While it's not always wise to put reactive dogs in class, it is sometimes productive. A well run class can actually function as a support group for dog owners and guardians. In this intensive, we will discuss how to organize such classes, what to teach and how to provide owner support. We will also discuss the differences between small and large dog reactivity, and why one class won’t work for the other type of dog!
Clinic with five dogs, assessing behavior modification needed. The session begins with narrative from each handler about the challenges she faces. Each of the handlers was given informal homework - more management in the home, work on attention, dependence or relaxation. In any given reactive dog class, there are as many challenges are there are dogs. Not one needs exactly the same work, nor should he or she.
The first dog we took out was Magdalena, a pit/basset mix with serious dog aggression issues. When she sees a dog, she fixates, and has done damage. Magdalena will be a 'managed dog' for all of her life. She is very intelligent and will work for people under controlled circumstances. However, she needs to increase her ability to focus on her person and away from other dogs.
Pongo is a Dalmatian mix. He is a very sweet, fearful dog. He appears to be spooky, and is most likely noise sensitive. His home situation is very changeable, since his mom runs a rescue organization. He needs a very predictable environment, with as many solid routines as possible, and enough down time daily to help him regroup. He should strongly believe that his owner is able to control the entire world, so a lot is riding on owner attitude and skills. Luckily, he found a good one!
Hollie is a robust Labrador, unreliable around other dogs. Her primary motivation appears to be anxiety/fear. If she feels that she has some power, she will use it by bullying other dogs, which could give the impression she is over-confident, rather than the reverse. She is sharp as a tack, and picks up exercises quickly. However, she doesn't seem able to keep on task. She needs work on sustained attention, as well as impulse control.
Ellie had a very difficult life as a young dog, and as a result, seems to see the world as potentially dangerous. She appears to know when and how she can take care of herself, and truly does not like other dogs. She has appointed herself family scout, and is constantly appraising her environment. She needs to be convinced that her handler is in control. Most important work is attentiveness to handler and control exercises with a distinct release (she tends to release herself)
Buddy is a highly anxious Clumber Spaniel. He lacked socialization when he was adopted, and his vocalizations have made it very difficult to exercise or work with him. He barked off and on through the class, but could calm down if things weren't too noisy. Buddy does not appear to be truly aggressive, although he is certainly worried about other dogs. The anxiety can be addressed through a variety of means, including slow, steady desensitization around things that worry him. Impulse control exercises are also very important.
Rory is a Havanese with generalized anxiety, which is mostly demonstrated by barking. She's good at anxious barking, demand barking and alarm barking! Owners have tried a variety of methods to control her vocalizations, with limited success. Suggestions include increased management around the house - limiting access to stimulating visuals - and differences in greetings with other dogs.
Week 3 - We worked with four dogs this week - two dogs from last time, Elliie and Hollie, and two new dogs - Cory and Archie. Ellie's mom, Nancy, had been working on pulling Ellie's attention away from what she sees as impending doom, specifically elongated eye contact with Nancy. Hollie's energy was on overload for a while (especially when we used the ball as reinforcement), but she eventually calmed down and also became more thoughtful and less anxious. Archie - a border collie/pit mix - has an awesome lock and load, so that was our major focus with her. Cory, the Boxer/Sharpei x, appears to be a dog who is trying to catch up on adulthood. He was found almost dead, and took ten months to physically rehabilitate.
We also discussed the usefulness of Scenting or Noseworks activity for reactive dogs, and how that easily can be injected into a class at a very basic level.