Hi guys! Today I want to tackle a really common training myth that I hear from people all the time (including this week) - one of the hardest things for people with reactive dogs to understand. And that is that reactivity is not a behaviour. Why this is something I want to address is because it really affects how we approach reactivity training.
The biggest issue people have with reactivity training is what to do when the dog goes over threshold, and has a reaction toward the trigger. Most people (even those very familiar with positive reinforcement) see this as undesirable behaviour & therefore they either choose to ignore it, or punish it in hopes that this would cause the behaviour to extinct or decrease. They also believe that if you were to feed the dog in this situation, that this would REINFORCE the behaviour - and therefore cause it to increase in frequency. But that isn't how it works when you are dealing with reactivity - because reactivity comes from emotion, mostly fear. You cannot reinforce or punish fear. In these situations when our dogs go over threshold, training is on a time out. All we can do in these moments is make our dogs feel better - and giving treats is a great way to do that.
I recorded a YouTube video on this. This is my first training video, so bear with me as it is a little bit rambly.. but the information is there. I go into detail on this topic, and hopefully I can help you have that Aha! moment if you, like I once was, are struggling to grasp this concept.
I know it is embarrassing, frustrating, stressful, etc, when our dogs go over threshold - but we need to take a step back and remember that this comes from a place of emotion, not behaviour. Our dogs are not thinking logically, and therefore training can't happen. We simply need to make our dogs feel better in this situation, otherwise we run the risk of the fear getting even worse. If we punish our dogs in this situation, we are adding salt to the wound! Making a scary situation even worse. If we ignore the behaviour, we aren't doing anything to help our dog. But if we feed our dogs, give praise, carry them, jog away while singing to them - we are doing our best job to make them feel safer in that moment. To make that fear they feel a little less raw & scary.
The goal here is to NEVER go over threshold, and to do training at a distance where the dog still has the ability to process things logically. But this is important to know and to understand for those inevitable times where our dogs do over threshold. Be kind. Be patient. Be generous with treats. Your dog needs you to advocate for them.
Remember, it's a dog's world - we're just living in it!
Space in an urban environment, I know I am asking for a lot here. But I wanted to post today as a plea to the public to be mindful of other dog owners/walkers and to take a few extra moments to give some space if needed.
So, you have a friendly dog that loves all other dogs? That is SO GREAT! Seriously, I am very happy for you. However, that doesn't mean that other dogs want to say hi to your dog. It isn't anything personal, but some dogs just need more space. And living in close quarters (like we do here in Liberty Village, Toronto) can be quite stressful to our dogs - so I wanted to urge you all to take an extra few moments on your walks to be mindful of this, and to check your surroundings and slow down if you see a stressed out dog.
Just because you see a dog walker with a group, don't assume the dogs are good with new & unfamiliar dogs
I get it, you see a group of dogs so you would assume it would be no big deal for your dog to say hi. But it is VERY hard to keep a group of 3/4/5/6 dogs under control when a new dog comes and says hi. Even if all 6 are super friendly, we get tangling & dogs jumping over or on each other and it can turn into too much excitement too fast. On the opposite end, just because a dog is walking with other dogs doesn't mean that a new dog wouldn't scare them. The dogs know that when they are with me, the friends I have are safe. But outsiders are scary! Again, this is NOTHING personal. Trust me I would love to chat with you and your dog if it was just me (or 1 or 2 friendly dogs) but this is THEIR walk, so if I ever try to cross the street to get some space - know it isn't personal... and I would very much appreciate the extra patience if it takes us a second!
A personal example:
My Sadie lady, she is doing INCREDIBLE with her reactivity training - but there are some situations where we get trapped, and if people could just slow down and give us space the reactivity could be reduced.
We were in an elevator, and got to the ground floor and wanted to exit. There was a dog with their handler waiting to enter and go up. I said "sorry my dog is a little reactive". I could have been more bold and asked for space, for sure. But as I was trying to exit this handler came into the elevator (??) why!?!?! Why couldn't this person just take literally 10 extra seconds maximum to take a few steps back and let us pass with the space we needed. Instead Sadie loses her mind and is barking/snapping/REALLY UPSET. It leaves me feeling like a failure, put Sadie in a scary situation, and put that dog in a potentially dangerous situation. This all could have been avoided with 3 or 4 steps backwards, and just taking a few extra mindful moments.
If Someone Asks for Space - Don't Be Offended
Like I said, I am so happy for you that you have a non reactive dog. However, I do, and I want to be her advocate. Please make this easy for me by not arguing back when I say that Sadie doesn't want to say hi, or when I jog to gain distance or cross the street. So many people think I am a bitch because of this, but I am the opposite. I care so much about my baby's wellbeing that I am willing to be perceived like this. But I really wish this wasn't the case. I wish people would see Sadie tense up, see me trying to get some space, and think "oh this dog needs space! I will allow them that 10 seconds MAX that they need to get to a safe space for this dog." Why can't this be the norm? The only people who ever seem to give space are those who also have reactive dogs (and I want to hug the crap out of them), or some great dog walkers (not all dog walkers are created equal). But I regress, this is NOT personal. Please do not take it as such. Just move on!
Let's Slow Down as a Society
I am guilty of this, always feeling like I need to finish whatever I am doing quickly. But one of the best things that my dogs have taught me is to slow down and to live in the moment. When walking your dogs, don't think about all the work you need to do or how you need to get dinner started, just enjoy the walk WITH your dog. Watch your surroundings, slow down and really just take it all in. And if you see a dog who doesn't want to say hi, take a second & let them pass or just pause for the 30 seconds they need to add some space.
It is a Dog's World after all, let's give them the time and the space they deserve.
Today's post is largely brought to you by Frankie, and his never ending love for Kongs.
First things first - what is a kong? It is a funny looking dog toy, that can be stuffed with treats/food. It can be used for enrichment, play, chewing, and soothing for our dogs. Most people use them as "pacifiers" when leaving for work - I definitely fall into that category. Kongs can help puppies with crate training, and make leaving our dogs less sad (for both us, and them!)
When most people think of KONGS, they think of Peanut Butter. However, you can do soooo much with kongs - and I thought it might be fun to give some recipes and tips to make the kong experience more enjoyable for your dogs.
Variety is the spice of life, and that applies to dogs too. Our dogs love choices, and they love having their little adorable palates surprised. Kongs are an excellent way to excite our dogs, and give them the variety that they so desire.
Tip #1: Freezing Lickable Kongs
A common problem people face when using kongs is that their dogs finish them too fast. They throw in a lining of peanut butter - and the dog licks it up in approximately 10 seconds flat. This is when you want to enlist the help of our good friend, the freezer. Prepare a few kongs in advance (night before, over the weekend) with yummy lickable ingredients (suggestions below) and then pop it in the freezer. This way when we give it to our dogs, it is now a pupsicle - and will last much longer. By making it last longer, our dogs will be working harder and being enriched longer. They also will likely become more relaxed and soothed, as licking can be a very relaxing behaviour for dogs.
Yummy things to stuff in your kongs:
Tip #2: Stuff Them With Hard to Reach Treats!
This is my go to Kong method! Combined with a little yogurt or Peanut Barker.
Get a kong, get a cookie, and shove that cookie into the Kong. For beginners - allow a little bit of the cookie to peak out so your dog doesn't get frustrated and give up. But for the kong pros like Frankie, shove that cookie in! The dog will be busy for a while with this method - they have to learn to pick the kong up and toss it around. Or they just lick and lick at the cookie until it melts and they are able to get at it little by little.
You do not want to stuff anything that your dog cannot chew quickly. For example, rawhides or bully sticks. You should always supervise when your dogs have long lasting chew sticks such as those. However, cookies, greenies, kibbles, and other crunchy yummies can turn kong time into a long lasting puzzle event!
Tip #3: You Don't Need to Fully Stuff the Kongs!
A lot of people question me when I tell them to give their dogs a bunch of kongs, because they think it is a LOT of peanut butter. So I want to make it clear that you do not need to fully stuff the kong - lining the insides with your yummy lickable treat is good if you are using the kong as a snack/pacifier. As I mentioned, my go to is a combo of wet/lickable ingredients, and a cookie stuffed in! This way my dog isn't getting too much of the wet stuff, but it makes the kong last really long!
You can also mix in kibble with the wet ingredient, so in a bowl mix together a portion of their breakfast/dinner with your wet ingredient. Stuff the kong, then freeze! This is a fun texture for your dog, every once in a while they will feel a crunchy kibble and work hard to get at it! Alternatively, you can pack the bottom half of the kong with kibbles - and seal it with your wet ingredient. Then freeze. Now your dog has a jackpot at the end of the tunnel!
Tip #4: Experiment!
Find what your dog loves! Maybe you have a yogurt monster, or maybe you have a dog that hatesssssss peanut butter (it happens, rarely). Maybe your dog doesn't enjoy when the puzzle is too hard, so you have to leave the treat sticking out half way. Test it out, use this as a way to bond with your dog!
Otis, for example, is a yogurt monster.
Whereas Nicky, Sadie, and Frank will do anything for their Peanut Barker
Tip #5: GET TO IT!!!!!!!!
Embrace the Kong! Have fun, and please share any recipes that your dog loves! We are always trying new things here. Remember, it's a Dog's World - we're just living in it!