Preventing Reactivity

photo 3(1)

Preventing ReactivityThe newest addition to my household is Clark, a 9 month old Cardigan Welsh Corgi. As you probably already know, Corgis are quite vocal because of what they were bred for. While I understand this, I still want a thinking dog, not a reactive dog. Since getting to Austin, I’ve started taking Clark out to more areas, mainly shopping centers. Last Thursday, I took Clark to a local shopping center and I wanted to share my experiences of what happened and how I dealt with it.

Our Most Recent Adventure

We parked and started walking down the sidewalk along all the nice little shops. A few people walked by, some mentioned how cute he was. Clark was fascinated by all the smelly pillars we passed. I let him take his time and explore the environment. We came across some kids and I wasn’t sure how he would react. When he was younger, he would occasionally bark at them because he got frustrated about not being able to go say hi. He grew up with kids in the home so he was very familiar with them. This time he did beautifully. He let two ~8yr old boys come up and touch him all over. As we walked away, one boy turned around to ask us what his name was. He was thrilled to have met Clark. It was relieving to see Clark handle his invasion of space like a pro and I could tell he was happy to have met the kids since it had been a while. His interactions increased my confidence in being able to use him as a Therapy and Humane Ed dog in the future.

photo 3(1)After the kid encounter, we kept on walking down the shopping center and crossed to the other side. Eventually we walked around the corner of a shop and there was a dog. Luckily, the woman had control over it and immediately turned toward her dog and asked for a sit and fed her dog treats. Unluckily, a Maltese on a flexi leash was right behind her. Clark was immediately put over threshold and let out a few barks, but continued to take treats. I didn’t ask for attention or anything. I just focused on delivering treats to the ground right in front of him. Fortunately, neither dog approached us. Over the past few months I’ve learned a little more about the meanings behind his barks. While he is loud, I noticed these barks were not caused by fear, but rather they were him processing a “Oh look something new!” reaction. I’m confident that with a little more practice, he’ll learn that seeing other dogs is not a big deal and that he can ignore them just like he has learned to pass by people who aren’t interested in him. My goal right now is to make sure he creates positive associations with other dogs while out on walks.

photo 2(1)What a change since I crossed over! I was talking to my fiance about how correcting the behavior, which I would have done in the past, would make things much worse and how it would make sure the problem stuck around. I see now, quite clearly, how corrections would make Clark go from “Oh look something new!” to “Oh crap! You’d better stay away!” very easily. Now, I focus on making sure it’s as good an event as possible by jack-potting when he sees another dog – with the goal being that I will change his emotional response which will change his outward reaction. He did it in training class so now it’s time to do it while out on walks!

Desensitization

While it would probably be easy to try to flood him by taking him to a busy park with lots of dogs, I want to avoid that. Why? Because the worse thing that could happen would be that it could make his response to dogs even worse and I am not willing to take the chance.

We will work on his reaction to dog noises a little more at home. If he hears keys jingle, he thinks it’s a dog collar jingling and barks so this is where we will start – desensitization to doggy noises is our priority. Then we’ll work around the neighborhood with dogs behind fences, and then we’ll go out to more dog friendly areas. Luckily, Clark is a super quick learner and he never ceases to amaze me. He forms associations *super* fast which is great when you know (or think you know) what you’re doing! Now, to find a treat that he will die for….. (He’s not super food motivated!)