by Anne-Marie Mayes
In my practice I work with a lot of reactive dogs and their families. Each situation is different and there is no one recipe for changing reactive behaviour, but I would like to give you a look into what one real-life case looks like.
I would like to share with everyone about my relationship with Kooter and how we meet. Duke (Kooter’s Dad) booked a consultation with me as Kooter was having issues with barking and lunging at other dogs and they wanted to take him camping. During our first meeting Duke and I discussed Kooter’s reasons for his reactivity. He would bark and lunge at the window or while outside, when he saw birds or chipmunks, people or dogs. Duke and Kooter live in the country so Kooter has not been walked a lot in town around traffic, people and dogs. I sent Duke home with some homework to walk Kooter around his house and work on leash skills such as attention outside as well as loose leash walking and u turns.
We then scheduled to meet again a few weeks later to work on walking around dogs. When they arrived, Kooter was quite barky at the crows and birds outside. At this point he was almost over threshold before we had even introduced another dog. When working with dogs, you always need to have an alternative plan for when the environment is too challenging. Therefore, I decided that we would work on new tricks/behaviour inside the training space where he could focus.
Over the next several weeks we alternated between training and playing inside, and practicing seeing and working around the birds and dogs. By this point, Kooter was doing well enough that we could have him join Reactive Dog group classes. These classes are made up of dogs that are reactive while on leash when seeing or approaching other people and/or dogs. This set of classes was being offered at Lilac grove. During our first class Kooter was distracted and focusing on the ducks and horses that lived on the property. The environment was too overstimulating for him, so we decided that we would continue to practice at my facility.
Keeping in mind that Duke’s goal was to bring Kooter camping, we worked on setting up situations that they might experience at camp. We continued to work with Frolic, Maui and B, with following and parallel walking. We also worked with Kooter on being able to walk by a dog if they were not moving, but Kooter was still struggling with face-to-face approaches. Kooter did not need to learn to greet new dogs; he just needed to be able to see them, and calmly move away from them. He also needed to learn how to ignore birds and squirrels.
Duke and I decided to have Kooter try Calming Care (a probiotic supplement) to see if we could decrease his anxiety when approaching or passing by dogs. We started to notice that Kooter was calmer when seeing dogs and Duke was able to get his attention quicker and redirect him more easily. So we decided to meet in town and walk around a neighbourhood, practicing in the real world. We have been able to walk by dogs barking in the window or in the front yard. We have also been able to walk away from seeing another dog and walking face-to-face with a few turns and increased distance. We have seen a huge improvement from that first meeting where being outside with birds nearby was too much to handle. Duke and Kooter’s journey continues everyday and they continue to make progress with the camping season slowly approaching.