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leash training for reactivity/DA

Discussion in 'Training & Behavior' started by MMSmith, Mar 2, 2014.

  1. MMSmith

    MMSmith Good Dog

    I am really curious about other members' techniques and experiences with this.

    Rhys is nine months old and becoming increasingly more reactive/DA. I'm not sure I'd call it DA simply because he's never out of my control or able to get at another dog.

    We live in the city and unfortunately are surrounded by dogs that are confined to back yards or unsupervised. As a consequence, many of these dogs want to fence fight and put on a hell of a show, which only makes Rhys more reactive. When we are in controlled environments with well contained dogs (like dog shows, for example), he is excited but controllable, and the reactivity is almost non-existent.

    All his life I've used positive methods and have rarely even had to verbally correct him. He occasionally wears a choke chain, but I use it more like a fur saver than a training collar. He has also wore thin show chains and slip leads, and I obviously have more control over him with these. I walk him on either a flat collar or a harness. Using the harness and the flat collar repetitively I've taught him that it's acceptable to pull in the harness, but to walk with a loose leash using the flat collar.

    As a young puppy I could redirect his attention from troublemaking dogs with a "look" command and either a food or praise reward. Now his threshold is simply too low and he will not accept either or follow my command unless we are a good distance past the threat. Often I pick him up by the harness or make a quick slip lead out of his regular leash to muscle him away from the other dog. Really all I'm doing is avoidance behaviors, simply because I am unsure of the best training methods for this issue.

    I haven't corrected him because I understand that his behavior is quite normal. I also don't believe that correcting a young dog too harshly is appropriate for their well being. I will freely admit that I was too heavy handed with Henry when I first got him; it proved to be a major setback for an already soft dog and I'm loathe to do the same thing again. Rhys is a much more stable and confident dog, but still I am wary.

    What do you all recommend? How should I proceed? I'm considering a harsher training tool to correct him once he's in the zone, then immediately praise and treat once he starts looking at me and ignoring the other dog. I know it's unrealistic to expect him to perfectly ignore a raging butthole dog if he is truly DA, but I would like to be able to correct and redirect his attention to me. Avoiding the threats would be fine and dandy, but avoiding them altogether is proving impossible given the high dog volume here.

    True thanks if you read all this; I really want to do the right thing here and see the best results for both of us.
    Last edited by a moderator: Mar 2, 2014
  2. SoCalPitGal

    SoCalPitGal Little Dog

    I took two of my dogs to a professional trainer. One was just a puppy, he was very submissive. The other is my now adult female, she was about 3 years when she was at the trainer, we were there to learn to walk on the leash and not focus on other dogs while walking.

    The behavior may be normal, but it is not acceptable. I needed my dog to remain by my side, so I could keep control of her. I walk her with a prong collar. She was taught to heel with no distractions. Then she was taught to not pay attention to other dogs. As soon as she would loose focus of me, and focus on the barking dog, I would correct her, put her back in a heel, and give her lots of praise. Only you can tell how much correction you can give your dog, with out doing damage to the dogs spirit. I think that the praise or reward needs to be worth the correction. Walk your dog by a yard where he does not get as excited, small distraction. When you can successfully walk by there and not loose focus, move on to a bigger distraction. My dog is VERY dog aggressive. I always use the training collar when walking her. She behaves differently when being walked without the training collar. She has learned to not focus on other dogs while walking with the training collar. Just work on a good solid heel first. Somebody here in another thread uses the focus command. I have never done that, but you may want to learn about that as well.

    Be sure you learn how to correctly use the prong training collar so you don't damage your dogs throat.
    Last edited by a moderator: Mar 2, 2014
  3. Tiffseagles

    Tiffseagles GRCH Dog Premium Member

    Otis used to be very reactive. He is much better these days. I used two things.

    He learned to wear a halti. It gave me control over his head to help me show him where I wanted his attention if he looked at another dog for too long. I kept the leash short when there was another dog around - I did not want him lunging and potentially hurting himself. This was used strictly as a management tool. The ultimate goal for all prongs, haltis, chokes, etc. should be to transition to a flat collar (or in my case a martingale because I like the safety of them). Like you, I grab Otis' harness when we pass by another dog at flyball and he two foots it until we are in the clear.

    At the same time, we practiced walking around other dogs and passing other dogs on the street. The harshest correction he got was a collar correction on a flat collar and that was extremely rare - and it was used when he refused a command, not for reacting. His normal corrections were verbal "ehs" when his body position starting going forward or he made eye contact with the other dog. This interrupted him and he would refocus attention on me - if he didn't, I backed up.
    I taught him to look at me and be less reactive to other dogs by bringing his tug with me for a reward. If we had to pass by another dog on the street, I gave him his tug right before he hit threshold and tugged with him while we passed the other dog (if I used food, he would take it and then react once we got too close - he'd pass up food to react regardless of my rate of reinforcement). Luckily, his tug drive superceeds his desire to react, so this worked for us after some experimentation. Eventually other dogs became a predicter of tug and he started looking toward me instead of reacting. Then we got to the point where he was only getting the tug when there was a reactive dog or a dog right next to us. Now he will let a friendly dog pass by him - I just tell him to leave it. He still won't take shit from another dog that's reacting to him so I keep his tug handy for those situations. He's so good now that he was used as the distraction dog on Friday night at flyball practice so that other dogs/puppies could practice their leave-its. I still rarely let him greet other dogs on leash and I also use the tug more frequently at dog events because it's an exciting situation.
    Last edited by a moderator: Mar 2, 2014
  4. MMSmith

    MMSmith Good Dog

    All of this is great advice. Thank you. I especially like the tug suggestion; Rhys is a nutter about tug and I should have thought of it sooner :) I'm going to try the correction when he ignores me as well, then hopefully redirect to his tug.
  5. Leslie H

    Leslie H Good Dog

    I like Tiff's advice. Using a prong is very likely to increase his frustration. While you can shut a dog down w/a prong, it's just as likely you're firing them up. It sounds like it is hard for you to get to places where you can keep him under threshold. And at 9 months, intact, he's trying to figure out who he is, he may be simultaneously full of himself, and full of doubt.
  6. MMSmith

    MMSmith Good Dog

    Yes, I'm really thinking the prong is not the answer. He goes absolutely nuts for tugs that I make out of braided or knotted nylon rope; I need to make him another and surprise him with it on a walk. I agree with you that a lot of it may have to do with his age and sex; couple that with the fact that no single dog we pass on walks seems capable of ignoring him.

    I'll keep working on it. A lot I feel has to do with maturity, or lack thereof.
  7. Jazzy

    Jazzy GRCH Dog

    I agree with avoiding the prong. I have tried both methods w/ V.: a prong and corrections with a flat collar - completely unsuccessful and my own combination of LAT, BAT, and de-sensitization.

    She can be really good -as in we have gone to the pet store and "sat" in line with other dogs on all sides of us to get our picture taken; but she is definitely a "use it or lose it dog". The more she gets to get out and practice - the better she is; the less opportunity she has (winter) there is a regression and we have to sort of work back up to where we were.

    I love Tiff's suggestion of using the toy. I use treats w/ V. since she isn't toy motivated. She is funny because when she sees another dog, she will whip her head around to me like, "Do you see that? I see that. Pay up lady if you want to keep me quiet otherwise the fat dog sings!" I'm sure there is a more skillful way that doesn't involve paying her for good behavior...she's just REALLY reactive and I'm just not that good

    I have read somewhere that using high value items in this situation is not a good idea - because the items in themselves are excitement provoking....and that does make sense to me...I just haven't stumbled upon an acceptable alternative...

    One thing I have learned with V. is to respect her threshold and stop trying to "push it". For a long time I was like, "I want to get closer...we have to get CLOSER...we have to get as close as we can possibly be...because the sign of success is infinite closeness"...and then I realized that in real world applications...that was pretty pointless. She doesn't like being that close to strange dogs, it's uncomfortable for her...so generally I try to give her her distance whenever possible.

    With time and practice she has made great strides and generally is pretty good; but every once in awhile there is that perfect combination of elements...like passing the fence where the Scottie lives and not realizing that the Scottie is loose in the yard and having it charge the fence barking maniacally at V....and having her lose it like a psycho dog and needing to be picked up and dragged away. :blush:
  8. Tiffseagles

    Tiffseagles GRCH Dog Premium Member

    Good luck! Let us know how it goes!

    This is why I waited to use the tug for so long. I had read that excitement would lead to more reactivity. But after using tug as a reward, I still have an excited dog, but one that refouses on me. I think this happens because tug is interactive. Maybe I'm weird, but I like having a dog that is excited to interact with me and wants my attention.
  9. Jamielvsaustin

    Jamielvsaustin Good Dog

    This made me snort!

    MMS I think it's awesome that you're looking into the best way to handle this...I mean, I think you're pretty awesome regardless, but this will be a great thread for new comers and one we all can refer back to as well.

    I wonder if the tug option would work with Trooper. If we have tasty treats, 90% he's good to play the "Look at me" game...sometimes our timing is out of whack...either being our fault or not (sometimes loose dogs sneak up on us and he looks like a screaming, choking himself, slobber slinging mess). We've learned that we can not praise Trooper when we're out on walks. It puts him over like this *snap*...even if we dial down the praise. I feel bad, I want to reward him for his good behavior when it happens because I want to encourage him to do it but it's been difficult to find an acceptable middle ground with him. And, admittedly, it's very hard for me to give treats without praise. I've gotten to the point where I'm whispering (and I probably look like a fool). Definitely a work in progress for us!
  10. MMSmith

    MMSmith Good Dog

    Well thanks!! I'll make a new tug and let you all know how it goes :)
  11. Jazzy

    Jazzy GRCH Dog

    You cannot possibly look like more of a fool than when one is doing the B&T stuff and muttering a string of "xxxx xxxx xxxx xxxx" under your breath and passersby thing you are talking to yourself and saying "sex sex sex sex".

    THAT's special :grin:
  12. Beret

    Beret Bullyflop


    This video was HUGE for me. It really helped me to understand concepts that I had read about, but not seen in action. I found it to be a great starting point and something I still refer back to from time to time.

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