Dog News

The Quest for Boring

by Nancy Freedman-Smith

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Those of you with nice dogs of sound mind and temperament will probably not relate to this post (but I really hope you’ll read it anyway). Those of you with dogs like my new (work in progress) dog Beck, or my last dog Charlee (epic bitch) will totally know where I am coming from.

You see, all some of us  want to do is walk down the freaking street with our dogs and have NOTHING happen.  No barking, no pulling  no lunging. Nothing. Nada. Zippo.  Is that too much to ask for?

Some of us, we will always be destined to walk our dogs in  Mr and Mrs Potato head mode.  Always keeping our eyes in front, side and the back of our heads on high alert to avoid  potential problems before they  happen.

When people hire me to help with their reactive dogs inevitably they all want to know “will my kid be like the the other kids?”

We trainers cannot really answer that question.  We have the knowledge and the science to help your dog be the most confident, well adjusted dog on the planet, but  the way the people carry out their training plans combined with the dog’s genetic make up equals  how successful training  will be.  Some dogs will never be dog park dogs, or soccer game dogs, or agility dogs, or dogs who can have other dogs over to their homes.  Sometimes we need to ask ourselves what exactly is in the best interest of the dog and put our wants for our dogs on hold.

How far our dog will come in training depends on two factors.

Nature and Nurture.  A dog who has had a poor start in life can usually over come  if his genes are sound and his parents had good temprements.  If your dog had a poor start and was born of snarky fearful parents then you may be on life time of management.

Boring! I am a big fan of boring!  Ah–to take a dog somewhere, anywhere and have nothing  happen.  You may not have thought of it quite this way before, but if you leave your house and your dog does not react to other dogs or people (or skateboards, or bikes, or motorcycles.  or cats, or squirrels, or kids, or a plastic bag in a tree, or a gnome in someone’s yard, or cars, or roller skaters, or scooters, or your elderly neighbor in their walker, or a wheelchair, or what have you) then your dog walking and training mission has been successful.

sleeping dogs

There is a lot of info out there on helping reactive dogs. What I find  lacking is the simple, hard and fast rule that everyone I ever work with seems to not adhere to . I have come to the conclusion that it is human nature to move too fast in training dogs with issues.  It is human nature to think that  “everything is fine now” and then put dogs in situations that are too much for them to handle.  The more you quest for boring the sooner your dog will be able to handle situations.

Nancy’s Rule for  reactive dog training.

1) Training should be BORING.  If you go out with your dog and nothing happens and your dog does not react,  you are on the right track.

That is it really, all you need is one rule.  We trainers use the word Under Threshhold a lot, and yes you guessed it, that is just a big word for  boring. Dogs are big on associations.  You need to help them make good associations with the world and the things in it.  Socializing your dog is all about  pairing something good with things your dogs  encounter.

If your dog is lunging at other dogs on leash, you need to start your training at a distance that your dog does not react.  This maybe a football field away. It all depends on your dog.  It is not taking a dog reactive dog to the dog park or signing them up for day care, or meeting strange dogs on the street just to “see what happens”.

So the next time your reactive dog passes near another dog. Keep walking (or make a u turn, or hand target, or jump behind the bushes even ! ).  Don’t take a chance on an unknown butt sniff.  Better yet, get yourself a training plan if you don’t already have one.

Reactive dogs are my speciality and I use everything in my training tool box to help a family and their dog.  Reactive  dogs require a lot of boring set ups where they encounter new dogs paired  with  good things.  Reactive dogs require a very high level of training in obedience. What are you waiting for?

Reactive dog 101–many reactive dogs are acting out of  self preservation. Many dogs think that the best defense is a good offense. Many dogs learn barking and lunging  drives the scary thing away.    Many people misread this as the dog protecting them. Our job is to help the dogs learn other ways of feeling safe.

I am seeing wonderful results using  BAT.  Info on Behavior Adjustment Training can be found here.  Really great information from Grisha Stewart.  BAT helps to teach the reactive dog that they have a choice, and  that choice to  retreat instead of going forward. BAT gives the dogs time and a safe space to gather information about other dogs. Did I mention that staging BAT set ups is boring?  🙂

Have you been working on classically conditioning on each of your dog’s triggers? For some dogs it is another dog staring at them, the jingle of a collar, a bark, a stranger reaching for them. For others it is dogs who come too close to their personal space, or near their fence line. Know your dogs. Write down your dog’s triggers, and then counter condition each and every one. It is slow and boring, but it works.

Info on Classical  conditioning  can be found here.  You have heard of Pavlov’s dog?  That was classical conditioning.  Click the link and find a few new tools for your reactive dog tool box via our friends at Dog Star Daily.  For some dogs seeing another dog is likened to us being pulled over by the cops.  You know that feeling you get when you see the blue bubble lights in the rear view mirror?   For many dogs life  is something like that.  We would need to be pulled over by the cops and have good things happen many many times to counter condition our bodies automatic response.   Maybe  cops should start pulling people over to give them chocolate.

And lastly, have you tried the super cool game Look At That?  It is like playing Eye Spy with your dog.    Look at that was developed by trainer Leslie McDervitt and is described in length in her excellent book Control Unleashed.   More info on LAT can be found here.

I know all too well that we cannot always avoid a situations, and with  dogs who are genetically predisposed to reactivity, some of us are  on a life time of management. The more we step up to manage our dogs before there is an issue, the more our dogs  will trust us to watch their backs, and in turn,  the less they will feel the need to (over) react.

If you are not sure how your dog will react to another dog, why push it?  If you haven’t read it already, check out Susanne Clothier’s “he just  wants to say Hi” . It is eye opening.

Hint…most dogs don’t really want to say hi.

Just tonight, I was walking my dog and a  foster dog and half a dozen times in 20 minutes   other people walking with dogs, saw my 2 dogs, and automatically started heading our way, even though I was clearly avoiding them.  Can someone explain that to me?

There will always be times when the unexpected happens, we owe it to our dogs to help them be the most confident, socialized dog they can be.  Proper positive reinforcing training can help.  Train and prepare your dog in advance and from a distance.

It is important to remember that we need to replace unwanted behaviors and not just suppress them.   You need to address you dog’s underlying emotional response before learning  can take place.  And that my friends is boring.  When done right. Nothing happens except that your dog does not misbehave.

When I go to see a behavior case the very thing first people want to do is show me how bad their dog is. Stop doing that people! From this moment forward set your dogs up for success! Don’t let them practise anything you don’t want them to excel at. Teach them what it is that your want them to do, for that is the secret to boring.

I love  boring so much in fact, that I  even have dreams of boring dog training. In my recurring  dream,  the dog just looks at another dog and looks away and yawns then lays down and falls asleep.

A girl can dream can’t she?