It’s been some time since we finished our online “Reactive Dog Management” class, but we have worked at our own pace and are still practicing some of the commands we learned.
*Disclaimer: I am not a dog trainer. I am simply sharing some things we’ve learned that have worked for us. For serious behavioral issues with your own dogs, you may need to hire a professional.
We started out working indoors, and then as the weather improved some, moved it out into the dog pen. Muddy conditions made it difficult to move it into the yard or onto the road, but we finally got a chance to do so last week. While working with Luke alone might have been more ideal, Cricket really wanted a walk too so I decided we’d have a walk and train all at once and just do the best we could. Since I walk Cricket on our hands-free leash, that at least gives me one hand free for handing out treats as needed.
We learned to use a few different tools in our class. Some were new to us, and some we had already worked on but just found different ways to refine and use them as we needed. I highly recommend the class I took from Fenzi Dog Sports Academy. What we learned was not just for walking, but for managing reactions at home, in a crate, and in the car as well. I already wrote about some of the mat work we’ve done, and that is still coming along well.
For outdoor use, the key to management is distracting your reactive/shy dog from something that might upset him/her. We didn’t learn ways to make them less fearful, but how to help create distance from a situation that they may not like.
We train with treats, but we also want to try to be able to get them to follow us without having a treat; since situations can make it difficult sometimes to get a treat if something comes up suddenly. This included the following commands:
- “Touch”. Hand touch. Distraction by having them touch your hand with their nose, in different positions. Luke’s “here” command also involves an outstretched hand so this one has dual use for us. Recall is on the list to practice in this class too.
- “With Me” Side walking and sits. Having your dog follow you at your side (similar to “heel”) and/or sit when you might need get them turned away from something that could upset them.
- “Let’s Go” Tying in with the above is speed and direction changes.
- “Get It” – this command was taught as “find it” but since we already use that for nose works we had to come up with something different. Treats are tossed on the ground and they are distracted finding them.
- “Up” – Getting them to put their paws or whole bodies on top of something (rocks, walls, etc.) where you can then block them from view of something you don’t want them to see. We already had worked on this command with Luke, using “Paws Up” or “Up Up (all the way up)”. Since there might not always be something handy for them (especially where we walk on rural roads) to get up on, I trained Luke to do this on our chain link fence in the yard, and then on my arm. It is fun to do some improvising when you’re training, suiting things to what your own situation might be.
- “Leave it”. If you need to get out of a situation quickly, you have to be sure that you can distract your dog from something they might have their nose or attention on. In Luke’s case, it’s not just that, but getting him to stop eating grass! We use this around the house a lot too, if he’s barking at someone or something and we want him to stop. He still needs more work, but he does well at this most of the time.
For our first time out walking, my main goal was to find out which commands he did well at, and which he needed more work on. Cricket is easy. Since she’s older, she walks fairly well, and all she needs to hear is the rustle of the treat bag or her name, and I get her attention. They both also know the command “watch me” quite well so I use that too.
Luke is more difficult. When we start out on a walk, he is so focused on smelling things that pretty much nothing I say gets his attention. We just walk for a bit until he’s settled down some and then we can start working on things. I found he is doing quite well with both “With me” and “Let’s go”. We didn’t try “get it” because with both dogs that could have just caused them to squabble over any treat I threw. I didn’t try “Up up” with him either, simply because I forgot that one!
I also found that I need to work on not just saying his name all the time. That might work for Cricket but it doesn’t for him. Of note also: we were taught in the class to keep things lighthearted and fun. I really have to focus on this, since I’m used to issuing commands in a firm voice, and that’s a hard habit to break!
Overall, I was pleased with how he did once I could get his focus. Taking him out solo at times will mostly likely help as well. Once our weather is better, I’ll have more time for separate walks at times.
I feel very optimistic about what we’ve learned, and that more practice will continue our progress. The truth is, we don’t see a lot when we mostly walk in our own neighborhood or on our land. However, you never know what might be around the next corner and feeling more prepared for that helps me to relax on our walks as well! Luke is not necessarily the only one that’s reactive. 🙂