Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Fozzie leash walk success

The other day, Fozzie and I had a mini victory in our long-term learning experience of working with his leash reactivity.

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!


  1. I'm so happy for you! Sounds like you handled the situation wonderfully and nice that you recognize all the steps you took and why so you can repeat in the future. Hurray, Fozzie!

  2. Yep, perfect job on your part. This is a perfect post for me to send along to all my clients. Hope you don't mind.....


  3. We are battling a similar issue right now. Our problem is, if we turn around, we'll likely run into another dog! I don't get how after a year and a half of leash bliss, we've turned our focus to attack mode.

    We've been working on focus, but it is a slow go...this post gives me drive to keep on plugging away with the training!

  4. Hi Kirsten, my mom and dad are still working with my brother Owen, who is fear-based reactive. He'll tense and lunge. Last weekend, an exceptionally friendly and unafraid cat wanted to meet Owen. With him lunging and pulling the cat kept coming. Finally my dad ended up actually picking Owen up and walking away. That's okay because later the cat rubbed up against me and it was all good.

  5. Congrats! I'm going to have to try this technique with Sadie - her reactivity is excitement-based as well. I've tried walking far behind another dog but that just gets her more and more ramped up trying to reach them. Thanks for the idea!

  6. This strategy really does work. The problem is keeping mom calm
    Benny & Lily

  7. Great strategy! My dogs react from excitement too, I don't ever forsee a time when we will quietly walk by a dog....

  8. YAY! Behavioral Adjustment Training ftw! Congratulations, that's super exciting for you and Fozzie both.

  9. What a great story! Congratulations! I had never heard of that technique, but it makes perfect sense and it seemed to work for you. How great you are so patient and willing to really help Fozzie be the best he can be! Keep up the great work and hope his progress continues!

    Suka and K

  10. Great Job!!! Mom has been learning that with some of the fosters. It does work, she just needs to remember to use it and she is getting better.
    Ernie, and the pack

  11. Great job! I used to stop Finn when we saw another dog, but then I thought that was making the whole situation worse, I figured better to get it over with. We're still learning too, but it feels great to make large strides!

  12. Thanks for all your great comments everyone!

    Bert, you are welcome to share with clients! I hope it is helpful to them.

    Skinny, that is a tough one. I find that with Lamar, who is fear reactive, I can have some success even in high traffic areas if I have really good treats with me. Is your dog fear reactive? I made a kind of outline of what I do with fear reactivity here http://peacefuldog.blogspot.com/2011/04/sensible-leash-walking.html

    Ximena, I knew it had a name! I've read about it but never really made a system of trying it, but it must have just percolated through my consciousness until at some point I was able to remember it when I needed it!

  13. It sounds like it worked wonderfully for you! I love it when circumstances just work out perfectly for us!

  14. You have to take those small victories

    Stop on by for a visit

  15. You are a patient and kind trainer. It just takes time and practice.

    Nina, Myshka, Sasha, Betsy, Lucy, Phoebe and Lily

  16. fantastic breakthrough!!!!!

    i learned recently too that keepign kiba moving instead of stopping to regroup or redirect his attention makes him seem more calm, or at least allows him to regain control of himself quicker.

    Yay fozzie!

  17. I need to start working more regularly with Alfred on his excitement on leash....let me know how your progress is coming!


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