We were walking along our block, and I saw up ahead my neighbor walking toward us with her very calm lab. She was walking slowly and talking on her cell phone, which was actually perfect for our purposes.
I saw Fozzie start to tense, whine, and begin to launch and I automatically started to gather up his leash so I could hold on tight while I just got past them as fast as possible, but then I decided no--we were going to try a different way.
So while we were still about 40 feet away, I said a neutral "Whoops! OK, here we go!" as I turned around and walked rapidly with Fozzie in the opposite direction.
He was still tense, but directed his attention away from the other dog and to his sniffing and the birds and the squirrels and everything else in his environment
pretty quickly. When I saw this, I turned back around and directed him to look at my neighbor's dog, who was still about the same distance away.
A little less ready to launch this time, but still very tense. So "Whoops!" again and we turned around and walked the other way. Got just a few steps away before I saw more calmness, then repeat. This time I stroked Fozzie gently telling him how good he was as he looked at the other dog. A bit of tension still, so around we went.
One last time we turned around and walked toward my neighbor, and this time Fozzie looked at the other dog, tensed and whined a little, but then went back to his sniffing and we were able to sail on by and continue on our walk.
Lots of praise and love to our man this time--I learned long ago that Fozzie is way too stimulated on walks to eat treats most of the time--and a thumbs up to my neighbor, who knows about my ongoing struggle and is blessedly sympathetic.
I'm not going to hang out my shingle and quit my day job just yet, but I do think this was a bit of a breakthrough. It was all stuff I already knew, but the particular juxtaposition of circumstances and techniques I think set us up for success to a degree we don't often get. What I think really worked:
- Giving Fozzie space from the other dog immediately, and having him direct his energy in the opposite direction
- Keeping him moving rather than making him stop when he's all charged up
- Turning back towards the other dog as a reward for calmness. Since I'm pretty sure Fozzie's reactivity is excitement-based rather than fear-based, this makes good sense.
A strategy for long-term success, or a fluke? We'll have to keep practicing!