Thursday, August 18, 2011

More Fozzie Reactivity practice

My boys made me so proud the other night with their new skills around other dogs! 

We were walking along our usual route, a well-traveled path with dog walkers, bicyclists, joggers, parents and kids. With my growing confidence and new tools for working with Fozzie and Lamar in these situations, I have been using this path more of late, rather than always opting for the road less traveled for the sake of avoiding reactivity nightmares. 

Many would say--and I would agree--that reactive dogs should be walked singly and that combining two reactive dogs on one walk is a recipe for disaster. But with working a nonprofit job, commuting by bike, seeing training and grooming clients, volunteering at the shelter, helping a non-native-English-speaking boyfriend through graduate school, maintaining a dog blog, and trying to play mbira regularly, I just don't feel I have time to go on two separate walks! I think many of my training students have the same struggle, so I endeavor to find methods that are practical and realistic for us busy multiple-reactive-dog owners. 

What we do now is walk Fozzie on his head halter attached by one very lightweight leash, then his Easy Walk harness on his heavy-duty leash. We attach Lamar by a leash that goes around my waist.

Since Lamar's and Fozzie's reactive behaviors are different--and a great explanation of the difference between fear reactivity and arousal reactivity is over at the excellent Success Just Clicks blog--we incorporate a mix of the methods we've learned when we see another dog.

Lamar is a classic fear-reactive dog, and we have worked extensively on counterconditioning so we use the same protocol we have used all along: 
  1. See other dog
  2. Say Lamar's name in a happy voice
  3. When Lamar looks at me, stuff his mouth with fantastic treats while praising him like crazy
We've done this enough that Lamar is able to give me his attention even when another dog is at fairly close range.

Fozzie has no interest in any amount of deliciousness 
Fozzie, on the other hand, loses all interest in treats when he sees another dog even at a distance. So we are trying to get closer to the example set by Dr. Sophia Yin in her video on reactive dog leash training. 

We take a few steps away, backward, keep talking to Fozzie in a happy voice, and try to direct his energy away from the trigger. Lots of movement, lots of action to keep his attention. Use head halter if necessary to direct head away from trigger.

On our most recent walk, we saw an approaching dog from some distance, and Lamar looked immediately at me for his treat. As I stuffed his mouth, I exerted pressure on Fozzie's head halter with my other hand as I backed us all away from the approaching dog. Fozzie is getting used to the fact that he won't get anywhere with lunging and yodeling, so he turned toward me and remained calm! Still not calm enough to eat a treat, but no conniption fit. 

I would like to use the head halter less, and when I have time to do single-dog walks, Fozzie is much calmer and more able to respond to treats and redirection.   For those who have time, I certainly recommend this! And perhaps with refinement, we will find ways to phase out the negative reinforcer even under less than ideal multiple-dog scenarios. 


  1. I commend you for taking both dogs! I cannot imagine how that works with a leash tied around your waist!

    Delilah has been reactive in the past but is totally fine around other dogs when off leash. So I always take them to an area when they can be off leash. At least until I get a better plan. :-)

  2. Wow, are you just one person to be able to accomplish so much?

    I am so lucky that three of my dogs do everything that the alpha Poodle tells them to do on our walks. Otherwise walking four dogs would not be possible.


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