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Discussion Starter #1
Sybbie is a 5 1/2 year old pom whom I have had the joy of having for 2 1/2 years. When she first came to me, she was a retired conformation dog with really no bad habits but was unsure about how to go for a walk in the city (cautious but not startling or overly fearful). I let her take her time and she gained confidence quickly. She also needed some basic training which, while she had a problem "learning to learn," she has accomplished, getting her CGN two weeks ago.

Unfortunately, in the early days, I made the mistake of taking her for an all situation bullet proof dog. I regret it deeply, but I took her to a few dog parks and she got chased and harassed by larger dogs three times in a month. I decided that wasn't safe or wise and quit doing it and she seemed fine. We started going to a dog park for dogs under 20lbs and she was, and still is, happy there. But over the past year she has become increasing leash reactive to the point of charging at other dogs and barking furiously.

We go to clicker-based classes of various sorts (foundations, tricks, CGN and soon Rally) and I have a few ideas of how to tackle this problem but after each attempt at being out in the vacinity of dogs I feel like I have botched it and failed her. I have taught her "look" and use it to gain attention when there is a dog near by. I will also click/reward if she looks at a distraction and then back at me, even if it is lower anxiety (not a dog.) Obviously it works better or worse depending on the proximity of the dog and I recognize that one of my fatal errors has been letting dogs get too close before she was ready, but sometimes this is hard to control.

One problem is regularity of sessions because I have some health issues and can't always get out to work with her. Hopefully this thread will help me to push through on occasion.

I am hoping to chronicle our progress in this thread and hopefully get some input from you wise people as well.
 

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Discussion Starter #2
Today we went for a walk on the street first. We passed one dog while I called for attention before passing. I think I noticed the dog before she did and we passed without fuss though I'm not convinced she even saw the dog. Then we saw a dog coming on a collision course with no way to cross the street. I stepped into a doorway and called for attention. Unfortunately the owner let her dog charge up to Sybbie even though we were obviously trying to stay out of the way. Sybbie barked twice but didn't lunge. Next there were two dogs sitting blocking the sidewalk. There was a bit of grass to pass on so I called for attention and we passed smoothly.

After that, we went to the park and just stood in an open area to observe dogs passing on the path from a distance. She did more barking here but didn't sound hyperaroused or aggressive. The barks were more sporadic and she wasn't pulling on the leash. I did my best to keep the leash loose and she decided to bark, look at me and then offer a sit. I click/treated this. After a while I moved a bit so she was in line of sight of a dog and his owner sitting on a bench about half a football field away. That dog was joined by another dog who was play barking and carrying on. This didn't set Sybbie off and I click/treated for listening to barking and not barking back. She continued to check in with me and offer sits.

I think this was pretty successful and I resisted the urge to challenge her too much. I have hope! My goal is to surprise her teacher when Rally class starts by not barking at the other students. Little by little.
 

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Congrat's, that does sound like a good session. "I resisted the urge to challenge her too much." This is key in my opinion and it is where most make mistakes. A few won't hurt, but repeated one's will. Also I think she most likely knew the other dog was their but many dogs [ 1 of mine included] reacts to any eye contact if on the same direction [ crossing paths].Otherwise I can take him anywhere even pet stores etc. My vet however has a beautiful poster of a husky on the wall and my dog reacts with the direct "fake" eye contact, lol. He is a little pom/chi cross with a nightmare history before I got him and I am glad I put in the work with him as I now have a 4.5 month old pure pom who is socializing nicely as I walk them together. As long as he does not react she has learned everything is fine. She is a handful and a half though hahaha.
 

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Discussion Starter #4
Thanks spittoon! I'm glad your hard work is paying off in allowing the puppy to learn there is no need for alarm. Nice to meet a fellow pom lover too!

Today our session was not so good. A dog passing on the opposite side of the street set off a barking fury and it was hard to get Sybbie's brain back but I did somewhat. We were walking with my partner and his lab and, a few blocks later, the lab greeted a boxer with play invitations. We were lagging behind, trying to keep our distance, but I was overwhelmed by thinking I needed not to keep my partner waiting and didn't do the next right thing. I had Sybbie's attention and the boxer was now sitting still so I foolishly thought I could attempt to pass. We entered the Freak Out Zone and Sybbie lost it, barking and lunging. I started backing up, but she was not going with me willingly. Then the boxer started to approach and his owner allowed him to get right in her face. WHY do people think it is ok for their dog to get in the bubble of another dog without asking permission? It was my fault for trying to pass but this made me mad too. I mean, obviously my dog had issues.

After this I felt really bad about how it was going (blaming myself, not Sybbie) but decided to go to the park and see if we could repeat yesterday's success there. There was a highschool gym class running so we practiced attention with this even though this is not something that really worries her. We also did a bit of work with squirrels and birds which are moderately exciting to Syb. That went ok but I felt so rotten that I couldn't bring the right attitude.

I plan to practice U turns on our next expedition.

Trying to find patience for MYSELF. I have patience with Sybbie, but I have high epectations for my own skills and I really feel like I set her back AGAIN. I blame myself for her developing this problem in the first place as she didn't have this problem the first 6 months I had her and she wasn't a puppy. I didn't walk her enough because Pippin was really sick and disabled and I had gotten in the habit of just taking him out in the yard for pees and poos. I took her to dog parks willynilly. Ugh. I'm telling myself that I am learning along with her and it will take time.
 

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This is something that people who are dealing with reactivity usually don't like to hear, but the best advice I can offer anyone dealing with any kind of reactivity:

Stop working on it.

For at least a couple of months (straight/solid), don't go out to specifically train, or counter condition, or anything else. Spend those couple of months (or forever, frankly) avoiding triggers as much as possible. Walk super early, walk late, walk weird locations, whatever. When you run into a trigger (and you will) while trying to avoid do nothing except get out.

When you take her into situations there are going to be other dogs, two things happens:

1-) She comes to anticipate the presence of other dogs, putting her more on edge and making her more likely to seek them out and

2-) Every time she reacts, her adrenaline levels go up.

Combine 1 and 2 and exposure is actually going to both lead to a longer recovery time (so more trigger stacking) and make her more likely to react, period. Erratic sessions don't make this problem go away - ANY sessions before she's had time to unwind and lose some expectations are going to feed into it

Everyone hates this advice. The knee-jerk reaction is 'if I stop working, it will get worse'. And it will if you stop working with the DOG or just keep exposing to triggers without working on it, but the more uncontrolled exposure to triggers you have, the worse off you are. Avoid like mad for a solid two months and work nothing but general obedience skills. No deliberately going where other dogs are, no going out when you think other dogs might be out - even at a distance! - no making her look for things. Give her two months of solid decompression.

Then come back at it with a plan for gradual, slow, CONTROLLED exposure where you can (with people who's dogs you know) or in very, very low volume places with lots of distance.

Reactivity is one of those places where both 'dedicated work' and 'ignoring it' will both bite you in the butt. It's a hard line to walk.
 

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Don't beat yourself up so much. You're human, you make mistakes. A mistake like that isn't going to ruin your dog. She'll be fine. And also, if you never try to see what her limits are, you're never going to know. I mean, don't push it TOO much, but trying to do something when you think the dog is ready and failing is all part of the process. You learned something, and that's important, too.

And, even if you do everything right, there will still be some backslide. One day a passing a dog may not bother them too much, and the next day a dog might set them off. I've found its never useful to dwell on it. It's part of the process.

And, if you ever feel like you're not quite ready to deal with training during a walk for some reason that day, its perfectly fine to just...not. If I'm not really in the mood to manage and train, I just stay in the yard and play ball with Ralphie or something. I might cut a walk short if I feel its not going very well. You don't HAVE to work on it every single day. I'm sure Sybbie would enjoy some down time as well!
 

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Discussion Starter #7
Thank you both. I came to that conclusion too. I am going to stop walking on the sidewalk because there is no where to go. I am going to stop HOPING for challenges and tests.

I just bought Patricia McConnell's book Fiesty Fido. I'm going to work towards a really strong "Autowatch" with the other family dog (my partner's lab Maple) and until such time there will be no more exciting situations if I can help it.

I still feel like a tool for putting her in these circumstances. I have a habit of wanting to FIX things and not accepting tried and true timetables.
 

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I did the same thing with Molly, for a long time. Saw a problem, said 'I'LL FIX IT!' and then dug my heels in and got stubborn about fixing it.

Getting defeated into doing nothing for a while was a good thing, but before that point I almost *could not* wrap my head around the fact that continually setting up scenarios she was going to react to was a bad idea. It was like in my head I conflated reactivity work and socialization and if I STOPPED exposing her, she'd get worse? Nope, doesn't work that way but getting that through my head was hard.

You're on the right track and you'll both be okay.
 

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Discussion Starter #9
Thanks CptJack! Your opinion means a lot to me. Seems I need to train myself too.
 

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I took yesterday off doing anything, partly because we are having an ice storm! It is sooo bad here! There is a foot of snow and on top of that a coating of ice and it's been raining and freezing all weekend!

Today we did a little work inside. I read the first two chapters of Feisty Fido and and got a lot offered "watches" with mild distraction (Maple was in her crate but something was on Sybbie's mind cuz she was growling and looking around a bit). We also practiced a U turn. It was a bit crowded in our tiny living room with furniture but I think I got some learning. After getting a good turn I started throwing a kibble out in front before the turn and then rewarding with something higher value for turning. This seemed to work well though it wasn't entirely without leash tension.

I plan to keep working at this level and fight fight fight the urge to look for challenges before we're ready.
 

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We practiced outside today. Don't know how wise this was but it was a successful session.

I was feeling crap because it looks like we have a collapsed drain and the basement floor will have to be dug up which means moving my piano out of there and finding another place to give lessons when we are already tight for space. So I wasn't sure if it was a good idea to have a training session when I was feeling like this but I got us out and we both had a great time. I felt better as soon as I saw how happy Sybbie was.

We went to a low traffic area and practiced U turns on the sidewalk first. Then we went to the park at an off peak time and practiced "look" with no dogs around. I saw a dog off leash outside of the off leash area at a distance so we got away. She was offering a look/ sit with no cue whenever we were still. On the way home something set her off barking but I have no idea what. There was nothing around us. Maybe a scent? Anyways, I stopped and slacked the leash and she gave me a look/sit! She wasn't out of her mind barking, but sort of half hearted so she had enough brain left over for me.

I really did try to resist the temptation to challenge her but I don't know if I succeeded. I saw a pretty relaxed and joyful dog out there so I think so.
 

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Discussion Starter #12
It's been a while since we did much because I Havnt been feeling well.

This morning we went for a leash walk and I found myself once again looking for challenges. This is a really hard habit to break!...for me!

We sat in a little patio away from the sidewalk and practiced with pigeons. Birds are enticing to Sybbie, but don't really get her activated so I think it was the right level. She wasn't offering attention like she was the last time we practiced but she was also pretty calm. A tiny toy poodle puppy approached and she sniffed him in a friendly way and then ignored him. That was pretty amazing. I think it helped that he was smaller than her which is rare, but I thought the fact that he was a puppy would have negated that. He was pulling on the leash towards her and jumping up but still she was calm.

I probably shouldn't have put her in a position to be approached like that. I really need to look at my own motivations and why I'm rushing it.

July 9 we start a Rally O class. The instructor knows Sybbie and said he would put up barriers so she can work without other dogs in her space. He also suggested a Kong for when she is not working. I really want to keep taking classes but once again I might be rushing things. I'm a little confused.
 

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Congrats on the good session! I struggle with not rushing things as well. You want so badly to see improvement, and it can also be so difficult to judge what your dog is ready for when. It's been helping me a little to be strict with myself about having "non-working" walks, on a hiking trail if possible, so we can have an activity together where neither of us are stressing about reactivity. I do have the luxury currently of being able to go at "off" hours where the chances of running into another dog are really small, so I know it's not an option for everyone, but it's been worth it. And good for both of our stress levels.
 

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Discussion Starter #14 (Edited)
Thanks DaySleepers, good to know I'm not alone. I think part of my problem is that the reactivity is not across the board-she seems to have on moments and off moments which I'm not able to predict or discern the difference from her point of view. So I get thinking she's made a lot of progress and then BAM! It's also my ego. I want to have a "good" dog to prove I'm a good owner and I want it NOW.

Activities together with no possibility of reactivity sounds great. Right now for us that's hanging out in the backyard. I feel like I'm not "working on it" when this is all we do in a day but I think that's my issue again. Like CptJack said somewhere about acceptance. She is perfect the way she is but I can also help her to feel more comfortable in the world.
 

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I totally get it, I have to be strict with myself, too! It's so easy to feel like you're not doing enough. The trainer Sarah Stremming is where I got the idea from. She's very into "decompression walks", where allowing the dog time to just do dog things with no pressure and minimal expectations can really increase mental/emotional contentment and help the dog handle stressful scenarios more gracefully. I think it's definitely important to help reactive dogs feel more comfortable and manage their emotions better, but I'm trying to accept that I can do that without actively working on cc/dc all the time, every time we're out. Maybe you could try giving her some fun nosework activities to do in the back yard to really exercise some of those instincts without requiring a ton of direction or focus? Sam loves finding "wild" kibble outside.
 

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Discussion Starter #16
That's a great idea!

We did have a "working" session tonight and she seemed much worse. I blame myself of course, but it could just be one of those nights. And the area was way too high traffic. We went to the same spot last night and it was relatively quiet so I guess better weather brought a lot of people and dogs out.

What I've been doing is sitting somewhere public and practicing attention to simulate sitting in class. I notice though that she's better when we're moving. My previous dogs were like this too. I think some guarding comes into play when I sit in the same spot too long.

We live in a very urban centre where it's hard to find a quiet spot unless we completely stay home. There is no happy medium which makes it difficult to up the ante just a smidge. I really want to make some progress before our next class begins in July and that is leading me to rush again. I think I need to take a step back though and use Maple as a distraction. It just sucks not to be able to go out and enjoy the weather and the city with my dog at my side. I think that is the other reason I'm pushing it. Sigh.
 

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The moving thing is definitely true for a lot of dogs. I'm reading Grisha Stewart's BAT 2.0 right now, and she brings it up. I only wish I knew trainers/dog people in the area who could help me implement it! I'm seriously considering looking for a 1-on-1 trainer once we have a car and I've saved up a bit, because while we're making (sloooooow) progress on our own, I feel like a second set of experienced eyes and access to helper dogs would be a major improvement. Especially since once I'm back in school, I'll be less able to get Sam out at odd times of days when there's not likely to be other dogs around.

Also, I hate the idea of this advice, but it's good: keep records. People say it over and over and I keep resisting, but it really is the best way to be able to see your overall progress despite setbacks and bad days. I just. Really suck at it myself.
 

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Thanks DaySleepers, good to know I'm not alone. I think part of my problem is that the reactivity is not across the board-she seems to have on moments and off moments which I'm not able to predict or discern the difference from her point of view. So I get thinking she's made a lot of progress and then BAM! It's also my ego. I want to have a "good" dog to prove I'm a good owner and I want it NOW.

Activities together with no possibility of reactivity sounds great. Right now for us that's hanging out in the backyard. I feel like I'm not "working on it" when this is all we do in a day but I think that's my issue again. Like CptJack said somewhere about acceptance. She is perfect the way she is but I can also help her to feel more comfortable in the world.
It's totally normal for dogs to have backslides. They have bad days, too, and its probably impossible to figure out exactly what went wrong to lead them to be a bit more touchy than usual. Just last night Ralphie had a minor barking/growling reaction to a guy giving his girlfriend a piggy back ride up and down the sidewalk in front of their house, and he hasn't had any reaction at all to anything in months. To be fair, they were being a bit weird as they were sweeping the sidewalk and then putting dirt in a cardboard box, and then doing some PDA, and then the girl whined for a piggy back ride, and I was staring at them the whole time we approached from the other side of the street, lol. But...what seems kind of normal to us might freak dogs out...especially when they then stop and stare at the barking dog, lol.

It's important to just...not make a huge deal out of it. Call them away, keep walking. Focus on the things they did well. There will always be something that they think is weird and need to bark at.
 
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