If you have ever worked with a reactive dog, you most likely have heard how important it is to work your dog under threshold and not when your dog is already barking and lunging. This is the goal, manage the environment the best you can, always set your dog up for success. Nevertheless, life happens and will happen. No matter how we try our best, we cannot completely exclude reactive outbursts, and frankly I don’t even think it is realistic. In real life there will always be that incident when the neighbor’s dog runs off-leash up to you, you have a had long day and are not quick enough to ask your dog for an alternative behavior in time. And there we go, you have spent so much time and effort training your dog, and it feels like this one incident again ruins it all. I don’t think anyone but a person who has had The Hound From Hell can relate to this.
One of the questions that we need to address is: how quickly does my dog recover from the barking/snarling festivity? Reacting to life is very natural for dogs like it is to us, we get very angry towards traffic, intruders on our front lawn etc., but we are capable (most of the time anyways!) to recover from emotional outbursts. With thorough training dogs can do the same. Of course the goal is that the reactivity becomes less and less frequent, but an important thing to keep in mind is that it will never truly go away, it will always be there.
So what to do when the poop hits the fan? We need to patch it up with successful repetitions. Recently, I taught Control Unleashed -type of workshops in Finland, where the participants already were very savvy trainers. Many of the dogs had some level of leash reactivity but they already had a beautiful, happy conditioned emotional response to other dogs: other dogs meant to them that good things will happen. So we got to push the limits a little bit further. And yes, unintentionally life happened, too. And I have no problem with showing it publicly, it was a good learning experience also for the trainer on how to set up the space for exercises. I did miss the x-pens we have in Toronto a lot! Here are a couple of movie clips.
Rusti and Papu:
With easier exercises and Behavior Adjustment Training (BAT) exercises both dogs did amazingly well after!
We were planning to do some recall training with but again switched to BAT and approaching the decoy dog (not visible in the movie, sorry!) from a different angle. Tomppa was able to think it through and relax again.
So, when life happens we have no other options than take a deep breath, adjust the training and work it through!