Dog behavior can be a tricky thing if you do not understand how the behavior got developed. When it comes to fixing behaviors like reactivity, there are few things you will want to figure out about your dog. I find that the two most important things to figure out are, how or why is the trigger relevant to my dog, and how can I make myself more relevant to my dog? If you can figure these two things out, you can begin to make changes in the ways you live with your dog, and also begin to develop a better mindset in your dog. Mindset is everything. If your dog has it in their mind that those specific triggers have some sort of relevance to them, you will not have great success in working them through those moments. Most people at that point believe that the must try to fix the behavior the dog is displaying and not address the reason for which the dog feels they must act that way. Often times you will see or hear a lot of talk about correcting dogs for reactive or aggressive behavior towards other dogs or even people. I can tell you right now from my experience, the correction is the last thing you to bring into the picture. Corrections certainly have their place in the process, but its not going to be the thing that fixes the issues the dog has. When you add corrections too early, you are only teaching the dog that you do not want them to choose that behavior in that situation. What your not teaching them is that there is no need to even feel like they must choose that behavior to begin with. The only way to achieve that to successfully get them to coexist in the same space as their trigger, but not be focused on their trigger. How do you do this?
Here at Lead Your K9 we practice and push dogs to be engaged with us. We develop the behavior of engagement by rewarding offered focus. This is done through playing a game with the dog where you get them to seek food (can also be toy or personal play) from you and “mark” (marker training) the moment they make eye contact/offer focus to you. You do this repeatedly until the dog now finds it super rewarding to just offer you focus. At this point you have now created more RELEVANCE about yourself. This is best done in a stale environment first to create the behavior. When your dog is just looking to you and trying to turn this game on, you’re on the right track. If they are sniffing around the environment and not just staying eyes glued to you, you have more work to do before moving on. Once they are ready, you will want to work them around a variety of distractions and in numerous environments to truly build the skill up before having them around their trigger. If the can not ignore the simple things in life, how can they ignore the big triggers?
When you’ve built up that relevance about yourself in almost any environment where the dog is choosing to be engaged with you and not caring about anything else going on, you are ready to bring out their specific trigger. Get your dog engaged with you before brining the trigger into the environment. If you’ve done your homework, your dog will be eyes glued until they see their trigger. If they get instantly distracted and loose all focus, it may be too soon for them. If they are bouncing in and out of focus, you need to work hard to keep them on you. You must become more relevant than the trigger by being the more rewarding choice. When they get distracted, using your “no reward marker” (marker training) is a good way to help them understand they are not making a good choice. Be sure to have them on leash to prevent any failure of the dog. If your dog is working well and ignoring the trigger in the environment and just staying fully engaged with you, you successfully changed the relevance of the trigger and have made yourself the clear choice.
Below is a link to a video from our YouTube channel. In the video, Tony is working with a dog named Meeko and you can see how he used this concept to get him working around a dog in the room. This is not a finished product, but once you have the relevance in your favor, the dog with be more willing to perform the behaviors you’re looking for and not just blow you off.