Our latest reactive dog class just ended. I am always amazed and gratified to see what a difference the class makes for these dogs and their people.
Our first two classes are without dogs. The people come to this with horror stories of how terrible their dogs are. Their neighbors think their dogs are dreadfully aggressive beasts. They get up at 4 am to walk their dogs while no one is around. They avoid any social situations with their dogs. It’s like an AA meeting. They realize that they are not alone. This is step one in the healing process.
There is hope. They feel it but are still a bit skeptical. How can his behavior possibly change? It’s been going on for as long as they can remember. Will they really be able to take their dog for a walk without a reconnaissance of the area beforehand? We’ll see.
So then the dogs come. We keep them isolated from each other. Cover the cars so they can’t see each other, so they won’t react. We bring them out one by one at a distance far enough away from a neutral dog so they feel comfortable (a neutral dog is what we call a dog that isn’t reactive). You can feel the nervousness in the air from the dog parents. Well equipped with Thundershirts, Thundercaps, calming treats and meatballs, they get out of their cars one by one. Their dogs aren’t reacting to that other dog. What’s up with that?
A quality reactive dog training session
We use a process called Counter Conditioning and Desensitization. We’ve kept them under threshold. Far enough away that they can think instead of react. They look at the dog, but when they do, we give them meatballs. After a while they are like, “Hey, This is cool! Every time I look at that dog I get some meatball!” You start changing their association with the dog to mean good things are coming. You are changing their emotional state from negative to positive.
People start to relax a little. Maybe their is hope! They can see a bit of a difference in just one session. We arm them with ways to manage the situation while they are at home. The next week, there have been successes at home. They start feeling a little excited that this is going to maybe work. We start getting more than one dog out at a time. Now four dogs are out, looking at each other and eating meatballs.
By week four of working with the dogs, we go to a nearby park. On a Saturday. Lots of people and dogs. We’re all out together. Walking together. Like normal dogs or something. What the heck? We pass people, bikes, runners, and dogs.
Looks like there is hope after all.
I want to applaud everyone for lots of hard work and dedication, and caring enough about their dogs to make it happen.
Out and about with our reactive dogs – what a treat!