Quinn’s journey from reactive to 99% nonreactive

My story with Quinn and. what I learned from it – it’s rough information, not a well edited piece of writing. It’s more “thinking out loud”Quinn is one of the chihuahuas that came into my life when I did LB. He showed a high level of defensive aggression to other dogs when they would suddenly appear in his environment. He would run over to the dog and bark and nip if not on lead, if on lead he would lunge and bark. The dog didn’t have to be close or paying any attention to him. While doing LB, we didn’t often see other dogs – just to busy doing the show. Once we finished (he would have been about 18months) I began to work on this issue as a priority.

  1. He was never walked on lead with his brother, they would set each other off. He could walk with any of my other dogs, they were all fine. Mainly though I worked on this one on one.
  2. For 2 weeks Quinn got food at no other time than when we were counter conditioning. CONTINGENCY is a very powerful aspect of associative learning. So for that time Quinn learned not only “Good food comes when there is a monster” but also “food never comes when there is not a monster”.
  3. I never, ever let my dogs meet other dogs on lead. So, he learns he is safe. This is VITAL for reactive dogs.
  4. During this time I was doing beginner NW classes with him (chicken in a box). I noticed quickly that at nose work the amount of reactive outbursts was very low and when they did happen, the duration and intensity were much reduced.
  5. I began to (this is naughty because it was against the class rules) try and set it up so that Quinn would see a dog as he went into have his turn. His ability to ignore the other dog and focus on getting inside to search was incredible.
  6. I began to teach a verbal cue (“find it”) and a visual cue (right arm extended and finger point) to put to the behaviour of going and sniffing in the area I point to. I wanted to replace hand feeding him when he saw other dogs to cueing him to sniff.
  7. This is where I began to see a huge change in his ability to deal with other dogs in his environment. If they came up quickly or rudely, he would go off.
  8. I utilised dogs in front yards. They are controllable (can’t get to him). This allows him to feel safer to start with and provided me a chance to do reps.
  9. This is when I realised Quinn didn’t have to SEE the dog for his body to react to the knowledge that when we were on a walk he was coming up to a house with a dog in the front yard. I knew this because his body would display physiological changes indicating it was preparing for “fight or flight”.
  10. stiff movement
  11. intensity increase in pulling
  12. pilo-errection
  13. bum tightening
  14. muscle tension increase
  15. guttural noise
  16. I also understand that lots of current research shows us that the brain doesn’t know the difference between real and imagined, so I began to understand that Quinn didn’t actually need to SEE the dog, as long as I saw behavioural responses that gave me the information that he “perceived” the dog (real or imagined), I could begin counter conditioning. This was huge for me.
  17. This led me to understand that when we are working with reactive dogs we can use sound and smell for our behaviour modification program. I have always believed that the dog has to SEE the other dog before we deliver the food. This is to ensure temporal conditioning occurs and we are not training the dog to “expect to see a dog because we are reaching into the food pouch”. So I began throwing food when Quinn sniffed where a dog had peed or pooped, when we heard a dog bark etc.
  18. Once I had a goods strong history of no reactivity and passing and seeing dogs in lots of different situations, I began to show him that when he saw another dog coming towards us on lead, we would move up a driveway or get some distance and I would ask him to sit facing the way the dog was coming – i.e.he would be able to watch the dog the whole time. I HATE the method of telling a dog to look a the handler to attempt to stop them reacting. If you were terrified of snakes and one was coming towards us on a bush path, making you look at me would not make you feel better…
  19. By this point I think we had really reduced Quinn’s reactivity to zero, with the only occurrences happening if an owner was a moron and allowed their dog to come into our space.
  20. If we had a sudden meeting with a dog during this process I would still toss food on the ground and if he couldn’t hunt for it, I would get him out of there as quickly as I could, usually stand behind a bush or tree or something until the dog had gone, then I would take Quinn to where the dog had been and let him sniff (always great if the dog had pissed) and then give him the cue to find it and gesture towards the food. If the other dog had eaten some of the food that was extra good because there was more of the other dogs smell there, so some chance of positive association building. In those shit situations, I just make the best out of it that I can.
  21. Quinn also has had some conditioning work done to build positive CER’s with some rocks and I will always have one of them in my pouch, and I can ask him to find his rock and toss it out, in the same way that I do with the food. The rock has a lot of conditioning – specifically it is a stimulus that calms him. The photo is him with his “potato rock” at a commercial we shot last year where he had to work with several other unknown dogs.

So, from writing this, nose work was huge in helping Q with his reactivity in these ways:

  • Classes, perceiving (seeing, smelling, hearing) dogs as he went to have his turn.
  • Putting hunting on a very strong cue and delivering the food for perceiving another dog to allow hum to hunt for it, rather than just give it by hand. I believe this also helps because it is a natural behaviour – so for Quinn and the other dog, it ‘makes sense’ and is understood to some degree as a “non threatening behaviour”
  • He will often get to come into class and search for left overs after the classes, so expect there is lots of dog smells there for conditioning opportunities as well.

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