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Discussion Starter #1
I posted this question over in the "2 schools" thread and already got some advice there, which I quoted below. I'm starting a new thread cause I can sure use the help. Any opinions welcome.

It's about Tucker, my 85-lb 8-month-old Ridgeback who goes into super-high-excitement mode on-leash whenever we see a dog, either behind a fence or on the streat, leashed or unleashed. I'm convinced it's not aggression cause he plays nice with other dogs at the dog park. It's more an excited frustrated bark. I have no access to his brain when that happens.

What I've tried:
I'm just looking to break the focus. His favorite treat doesn't even do it. All I have right now is, get in front and block him with my body, and hold on until he gradually comes to a sit, an excited sit not a calm one. It takes awhile for him to come back down to reasonably calm. Problem is, we almost never get to that point before the other dog is brought back inside, or led away.

Lately I've been using the leash handle looped into a slip collar, just to maintain control. If I don't have that on him, he's got great handfuls of scruff, which I can use to physically manuver him, but it doesn't get his attention.

So, I either block him like I said, or manhandle him past the other dog at a brisk walk. I don't want him to think I'm running away from other dogs. I do my best to maintain an even calm state of mind, it doesn't make me angry or frustrated and I'm not afraid he'll get away or anything, but I do worry what other people think. I just can't help it.

Meanwhile, I have him walking close beside or behind me on a loose leash, getting a tasty treat (chicken!) at random intervals. We do about an hour of walking before work and again after work; at those times of day we don't get many "challenges." It's actually started getting a little better, in tiny increments.

The way I'm using the leash (wide nylon) as a slip-collar, it's not choking him (not very effectively anyway) but it does help me keep some control. This is a smart pup, not dominant by anyone's definition, intimidation is surely not called for here and would be counterproductive, but I just need to get his attention.

Once he's excited, he's in amygdala hijack and it's hard to calm him. Not a suggestion, but I bet that if you let him off leash, he'd meet and greet, and calm down. You could train a distraction, click your tongue and give him boiled chicken, then click and treat before he sees a potential friend. However, the real reward is to go meet & greet ...so if you could find some friend co-conspirators, you might ask him to sit, while the conspirator comes to say hello... slowly controlling the distance and excitement, and rewarding with the meet and greet.
"Amygdala hijack" describes it perfectly. Until he hits about a level 7 or 8 (of 10), the words "walk with me" get his attention momentarily, especially with a treat offered, but they don't stop the escalation. This mornng we were on our front lawn, just returned from our walk, when a man walked by with a bassett. I tripped over the leash and before I could get my feet dug in, I'd been dragged halfway to the street. I'm really proud of Tucker's strength (I'm nearly 200 pounds), I just want him to start using it for good instead of evil.

You're right I can drop the leash and he'll do an excited play-dance around 'em. I only do that if I know the person, or if the other dog is off leash.

Are you close to River Legacy Park? Ever vist the dog park at Gateway park in Fort Worth?


I love Leslie McDevitt's "Look at That" game. Key is that you have to be able to work with the dog under his threshold, which could be inconvenient if you just want to go for a walk. But worth the time. There are also several physical helps (like a thundershirt or body wrap) which can help a dog stay under threshold. At a distance from your "bait" where the dog can still look away and take treats, as soon as the dog glances, tell him "Look at That!", click immediately and give a treat. If your dog is clicker savvy, the click will interrupt the "look" before it can turn into reaction. If your dog doesn't hear the click or can't take the treat, you are too close, move back (sometimes even a few feet can make a huge difference) and try again. Eventually, you'll see the dog intentionally glance at the target and then back at you. You are teaching a new behavior pattern, and also teaching that approaching dogs (or humans, or whatever) are no longer a threat or something interesting themselves, but an invitation to earn cookies from you. I've seen dogs learn this in just a few repetitions, and be able to decrease the "danger zone" quickly, if the handler is alert and has good timing. On the other hand, if you just allow the dog to stare, it will go less well.
I believe I can do this. Do I understand correctly, I command him to look at the other dog, and reward him for looking? Every glance at the target then back to me gets a reward?


Start with a tired dog, after lots of fetching, jogging, whatever. Use a park or field, walk the dog alongside another, start at a distance. Keep walking, giving the dog no choice but to go with you. Slowly get closer, keep a fast paced walk, over and over. Praise when he is walking, not pulling towards the other dog. Play leap frog, get closer still.even aggressive dogs get over this. I do this with DA and HA dogs. Or dogsa with poor leash manners. No need to even correct, and no need to give leash pops, the dog learns following you is better than being pulled.
Am I trying to keep his attention off the other dog, or just keep a steady forward momentum, praise when he's not walking and ignore the pulling?
 

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One thing about using aversive training for loose leash/heeling etc most everything after can be about the heeling and not the distractions. Curious about opinions on such thoughts..
 

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I think this is sound advice!

Also, please look into buying Brenda Aloff's book "Aggression in Dogs". It will show you step-by-step proven methods that will help you not only manage, but modify your dogs reactive behavior. It is worth the small investment, the book is a wealth of knowledge and will give you some invaluable tools for working with your pup.
The above is what I wrote in the other thread regarding PawzK9's advice.
Just a question, when the dog is NOT in a reactive state, how are you teaching him to heel?
 

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Butters would also get quite excited and start pulling when she sees another person or dog. THe only thing i've found that worked is I would crouch down, and call her name in a whisper, with a treat in my hand. As soon as she turns around to see what I'm doing, I praise her, and give her the treat. If she keeps looking at me after eating the treat, I praise and treat again.

I haven't had the chance to teach her to greet strangers politely but the other method is have a friend approach you, and every time he pulls, the friend must back up to the starting point. He will learn that only when he is sitting will the person approach him for a pet. He must be calmly sitting for the person to reach him, not excitedly sitting. This is hard to train when you don't have a friend to help you with this, but hopefully you can find friendly strangers who you can ask to not approach your dog for a pet until he's calmly sitting.
 

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Discussion Starter #5
The above is what I wrote in the other thread regarding PawzK9's advice.
Just a question, when the dog is NOT in a reactive state, how are you teaching him to heel?
thanks, I thought I might've missed one. I've never been too picky about "heel." I'd been using the words "with me" as an attention-getting device (works ok except when very distracted), so recently I began saying "walk with me," guiding him into position, and giving him a treat. Now he has to walk at my left side for some random distance before he gets the treat, or sometimes no treat. I do praise him while he's walking nicely. If he starts to move out in front, usually a gentle tug on the leash brings him back, or a soft-spoken verbal reminder, or I reach over & tap him on the flank. I've found that harsher measures like popping the leash, or raising my voice are not more effective than what I described. I don't even bother slipping the leash around his neck anymore. He's really a pleasure to walk with. Until the evil Tucker takes over.

Interestingly, we have a westie, Scout (about 4 years old), with us on the first 20 minutes of the walk -- I'd never tried to teach him to heel, or even loose-leash walking -- ever since about day two of working with Tucker, he walks perfectly at heel now without being asked. Just picked it up on his own. When Tucker gets wound up, Scout barks at me but I can quiet him with just a quick "shhhh".

Butters would also get quite excited and start pulling when she sees another person or dog. THe only thing i've found that worked is I would crouch down, and call her name in a whisper, with a treat in my hand. As soon as she turns around to see what I'm doing, I praise her, and give her the treat. If she keeps looking at me after eating the treat, I praise and treat again.

I haven't had the chance to teach her to greet strangers politely but the other method is have a friend approach you, and every time he pulls, the friend must back up to the starting point. He will learn that only when he is sitting will the person approach him for a pet. He must be calmly sitting for the person to reach him, not excitedly sitting. This is hard to train when you don't have a friend to help you with this, but hopefully you can find friendly strangers who you can ask to not approach your dog for a pet until he's calmly sitting.
Funny, both the dogs, if they're barking at squirrels or something in the backyard, I get their attention by whispering their names, when yelling at 'em has no effect.

He's been pulling to meet people as well, but that has improved dramatically just in the past few days. When we meet strangers on the street, I tell 'em he's in training, and would they mind ignoring him until he settles down.
 

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Sorry, I wasn't clear. Once he's in Amygdala Hijack, you can't easily train him. The idea is to train him with the tongue click or "walk with me" in a quiet area and then slowly with increasing distractions. When you're walking and you see a distraction, call him, "walk with me," before he escalates, and treat. Initially, he won't listen, but you may get a hesitation. And, in a few months, you may get better control.

You have to be alert with Ridgebacks, because they are sighthounds, very alert, quick, and energetic. They're an interesting contrast to Labs, who are very intelligent and observant, Or Pits who may be quick, but not as alert.

Rough example: 3 dogs walk into a bar ...:) A Ridgeback, a Lab, and a Pit are sleeping. A squirrel jumps out of a tree 100 yards away to sniff around a mailbox. The Ridgeback is up and running and 25 yards away by the time the Lab starts running. The Pit yawns then runs and passes the Lab. The squirrel freaks out, runs behind the mailbox, then hops on top. The Ridgeback following the squirrel but keeps running around the mailbox, now followed by the Pit. The Lab finally catches up, and runs the other direction around the mailbox to ambush the squirrel, who is watching safely from on top of the mailbox. The Lab looks up for some reason (smell?) and barks at the squirrel. The Pit barks, then looks up, then jumps up, nearly catching the squirrel, who runs down the mailbox and back to the tree. When the squirrel hits the ground, the Ridgeback just missing getting some tail-feathers, before the squirrel can run up the tree and chatter. The Pit does a standing jump, run up 10 feet into the tree, but the squirrel runs up another 20 feet to safety. No, I've never seen the three stooges together, but I have seen bits and pieces with individuals... to me the most amazing was the Lab, altho the instantaneous reactions of the Ridgeback of unbelievable. (And, everyone knows that Pits can climb trees:) )

BTW - I have been to Fort Woof. I live in SW Arlington, near the Parks Mall.
 

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Discussion Starter #7
Sorry, I wasn't clear. Once he's in Amygdala Hijack, you can't easily train him. The idea is to train him with the tongue click or "walk with me" in a quiet area and then slowly with increasing distractions. When you're walking and you see a distraction, call him, "walk with me," before he escalates, and treat. Initially, he won't listen, but you may get a hesitation. And, in a few months, you may get better control.

BTW - I have been to Fort Woof. I live in SW Arlington, near the Parks Mall.
That makes sense. Last couple days I've been taking advantage of quiet streets at 6am & 8pm to really reinforce the calm walking and it's gotten noticeably better in just that short time.

I also discovered that he tenses up in anticipation at the houses where we know dogs might be seen at a gate -- no doubt I'd been doing the same. That gives me opportunity to practice staying calm and keep his attention. A series of little successes I hope will accumulate.

I guess the poor little guy just wasn't getting enough direction from his "pack leader." ;)

I like your story. My guy could probably jump up onto the mailbox (he's good at jumping and seems to enjoy it). He is quick to notice animals, mostly cats & squirrels, but surprisingly not very vocal about 'em. I saw this pit at the dog park, he could make it at least 12 feet up a vertical tree trunk at a dead run.

I'm in NW Arl, near Lamar HS.
 

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I also discovered that he tenses up in anticipation at the houses where we know dogs might be seen at a gate -- no doubt I'd been doing the same. That gives me opportunity to practice staying calm and keep his attention. A series of little successes I hope will accumulate.

I guess the poor little guy just wasn't getting enough direction from his "pack leader." ;)
The best way to handle a dog that reacts on a walk is to teach and play the "Look At That (LAT)" game. If you have Leslie McDevitt’s book, it is very well explained there. Or do a Google search on "dog look at that game" for some web sites that cover basically the same thing. You'll find it explained in different ways but they are basically getting at the same thing. Read a few, pick the explanation that makes the most sense to you, and stick with it.

Here's a short version explanation that I like, but you should make your own choice.

Leslie McDevitt's LOOK AT THAT! Game

Leslie cautions that the exercises in her book are meant to be a progression. You should do them in order and not jump directly to something like the LAT game. In general, I'd agree with that.

However, I've found that you can teach the LAT game as an on-leash behavior almost anytime. On the other hand, if you want the off-leash behavior, you should follow the sequence she recommends, especially the focus exercises.
 

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Discussion Starter #9
thanks. Help me out here, I don't want to start this process without having confidence in it. Tell me you've done it and it works, that'll help a whole lot.

Usually the first clue I have that a target is in visual range, is when his head perks up. Sometimes he goes from level 0 to level 10 instantaneously.
 

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I've done something like that, but I have a Lab-mix, so he's not as alert. But I did lots of training in the yard where I had control over the distractions, then slowly went to places with incrementally more distractions. Plus, I had access to 3 parks - one in SW Arl down Cooper, the Dog Park in SE Arl near the dogpound (and library), and a neighborhood park that we walk to everyday. Anticipation is the key, but you need comparatively boring place initially.... maybe a schoolyard on the weekend and after hours?
 
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