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Turning Your Dog's Triggers into Gold

I speciliaze in dealing with reactive dogs. The ones that lunge and pull and scream at the end of the leash. And my number one tool doesn’t involve any force or corrections. In fact, I propose to you the idea that choking your dog out and constricting it’s airway might actually make him feel WORSE about the trigger, even if you are actually reducing the outburst. Punishment based methods may look, on the surface, like it is working because it may reduce the outburst, but you’re not changing the emotion there. If anything, you’re making the trigger cause tension on the leash and may be amping your dog up more for when he actually gets to meet a dog. Additionally, just telling your dog to knock it off isn’t giving the dog any actual information on what to do instead.

I introduce the Look At That game, developed by the amazing Leslie McDevitt. Basically the point here is to get your dog to look at the trigger, then disengage, look back to you, receive a reward, and then look back at the trigger. You’re breaking the pattern of escalating reactivity. You’re giving the dog a break from his trigger, then letting him take it in again. We’re rewarding little pieces of the puzzle- the little disengagements, the look towards you, and most importantly, you’re asking for an operant behavior in a highly emotional point in time. Through this, the trigger becomes calmer, and you’re changing emotions!

A lot of people seem to think training with food for reactivity is just showing the dog food and distracting it from the triggers. This isn’t the goal for me. I want the dog to actually be able to engage with the trigger, and then disengage. I want the dog to be able to take in, and rationally process their triggers. I want them out of fight, freeze, or flight, and into operational behaviors.

I am the first to admit this game can seem counter intuitive, you are not feeding the dog for reacting, you are feeding the dog for disengaging. Rewarded behavior will happen more often, it’s purely behavioral science.

The clicker is the main important aspect of this exercise for me for reactive dogs because I truly think it cuts through the noise, but the moment in time the dog disengages can also just be marked with a yes and then rewarded with a reinforcer (ie food, or for driver dogs- a tug).

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