventually accepting other dogs in his space. In this way, he would be able to know how to interact and re-learn social skills, if you see what I mean?

 

It is really hard though, because even if you can find someone like that to help, if you intend to still keep walking him in public whilst he is undergoing training, then yes, you also have to manage him in an uncontrolled environment (or, as I've said before - manage the loose dogs by some effective means and make them go away so he doesn't get so scared).

 

To be honest, when I was in your situation, I did walk my dogs separately some of the time, which is a lot easier. At least then you can have a more relaxing walk with the non-reactive one and give full attention to the reactive dog. You would feel less isolated walking your friendly greyhound in the park and meeting some of the local walkers, maybe if you meet some nice dogs with understanding owners, you'd feel less stressed about the dog walking generally?

 

If you have a garden, I would be tempted to cease all walks for a week or so and focus on games and training in the garden instead, to reduce his stress levels and your stress too at the thought of having to walk, when you don't want to. Then try to find a good route - even if it is just pavements - where loose dogs and narrow encounters are likely to be minimal and re-introduce walks on a much less pressured footing. You could still take your other dog to the park on her own?

 

It is not easy I know...hope you manage to figure something out that will make life easier for you both.

 

Just re-read your post - at the greyhound gathering, Charlie was nervous but shut down, he was perhaps overwhelmed (flooded) at the amount of canines and felt he couldn't do anything. This sort of en masse exposure can help some dogs but if you think your dog is nervous or fear aggressive, it's best to avoid any thing like mass group walks or dog shows, it will only serve to make Charlie more stressed out and to trust you less.

 

Please don't take this the wrong way, but if you truly feel he would be happier in a quiet country home where he would not encounter many dogs on walks, well, I guess that's something else to consider too. But OTOH if he is a happy boy in the house (doesn't show signs of being stressed all the time) and has a good relationship with you and your other dog and it is *only* out on walks when he encounters dogs too closely that he gets stressed, then he can do just fine with being happy in the house and garden and having quiet walks with you.

Edited by Amber
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Thanks very much for lots of good suggestions Amber. That sounds ideal re: stooge dogs and a plan. It's just been so difficult to find anyone in the area - it's probably about where we're located. I will continue to look out but in the meantime we are having a couple of weeks in the middle of nowhere and we've not seen another dog for days and we are all chilled out.

 

I hadn't really thought about him shutting down at the gathering - he definitely calmed down after a while though - he fell asleep in the ring while the judge was going round.

 

Re: playing in the garden, we do this as well but our garden isn't huge, it's big enough for him to run around but both of our hounds seem to have a lot of energy and get very restless in the house if we don't go out.

 

Thanks everyone for all the advice.

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I had/ have a highly reactive and high prey girl. She would go into full prey drive when she saw dogs at up to 400-500 metres. We muzzle here because it's the law. If you need to muzzle you must make sure it's one which allows the dog to pant. The race muzzles are probably the way to go. But a wire muzzle in the Australian style will also work.

 

What I did was as soon as Paige saw a dog, she got a treat wedged into her mouth. This happened even if she was barking - when her mouth opened, a treat went in. At first she'd spit them out (and neighbourhood dogs got very fat following us around). Then her reactions got slightly slower so there was a split second between her seeing a dog and going over threshold. Gradually she began chewing the treat while whining. Then she began glancing so me before reacting, then she gave me a couple seconds to get the treat out. Now we have a little game, where she pretends to react to get a treat.

 

This took nearly four years of training and absolute consistency. She is still highly reactive and prey driven but certainly better than she was.

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Hi, glad you are all having a relaxing break in the countryside.

 

I know what you mean about reducing or stopping walks , but it would only be temporary. They get antsy because it's the routine and habit to go out. But if you think of it this way, if your dog had say a leg injury, he wouldn't be able to go out walking and he would adjust.

 

mental stimulation through training and brain games is very tiring too. So if the time taken for walks was devoted to training and games that would exercise his mind and make him more responsive to you.

 

But it's just a suggestion to take the pressure off him and you, and to improve the relationship and reduce the stress that is caused by the walks.

 

Another thing I've heard of is secure private fields being hired out to dog owners by the hour. Often this would appeal to this with reactive dogs or ones that can't go off lead in public. I'm not sure how you would find out if there's anything in your area though.

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That's great news! You are lucky to have a field for hire near you. He will be able to have a fun time and run off leash without any worries about other dogs.

 

The other thing I thought of - and it may not be possible, as again needs financial outlay and to find the 'right' person - but just an idea, would be to find a dog walker, a special dog walker who is also a dog trainer and/or studying to be a canine behaviourist. I have known a few people who whilst they are training to be a behaviourist support themselves by dog walking too.

 

I think perhaps they advertise for both dog walking and dog training, so can be differentiated from just regular dog walkers (many of whom won't take on reactive dogs).

 

This would be an opportunity for him to learn to operate better out on walks in the hands of someone who is calm and confident and experienced in re-training. I'm sure in time that you will be those too but what I tended to find when I had my reactive dog was that I just got worn down and emotionally drained by it. When it's your own dog, you're so close to it and take everything to heart, whereas hiring a professional (so long as it's someone good who uses reward based methods) would take a lot of pressure off.

 

But if not, I'm sure you will manage just fine and especially now you've found this field where you can actually have a fun, relaxing walk occasionally.

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I'm kinda going through same thing with my foster, he kinda deteriorated around other dogs on walks. I think as we often passed some gobby terriers and he'd end up barking /lunging back and then it became any dog he spotted. I believe he wasn't socialized well as a young pup & his lead manners were awful, its improved but he's a strong dog. I now use a headcollar with double ended lead either attached to collar or harness. On collar alone he's a actually fairly uncontrollable if he decides to ignore me.

 

The behaviorist we've seen has told us to avoid all dogs for now (he lives with 3 so has some social life) so we now drive to walk.him on an industrial/business park or a few footpaths in countryside we know to be quiet. We've been working on his "watch me" and now a " look at that" which is currently a household object but will become other dogs or scary folk in hi-viz etc and he will get a finders fee for his dog spotting, look at dog look at us for reward. We've had a session with the behaviouriats dog as a stooge walking past at opposite end of field to practice he was able to get maybe 20ft away but trotting past was too arousing, as is focusing too long on other dog . She suggested going to a place were dogs are on lead and you've some control over the distance & can make a get away U-turn if the dogs are getting too close (I.e dog is uncomfortable & reacting)

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We aren't quite at that stage as we've only weekends to go to suitable social places, but she also suggested just leaving him in our car cage & tossing treats in as dogs/people pass by and we've found we can do this in a country park as its some distance to the path & most dogs are on lead due to the road.

 

It did seem odd to socialize by avoiding other dogs but trainer explained walking him around others dogs it was simply giving him more practice on the behavior we didn't want & making it hard to correct because he was too wound up to learn, better to do it gradually with fewer but more positive experiences.

 

You can get lightweight greyhound muzzles that allow much better airflow, i have used one over a headcollar for one dog, although you then need something like squeezy cheese in a tube for treats as it makes it much harder to post through the gaps! However if your avoiding doggy places you may not need to worry as much about dogs getting too close. http://www.lurcherlink.org/llink/forum/viewtopic.php?t=47289

 

I saw another trainer before and he also pointed out similar regarding about our body language, not letting dog walk in front approaching another dog keep behind or to side so your taking the responsibility off dog. Not slowing down & creeping towards oncoming dog or tightening the lead to raise tension in your own dog.

Edited by moofie
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Thanks Amber and moofie, Amber you've read my other post - definitely lots of emotional drain at the moment! I'll see if I can find a dog walker like you describe -that sounds ideal.

 

Moofie - do you have a picture of the type of head collar that you use with that muzzle. I have a similar muzzle though some holes on the bottom are filled in with plastic. That one you linked to looks a bit better than our current ones.

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Guest GreyOrchard

Two things about your post struck me:

that he reacted to you in the back alley with all those other dogs barking

and that he was fairly well behaved around other greyhounds.

 

If he is starting to react well to your voice in such situations, that's a very good sign. If you combine that voice "command" with a motion - like shortening the leash and moving faster (but not running!), you would be sending him the message that "we don't do that in this situation....we walk on...." After you have done this about ten times, it could become almost a reflex in him.

 

Second, he was ok around other greyhounds probably for a few reasons: 1) because of their lean lines, their body language is easy to read, and he read no bad behaviour or threats...compare this to him trying to "read" a dog with a lot of hair, or no tail, for example; 2) his individual problems with other dogs took a back seat to his more powerful deepest instinct, something greyhounds were selectively bred for over many hundreds of years, which is sociability in large groups. For many centuries, greyhounds were bred not only to be good hunters, but also to be sociable with the other types of dogs they would be taken out hunting with. There was no room, ever, for greyhounds who did not get along. The greyhounds who were good hunters, sociable with other dogs, and biddable, are the greyhounds our greyhounds today are descended from. We can tap into those thousand years of selective breeding under the right circumstances. Your dog is showing he is biddable when he receives instruction from you, and also behaves in a group of other greyhounds. This is an excellent starting point.

 

The very important benefits of offleash activity are too many to mention here. For those advising you against responsible off leash activity at all, that is based on lack of understanding the root of sighthound nature as well as not enough attention being given to the important process of actual offleash training.

Edited by GreyOrchard
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