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!