Dog-Dog Reactivity – Treatment Summary

The seminar in Seattle was great fun, lots of good folks  and excellent questions from the audience. In the morning I talked about treatment for dog-dog reactivity, and I promised a summary of that on the blog. Here it is, with the obligatory caution that the morning itself wasn’t close to enough time to cover the topic in depth, so the summary here will be chapter titles (but hopefully helpful ones). Knowing that I couldn’t possibly talk about how to handle every type of case, here are some highlights:

REACTIVITY? What are we talking about here? When I use the term I am talking about what we usually think of as “over reactivity,” or “reactivity” that we see as inappropriate. After all, a loose body greeting is a “reaction” to another dog, right? In this case, I am talking about barking, lunging, snarling, snapping, stiffening etc… in other words, doing things we humans don’t like that makes us nervous that the behavior might be followed by aggression or trouble of some kind. It’s not a great term, but it’s better than “aggression,” since so much of behavior that we consider problematic is not aggressive at all.

MOTIVATION: I showed a video montage that illustrated that ‘reactivity’ can be the result of many internal states or desires: a dog who is barking and lunging could be : 1) afraid of the approaching dog and trying to get it to stop or go away, 2) frustrated because it can’t get to the other dog to play, 3) warning the other dog to stay away because whenever it gets close the barker gets a snap on the neck and it hurts, 4) begging the other dog to come closer so that it can get into a fight, which the barker heartily enjoys (rare, but it happens).

THRESHOLD: In all cases, in my humble opinion, one can’t work on cases like this until you understand a dog’s individual threshold of response. I want to know what is the lowest intensity of the trigger stimulus that elicits the lowest intensity of the “reactivity.” Some trainers let dogs go over threshold and bark/lunge for example until the behavior extinguishes, but that leads to what’s called the “rehearsal effect” (like repeating a bad habit) and I’m not personally a fan of it.

TREATMENT: My Ah Ha! moment was when I was working on this talk, and realized that all the methods I was going to discuss had, in a way, a similar result: the dog is reinforced for either increasing the distance between him and another dog, or for decreasing the potential of a direct, highly aroused  confrontation. Treatment modalities can be categorized into 4 groups:

1. Classical Counter Conditioning (Note: I talked about this in the seminar, but didn’t at first include it in this post. A comment to the first version reminded me that I should have put it in in the first place!)

2. Operant Conditioning, Positive Reinforcement, On Cue

3.  Operant Conditioning, Positive Reinforcement, No Cue, Dog Initiates Behavior

4. Operant Conditioning, Positive Punishment (yup, but not what you might think!)

[#2 and #3 have the benefit of creating a Classical conditioning effect: See dog, feel good!]

A1. Classical Counter Conditioning: Easiest by far for a novice owner, because it requires linking the appearance of another dog with food. Dog looks at other dog, food falls from the sky (or falls on the ground, or a toy is presented. I use this sometimes to get dogs started, especially if they are super reactive. The problem with it can be that you need to be sure the dog is linking feeling good with the another dog, not a dog paired with a person, or a person with a yellow jacket, etc. [Again, I talked about this in the seminar, but skipped it in the first version of the blog when Willie was reminded me that if we didn’t get going it would get too dark to walk! I was inspired to add it back in by a comment from someone who found it extremely useful….]

2. Operant Conditioning, Positive Reinforcement, On Cue: In this category, a dog is taught that the stimulus of another dog approaching is a g0od thing, and it becomes a stimulus that causes the dog to feel relaxed rather than tense, and usually (at first) to turn away and look at its owner for a food treat or play session. This includes “AutoWatches” and “Where’s the Dog” as described in Feisty Fido or “Look at That” in Leslie McDermitt’s Control Unleashed. “Autowatches” (turn away from the dog and look at your owner) and “Where’s the Dog/Look at That” seem to be polar opposites, but in my experience, they lead to the same response, which is that the dog becomes comfortable with the approach of another dog, and instead of barking and lunging, tends to turn away from it and look toward its owner for reinforcement. This inherently avoids the direct face-to-face confrontation that is forced by 2 dogs approaching on a leash, and has the advantage of making nervous dogs classically conditioned, such that they associate other dogs with feelings of comfort. It also teaches rude dogs (who either are frustrated that they can’t get to another dog or would love to start a stare fight) to engage in an incompatible behavior and get reinforced for it.

3.  Operant Conditioning, Positive Reinforcement, No Cue, Dog Initiates Behavior: In this category, which includes what is called CAT and BAT, rather than the owner teaching the dog an incompatible behavior, the dog is exposed to the trigger stimulus and then is reinforced as soon as it performs a behavior voluntarily that is more acceptable. For example, if a dog is barking and lunging, it might be brought to a distance just close enough to elicit a reaction (I would advocate just looking at the other dog, NOT barking and lunging already). The owner/handler stops, and waits for the dog to offer a different behavior, like looking down, or turning its head to the side. As soon as that behavior is offered, either the other dog is taken away (CAT) or the subject dog is taken away (BAT). However in BAT, (Behavior Adjustment Training, Grisha Stewart), unlike in CAT (Constructional Aggression Treatment, Jesus Reosalez-Ruiz & Kelli Snider), the dog is first reinforced with a click for even looking at another dog and then is moved away and given a treat after the click has marked the “looking at”. In the next stage, the dog is exposed at the edge of threshold to another dog and the owner waits for the dog to turn his head away or sniff the ground, etc, marks that with a clicker, moves backward a good distance and treats the dog. In stage 3, the dog is again exposed sub-threshold, but the marker is a verbal ‘yes,’ the distance between dogs is again increased but no treat is given.

Both methods are derivations of John Fisher’s early work, and their greatest strength is that sometimes it is preferable to let the dog choose the behavior, and also to be less focused on the handler or the food/toy and more focused on the other dog. When CAT first started a few years ago, it appeared that the dog was often allowed to go past threshold into a full blown response. The owner/trainer would wait it out, with no one moving (thus no reinforcement from the other dog leaving) until the problem behavior extinguished. From what I have seen, it being a work in progress, its advocates have begun working harder to keep the dog at lower levels of arousal. I think that’s a plus, I never like to see a dog allowed to ‘practice’ a problematic behavior, and it’s tough to wait out some dogs, given that barking can be extremely self reinforcing.

What I like about BAT and the seminar on it last Saturday is that the dog is always kept just at below threshold, and is reinforced both with a secondary reinforcer (the marker) and 2 primary reinforcers at first (food and getting to increase the distance between dogs). The steps are clear and I think that is extremely helpful to owners. I would add though that ‘increasing the distance’ between dogs is not always positive reinforcement, and is most useful if the dog is barking and lunging (or just stiffening) because it is fearful of other dogs. It also requires a relatively sophisticated ability to read dogs, and to respond instantly to the desired behavior (and a decision about what that behavior should be–one thing, or anything that is not “the problem” behavior?).

4. Operant Conditioning, Positive Punishment: The only example of Positive Punishment that I ever use in these cases is Trish King’s “Abandonment Training.” In this scenario, a dog is both on a leash and a long line, with the owner holding the leash as usual and a trainer holding the long line as a safety net. As they approach another dog, if the subject dog barks and lunges, the owner throws the leash onto the dog’s back (tactile cue) and runs like heck the other way. Basically, the dog is ‘deserted’ by the owner, and if it is bothered by that, it stops the behavior very, very quickly. I’ve seen it work beautifully on some dogs, but as Trish advises, this is only for clingy dogs who care deeply about being with their owner. (Can you spell German Shepherd? Forgive me, but do the GSD folks out there agree that GSDs seem to care deeply about being with their humans, more so than many other dogs? I am NOT saying this is appropriate for every GSD, or not for other breeds, don’t get me in trouble by misquoting me!)

I’m a big advocate of having lots of tools in your tool box (thank you Terry Ryan for that phrase!), and personally I believe that being able to use all the methods described above, or some variation on them, is important for anyone who wants to do consults. For private owners, one needs to think about which method fits best with them and their dog. BAT and CAT require, I believe, a sophisticated ability to read a dog. AutoWatches and Where’s the Dog require an owner who likes to train, and can learn the timing required. All methods require setting up wins, in which the dog can be gradually exposed to an increasing level of intensity (dog far away, dog closer; dog standing still, dog moving forward, etc.) and an ability to respond at the right time.

I used AutoWatches and Where’s the Dog with Willie (I’ll post some video of that later this week, right now Willie is reminding me it’s past his dinner time!) and I think they are great for dogs who are easily aroused (Willie would launch just when smelling another dog’s urine. seriously), or tend to want to approach for whatever reason. CAT and BAT are good for people who can read dogs well and have dogs they are sure want the other dog to go away, not get any closer. Argh, I am simplifying way toooo much here, but it’s this is getting too long!

I ended the seminar talking about safety measures, including the Emergency U-Turn and the Emergency Sit/Stay (so that you can put your dog behind you, move forward and distract the other dog). The Sit/Stay requires some serious training, but is amazingly effective if one can put in the time, while the  U Turn is so easy that you have to encourage people to practice it. The idea is to get your dog conditioned to feeling good when you say “Oh Wow!” (other cues have been used by my clients, but they are not repeatable here) when you are surprised by a dog, to pivot and move in the other direction so fast that neither one of you even realizes you’ve done it until after it’s over. (There’s lots more on that in Feisty Fido, but Willie is starting to look at me cross-eyed.)

I’d love to hear: who out there has used what method on their own reactive dog? I’d love to start a discussion on this. I’ll post videos of Willie boy and other dogs soon….

MEANWHILE, back on the farm: I am back on the farm! Wheee, good to be home. It’s gorgeous here, and I get one evening of great weather before it gets cloudy and rainy, and boy am I enjoying it. Willie and I got to work sheep (practicing those straight lines, long way to go, but having fun) and we’re about to take a long walk.

Here’s poor Redford this afternoon, our Dorper ram, in his private pasture. We lost the ram lamb we kept in with him, and now the poor guy is by himself. Worse, the ewes are cycling, so they stand beside the gate and tease him. Right now he’s looking at Willie. Redford is one of the gentlest rams I’ve ever had, but I never go into a pen with a ram without a dog, and I never turn my back on one. There is a reason that the noun ‘ram’ was turned into a verb.

Here are some of his lambs, on the hill behind his pasture, back lit by the setting sun.


  1. Ruth T says

    Hi Trish, thanks so much for coming to Seattle, it really made my day (month) 😀 Sorry to ask, but I’m still in seminar mode, and I’ve been thinking about something you said. You talked a few times about reactivity/aggression at times being affected by diet. (I hope I’m not misquoting you here) Did you mean that a poor (clearly inadequate) diet affects behavior poorly, or did you mean that behavior can be changed for the better by altering an adequate diet (tweaking protein levels, fat levels, types of fatty acids, including veggies, etc)?

  2. Heidi Meinzer says

    I imagine Abandonment Training would work quite well with Sophie, my skittish and reactive (and yes, clingy) GSD mix! Sophie is reactive not just to unknown dogs, but also to unknown people, unknown places, unknown things….

    To help with her reactivity, at first, I tried having Sophie sit and Watch!, looking at me. But she so wants to be on guard and look around at everything. So then I did more straight forward counter conditioning. (Mind you, I am not a dog trainer, just a plain old person who so wanted a Shepherd mix! So my methods were far from perfect, more like the “open bar” of just shoveling treats when we went by a dog, bike, bus, etc.) Because she always wants to scan and look around, I also tried the Look at That game. She definitely got better, but I wonder how much better she could have gotten had I really known what I was doing.

    This past June, I had the wonderful opportunity to take a three-day Reactive Rover seminar with Pat Miller at Peaceable Paws in Maryland. Pat focused on really tapping into the benefits of pure counter conditioning, and getting our dogs to look back at us, but without adding the layer of a sit or Look at That. One of the dogs in our group really got the controlled emotional response head snap to his owner, and it was very instructive to watch him. It was only after that seminar that I felt like I really understood the difference between counter condition and operant conditioning.

    I’m now working on sessions with a friend and colleague who has a dog-reactive dog, practicing further with counter conditioning. I would love to find a class like Ali Brown’s reactive dog classes — I think one of our local dog training/doggie daycare businesses may start those kind of classes soon. There is huge need, and there is such a benefit to having a professional who knows what they’re doing and what to watch for to help your dog and you along. I feel like, with all of the information that is out there, a little knowledge becoming a dangerous thing is a huge risk for folks who pick up a book or surf the web and try to deal with issues on their own.

  3. Elizabeth says

    Trish – i could go on and on about all i learned at the workshop but what pulled it all together for me (not a professional trainer) was your “ah ha” moment and a statement you made in the play session: arousal + frustration = trouble.

    the dog-dog aggression work focuses on helping the dog to reduce and/or manage arousal. But wouldn’t traditional obedience training (and trick training, etc.) help the dog to handle frustration better? And wouldn’t that be a good adjunct to the reactivity training?

    In a similar vein, you also said that there’s a correlation between impulsivity and aggression. So, it seems like traditional training would improve self control and would reduce aggression?

  4. says

    Trish: You and Grisha were excellent this weekend. I learned a lot and thoroughly enjoyed it. I liked your definition of threshold. Too often, I find other trainers talk about working under threshold by working where the dog is most comfortable. I find this takes the behavior too far out of context. Your explanation of threshold as the point where the dog is just starting to show signs of reacting as much more functional in behavior modification.

    Thanks for a great seminar!

  5. martie says

    I wonder if you would also talk to us about your experiences with the “other” stuff that goes along with the modalities mentioned. I have a human- and dog-reactive 2 1/2 year old GSD that I have been working with. I am not an expert by any means and have been researching, experimenting and working on my own.

    The first time I tried counter conditioning I was elated! OMG – I can just do this a lot in different places and problem solved!! When it became apparent that it was not generalizing, it was back to the drawing board. The following things along with CC have helped us (and I say US because it was just as important for me to adjust as it was for him).

    Ruling out physical issues – so I could forge ahead without worrying about it.

    Adjusting exercise. The kind of exercise was just as important as the amount. It has to be interesting, varied, lots of mental as well as physical. We continue to tweak this – it’s a biggie.

    Addressing diet. I did some experimenting and saw a marked improvement with a raw diet.

    Dr. Karen Overall’s Protocol for Relaxation has been wonderful for us. It put a bomb-proof sit-stay on him – very useful for emergencies – teaches him how to relax and provides an opportunity to do so every day. It’s like doggie meditation. Taking the exercises on the road also helped us both to have kind of a centering point wherever we were and whatever was going on around us. It’s supposed to be a pre-exercise before treatment, but we found it a wonderful adjunct.

    Obedience is an ongoing hobby – very, very helpful.

    There’s more, but these are the big ones here and would love to hear what else might be helpful and some of your experiences.

  6. Debby says

    Great Blog, again.
    I have had succuss working with GSD using the abandonment method and I agree that they are very motivated to be with their owner, often more than other breeds that tend to be dog reactive. However many of these dogs also shared something else in common; a somewhat tough guy owner that just wouldn’t follow through with CC/D and OC methods of autowatches that are my first choice. Experience has taught me not to ask a behavior of people that they are not ready for any more that to ask a dog for a behavior he is not ready for. A lesson I learned when I showed up for a training session with my treat bag and clicker and met a police officer with his GSD wearing both a choke chain and a prong collor in anticipation of a hard core quick fix session. I could see myself losing the owner as I explained my methods, so we comprised, we lost the clicker as well as the choker and prong, used the abandoment method together and he agreed to work on impulse control exercises and watch me/autowatch at home that proved to be very easy due to the dog’s normal attention to the owner and ability to learn quickly and generalize.
    I don’t mean to imply that all GSD owners are of this personality type, this is just what I have encountered and found works with this combo of dog/owner personality. I also secretly wondered if their personality type contributed to the dogs behavior in a few of the cases, more so than with other breeds because they are soo intuitive of their owners and learn soo quickly?

  7. Frances says

    Thank you for a really helpful summary. The only even mildly reactive dog I have to deal with is my neighbour’s Border Terrier, whom I often walk – she is delightful with adults, loves children, tolerates most dogs, and goes for just a handful of other dogs for no obvious reason (or none I have ever been able to fathom). We usually walk off leash, which made her an accident waiting to happen. Once I decided to simply manage the situation, rather than waiting for her owner to do something about it, things have been much more relaxed. If we see a dog in the distance I am not sure about, I tell her “Come and be safe!”, tell her what a good, sensible dog she is to let me put her lead on, then simply keep between her and any possibility of trouble, dropping the occasional treat into her mouth while she is being good. A few yards distance is all she needs, and she stays relaxed and will often even let the other dog approach. Now how do I explain to her owner, who loves to greet every dog she meets, that holding her poor terrier on a short lead with one hand while making overtures to stranger pooch with the other just may be making her behaviour worse?

  8. Jackie says

    I’m an owner of a rescue stray BCxspaniel.

    What I’d really like for my dog is a thinks bubble!! Sometimes I know he’s reacting badly to something (people and dogs) because he’s frightened of it, but sometimes I’m pretty sure he’s reacting badly to something (a dog) because he wants to play with it, or because he is worried by its owner, or just out of habit – but judging for certain which is which when he’s charged to the end of the lead and all I can see is his rear end is impossible! In the case of dogs I can sometimes tell by the reaction of the other dog.

    So I tend to assume that all his reactions are due to fear, on the grounds that this is safer, and to do my utmost to keep him sub threshold. I work on all fronts according to the situation and what the stimulus is – open bar/closed bar, ‘look at that’, alternate behaviours, plus emergency about turns. Progress is still painfully slow, and he hardly ever gets to meet and greet another dog, as even if it is one that is making friendly overtures I can’t usually risk him getting near the other owner.

    I find organising reactive-dog-savvy stooges is pretty much impossible, and nobody runs classes for people-reactive dogs. Grumpy Dog class only taught him not to be reactive in Grumpy Dog class. We have seen more than one behaviourist, who say we’re doing all the right things, we just have a very, very damaged dog.

  9. says

    Ok, I”m officially confused about CAT and BAT, but I have to read it again more carefully. I have a GSD (mixed, but mostly GSD) and oh my stars can you say “velcro dog?” I’ve used that abandonnment thing (without the leash throwing) almost every single time when I know that he is safe from being aggressive or being aggressed on by the other dog. In other words, if a dog approaches us, i take a quick scan of his body. if he’s relaxed or in a play position or simply inquisitive and the dog is right on us, i drop the leash and quickly walk the other way with my sibe. Unlike most people, I’d rather my dogs NOT interact with strange dogs and I’d rather that they’d ignore all dogs, but sometimes you just cannot ignore especially if a dog is right in your dog’s face. In order for him and me to have a positive and safe experience, I need to relieve pressure from him (no leash pressure of pulling him away) and i simply walk away and call him to my heel. It works every time. He may have a few rounds of chase with the strange dog (usually he likes to be chased, not be the chaser) or he may play bow quickly but so far this using his need to be with me has been the most safe use of emergency dog-on-dog meeting.

    On the other hand, he is also known to be “dog aggressive” and I know from handling him, he’s much worse on leash than off. However, if he’s launched into full-blown barking, lunging, I will NOT release his leash of course and I simply walk away (dragging him usually) on leash. I’ve recently relocated to Switzerland and after 2 years of doing so much training with him, i’ve only JUST noticed that his dog-dog aggression is USUALLY for big dark dogs such as chocolate/dark labs, bernese mt. dogs, dark danes or mastifs, etc. all other dogs, light colored retreivers, goldens, other GSDs, huskies (we have a husky) and all small dogs, he’s is the picture of good behavior and very polite. so…that said, I had planned to do some counter conditioning with him at a distance with dark dogs, but i have not gotten around to it.

    Since we are still so new to our new country, we’re also adapting to FARM animals. Neither of my dogs are familiar with cows or horses (can you say large dark animal?). The first time we came in contact with eitehr, i was NOT able to pass by them because both dogs were so reactive (my sibe would pull and the GSD would wine or give small pre-cursor barks). I’ve been using simple counter conditioning as well as “look at the cow!” (operant, i know) and he’s come to look at me whenever he sees a cow or horse or donkey or goat or dark pig even. he’s funny dog, he’s a “nervous” eater (like a chain smoker) and will practically mug my hand when he’s nervous, but over time we get closer and closer and he’s able to offer behaviors (sit, down, look at me) and get a reward. We were even able to down about 80 feet from some horses the other day. and he was mostly calm. I’d say he was alert but not nervous. there was no crying or stiffness but ears, eyes and nose were working on alert.

    the first time we saw cows, they walked toward us with interest. This sent him over the top, because for a dog, this is obviously bad manners and confrontational. but he’s also learned to be much calmer around them espeically if they are not approaching us (sometimes he’s even bored by them, yay!)

    so this leads me to hope that he can get over his big dark dog fears. If he’s in full on aggression or barks, the only thing i can do is walk away because usually i’m in a situation in a town or in public and it’s just never a good training opportunity and I don’t like to be a public nuissance with a barking dog just for my own training opportunity. its in the back of my mind to try to seek them out while we walk and use distance first, then quickly reward and keep rewarding as we get closer, but what usually happens is the dark dog suddenly appears before we have a thought to do anything and he launches into a bark or lunge.

    but ya, that GSD velcro thing works GREAT for all other dog interactions and I need to get him AWAY from the other dog, even if the interaction is friendly, i’d prefer him not to be so interactive with other dogs, i drop his leash and walk away from the scene. For my sibe, she is not aggressive, but i use her as part of his need to be with us and keep her with me as a stronger pack drive motivation, but if i didn’t have her, he’d still be a big cry baby about not beig gwith me. In obedience school, we’d occasionally switch dogs and I was one of the few who could do that exercise unless the person he went to really KNEW him well and could handle him properly when his anxiety creeped up about me not being on his lead. What’s even funnier is I’m convinced he likes my husband BETTER than me, however NEEDS to be handled by only me. Occassionally when we go out for walks as a family, my husband always handles the sibe and i’ll give him my GSD’s leash so I can go to the bathroom or pick up the GSD’s poo or whatever and the reaction i get when i go to take his leash back is really hilarious. it used to be to jump up on me and bark or cry but now (after simple ignoring techniques) he’s toned it way down and will push himself into my legs. He’s a true “momma’s boy.” This is why i say he’s MOSTLY GSD. His coat is very short though so he’s definitely mixed but in every other area he’s GSD…especially this area!

  10. Rose says

    I don’t have any creative methods that I used with my dog but I think the most important thing is that I really drove home the message that DOGS=FOOD (which to my dog is the best thing in the universe) and spent a lot of time reinforcing that dogs=good.
    Here’s the difficult part, initially I had to set expectations for behaviour very low; wonderful food came out when dogs were around no matter what her reaction (keep in mind I also made sure that I wasn’t working above threshold).I use positive reinforcement with my dog but there is something very difficult about “rewarding” bad behavior and I resisted at first….I am sure it’s not the same for everyone/dog but this is what layed the solid groundwork…my dog had built up such a negative association with other dogs (for many reasons including some bad advice from a respected trainer to use a spray collar and spray her every time she reacted to another dog) that I couldn’t even begin to work on things like “look at me” etc until I had built up a more positive association. At first there WAS no/very little good behavior to reward.

    After we layed this groundwork we moved on too an autowatch and then the “look at the dog and look at me=treats.” My dog is fairly ‘strong eyed’ so the autowatch was necessary at first but as we progressed she now looks at the other dog (and seeks them out) and then looks back at me.

    Elizabeth, I agree with your comment. My aussie x is very easily aroused around dogs and we worked on lots of self control exercises like tug, drop it, leave it, in conjunction with dog-dog reactivity specific activities. This definitly helped all facets of her behavior as she has not only become better around other dogs but is more polite, patient and controlled over all.

    Question for everyone: I think that getting my dog to look at the other dog (briefly) then look back at me gives her a sense of ‘control’ over the process/her reaction around other dogs..anyone who has a herding breed knows there desire to control (read: herd etc) there environment…I am not sure if I am giving dogs too much credit here….but for my ‘control freak’ dog I think the fact that she ‘chooses’ (used loosely) to look at other dogs then at me gives her a sense of control (and replaces/mitgates the desire to control her environment by herding/barking/lunging). No matter what the reaction of the other dog she controls her own reaction. Thoughts?

  11. Nicola says

    I’ve got a dog, Tam, short haired border collie, who matches your quote “arousal + frustration = trouble”. He loves playing with other dogs – his idea of playing is running around them in circles, and gets aroused just by seeing other dogs, in the hope that they will be able to play.

    I’ve done traditional obedience with him since I brought him home (between 5 & 9 months) and the limitation is that it doesn’t change the dog’s emotional state. While he is in class, or I am asking for a behaviour such as heel or watch, he is fine, focussed on me, not interested in other dogs. Once I am walking around the grounds, or chatting to friends, he focusses on other dogs, gets aroused and then is frustrated by the leash. His emotional reaction is the same, regardless of his self control (great in class). the worst I’ve seen him is nipping at the hind legs/rump of the dog he is interested in – so not real aggression, but obedience training doesn’t stop the arousal.

    Even in off leash play he can get frustrated if the dog he is playing with isn’t moving fast enough – letting him play off leash is a calculated risk requiring constant supervision and frequent time outs for obedience behaviours to settle him & reduce arousal. The reason I let him play off leash? He adores it, it gives him much needed physical & mental exercise & after 4 days of a couple of hours of off leash play, he remembers his “play nicely manners” and requires much less intervention. (If i had a safe off leash park with dogs near home we wouldn’t have nearly the trouble!)

    The difference between traditional obedience training and what (i understand of what) Trisha is proposing is that TRisha’s training is focussed on changing the dog’s emotional state – removing the arousal so trouble doesn’t develop. I’ve used methods 2 & 3 mostly with Tam – he already feels (too) good when he sees other dogs, so 1 isn’t appropriate, and if I ran away, he’d take that as an invitation to play! But in the end, “watch” is an obedience cue for me, and a sit stay (or down stay, which Tam is better at) is an obedience cue, so the obedience is another tool which fast tracks the beginning of treatment.

    I’ve rambled a bit, but my main point is traditional obedience doesn’t change the emotion, and Trisha’s methods are aiming for that. Hope this helps

  12. Melissa says

    Very interesting. :) I don’t really have very reactive dogs, but have used LAT as a bit of a shortcut for getting my dogs into training mode when I didn’t have any other incompatible behaviour strong enough to lean on.

    I’d be interested to hear more about arousal. To me, arousal is like opening doors, or maybe like a waterwheel where it only kicks into motion once a critical number of buckets are filled with water. It feels like the level of arousal will determine the kinds of behaviour to expect. I swear there is a moment where the arousal increases to the point where a new set of behaviours become possibilities. I was watching my little herder when he was a pup playing tug. There was a moment I fancied I could pinpoint in videos where his arousal would hit that critical level and he would switch from wanting to bite and chase the tug to wanting to shake it and take it off to a corner to pull bits off it at his own leisure. I feel sure he wouldn’t do that shaking and dissecting unless his arousal was that little bit higher than it was for a usual tug game. But then, the more the behaviour is practised the lower the arousal level needed to make it a possibility?

  13. says

    I’m sorry if this is going off topic but as well as these positive training methods there is also another positive method – using calm dogs as teachers. Turid Rugaas mentions the use of her ‘heart’ dog at the beginning of her book on calming signals to help her teach reactive dogs and I have found a few such programs in my country (UK) that I am tempted to use. The idea is that slowly your dog is introduced to other calm ‘teaching’ dogs who can teach them how to use more human friendly ways to communicate they are not feeling so comfortable, therefore giving them more confidence around other dogs and gradually lessening their reactivity. The owner is there but the teaching dog is doing the work rather than the owner or trainer.

    I guess it works in the opposite way to how Willie couldn’t help Hope when he went through his adolescent phase. If Willie had been a more confident dog himself I bet that would have helped Hope enormously. In my situation I think I am a bit like Willie and when my puppy started going through his adolescent scared of everything phase my naturally worrywort nature didn’t help him one little bit. In hindsight I think a lot of the patterns my dog has formed could have been lessened if I had been more detached about his first reactive issues rather than thinking the worst and getting all worked up myself every time we saw another dog. He’s a whippet and that means he is uber sensitive, even when I’m pretending to be calm and collected he knows full well I’m not!

    I’m not looking for a quick fix but having worked with 1, 2 and 3 over some time now I can only see a small amount of improvement in certain areas and in others my dog has got worse – I believe that is because I have withdrawn him from regularly meeting other dogs to keep him under threshold – because he is not practicing interactions he is getting more and more concerned about the actual meeting part. I feel that the next step where my dog is actually interacting with another dog is very hard to achieve using these methods.

    I’d be interested to know what you think about this method Trish? I’m guessing because it’s something that pet owners are unable to do on their own there has not been much documented – or it’s too new/controversial?

  14. Magda says

    It’s great that we all can have you here:) I’m a fan of your way of thinking and writing. Greetings from Poland!

  15. Trini says

    Loving this discussion!

    Off-topic: have you seen the Orangutan and the Hound video? It reminded me of one of your books where you discuss how primates like chest-to-chest hugs, but how dogs don’t really feel the same way … you can totally see it in this video! The relationship between the monkey and the dog is lovely, though. :-)

  16. Beckmann says

    To be honest, I have been waiting for this post a long time:-) First of all, thank you very much for this summary.
    I have an adolescent male continental bulldog (20 month old), which is a very sensitive to noise as well as reactive to other unknown dogs (especially other male dogs).
    We attended puppy class and moved on to once-a-week group session (combination of basic obedience trainings with play with other dogs). He has been much better now but still I am struggling with lunging + aggressive attitude towards to unknown dogs. Strange thing is that not every unknown dog, he does it randomly no particular breed or colors, which makes me more difficult to prepare for it.
    I have been looking for a trainer + behaviorist who can support us for CAT/BAT and so on

  17. Donna in VA says

    Wonderful, I have been waiting for this topic. My dog was insecure/reactive for the first year I had him (age 4). The methods Trisha describes seem to rely on another cooperating dog & handler for some of the exercises, but I didn’t have that luxury. Finally I ended up using a 4-part approach: 1) When approaching a dog, I switch mine to my right side. I stay between him and the other dog. I think of this as showing my “leadership”. The message to both dogs is – you are going to deal with me and not with each other directly. 2) I give my dog a loose leash. If he elects to stay as far away from the other dog as possible, I know this is a dog he does not want to meet. That’s fine. 3) If we successfully pass by the other dog (no bark/lunge) then mine is rewarded verbally and w/a treat. 4) If my dog barks or lunges, he commanded to the down position. I can stand on the leash and he is not going anywhere – ha ha. He does not get released until his attention is back on me and not the other dog, and no praise and NO TREAT. Once I started employing ALL of these daily, he reformed his behavior withing one or two months. After several years, he now actively wants to meet some other dogs – he has started giving a little high-pitched whine when he sees one that appeals to him. If he is using the full length of leash to get away, I know he doesn’t want to meet that dog. I refused one owner who asked if our dogs could meet because Max clearly did not want to — at least I know now if he has a preference one way or the other. He has also behaved well in a couple of situations when loose dogs ran up to him, having escaped their owners. Again, I try to take charge and send the loose dogs away (I say GO HOME!!) and Max has seemed to stay calm since I am in charge.

  18. Alexandra says

    I went through all four of these methods (BAT rather than CATby the way) pretty much in a sequence of training work for my reactive lab-pointer mix Izzy. I did work with a professional trainer, and I couldn’t have done this kind of sophisticated, nuanced training without expert help. It took three tries to find the right trainer, but once I did it made a huge difference. I highly recommend it. My initial work with Izzy was about 6 months of very intense counter conditioning, training an emergency u-turn, practicing watches in low stress situations, all work below threshhold, and lots of hand feeding/working for all her food. After that, I spent another year and a half working on autowatches, working on reducing her threshold distance to all her many triggers, nothing in life is free with the food, emergency sit/stay. Izzy also had severe reactivity toward people and anything with wheels in addition to dogs. It was a very long haul from when she was 18 months old until about age 3 1/2 when she was trained/reconditioned. Unfortunately, I did find that to get reliability with reactivity toward people, some kinds of dogs, and large trucks, I did have to use positive punishment in the form of a prong collar for very specific corrections. I know some people will disagree with that, but the safety issues were simply too great and I think it was warranted given our situation. Abandonment training was not meaningful for Izzy; it took her 20 minutes to volunteer her first eye contact to me outside while on a 6 ft leash if that gives you any idea; scanning the environment for critters/threats is her strongest default behavior and it has been *extremely* hard to modify. Part of me suspects that Izzy shoukd be on medication, but I’ve always been reluctant to consign her to a lifetime of drugs if behavior modification would work. I certainly wouldn’t have done it for anything other than a serious safety issue and if other methods hadn’t failed first or without the one-on-one instruction and observation of a professional.

  19. Lynn U. says

    Just a note that, in the same way that distance can be used as a reward for a dog who is scared, it can be used as a punisher for a dog that is over aroused and wants to get to the other dog. My friend’s chihuahua mix puppy was barking and snarling at other dogs, but when we went to work through the problem using my dogs as “bait” it was clear that the puppy was straining to get _to_ the big dogs. So we practiced having my friend pick up her puppy and take it out of sight for a time out every time it barked at my dog. Then, when it was possible for the puppy to see my dog at a distance without carrying on we used treats as rewards for coming closer without barking. Any time the puppy got carried away with the closer proximity she got picked up and taken away. (My dog got generously rewarded for remaining calm while yapped at by puppy.) Within one session we had the puppy appropriately sniffing each of my big dogs, and when we came back to it a couple of weeks later it only took one “time out” before the puppy was calm with each of the dogs.
    Just another way of saying that it’s crucial to know _why_ a dog is reacting, I guess.

  20. says

    Hi Patricia, it’s Dennis Fehling I was the guy running the mike at the sseminar. Thank you so much for a great weekend of learning and insight to this very real problem we as trainers and pet people face. I was a user of CAT when it first came out and used it often and to be very honest with limited success. I also never liked the fact that the dog was exposed and over threshold until the dog basically gave up. One of my client dogs a very large 200lb great dane who was very badly abused when he was a puppy and was rescued by a great couple from Bend Oregon. We worked Cat with Roopurt for almost two years with limited success. I have to admit that we tried it all form CC/DCC Cat and BAT. The greates success we ever had was with bat and this dog in the last few months of his life really changed. The couple was no longer afraid to walk Roopurt around other dogs albeit at a distance, he had many sessions with my Decoy dog Beau and they had many walks together at a safe distance of about 20ft. I wish BAT had been around when i first started working with Roo as his life would have been better faster. When i first met him the couple had him at a dog park out side of the fenced in area, he had passed out and had defecated on himself form the stress. I did teach him an auto watch along with the touch command and Look at that which really helped The couple walk him. Roopurt passed away in his sleep about two months ago. His life did change for the better. Again thansk to you and Grisha for a great seminar and your insight and great knowledge and willingness to share your skills.

    Dennis Fehling

  21. Barb says

    I am a long time follower of this blog, but this is my first time posting. I have two reactive Jack Russell Terriers that I have been working with for over a year using most of the methods described above, including BAT. We’ve made progress with the amount of training we’ve done; however, I’m still not at a point where a “cross-over” has happened. Neither dog is at the point where we can pass other dogs at close range and we are no where close to meeting/greeting dogs, yet we’ve made a lot of progress in terms of the dogs knowing that they can look at a dog and get a treat from a distance at about 10-15 feet.

    Can anybody speak to how long it took them to achieve success in meeting/greeting other dogs? I know each case is different, but it feels like I’ve been working with the dogs both on my own and with a very good trainer, and I haven’t seen major success as of yet. I am aware that this is a long process. Still, I have hope knowing that both dogs can be around and play with dogs that they know and met when they were younger.

    Would love to hear in detail about diet and how it plays a role in reactivity.

  22. Denise says

    This is a wonderful post. You’ve given the best summary of the available (useful!) training methods I’ve seen anywhere. I was very fortunate to live where I had the expert help of Dr. Overall and Leslie McDevitt available and even so, it took 4 years to finally get my extremely reactive dog to a place where he is so close to normal most people don’t really believe me when I say he’s fear reactive. He was and he still is, just a bit less so and with much better coping skills. Medication was and is, essential. I don’t make any apologies for using it because it has improved his quality of life tremendously. The Relaxation Protocol continues to pay dividends as does obedience training. I did teach Look at That but found that it was better to simply allow him to look on his own and reward him heavily when he turned back to me. If I cued a Look, it seemed to increase his arousal level. Most likely, my ability to read him and the appropriate distance was too limited to let me do it right. In the end, it always comes down to the owner and his or her dog coping at home no matter how wonderful your teachers may be. I found it a great help to read as much as possible and keep the books out for easy reference. You can’t expect a response to an e-mail question or make a phone call at 6 AM on Sunday morning! :-) Fiesty Fido was particularly helpful and your U-turn has saved our hides a number of times. We continue to practice it daily. It’s a vital behavior to keep sharp. You’ve also reminded me here that it would be well worth the time to go back and work on teaching the sit/stay behind me. Loose dogs or dogs on Flexi-leads remain a major source of heart burn.

    In response to Kat’s suggestion of the calm dog teacher method – it is probably the best of all possible worlds but finding that calm dog teacher can be like looking for a needle in a haystack. Maybe finding the needle is easier. If you have the good fortune to find and have access to such a wonderful dog, bless your lucky stars! Looking back 20 years, I know that I had that situation when I adopted my Keeshond at 6 months. I can see in hindsight that she was reactive. At the time I had no idea of reactive, or much else really but I did already have a 2 year old Eskie with brilliant social skills. Kati could have charmed Godzilla into sitting in the park and making Daisy Chains for her. Without my knowing or doing anything at all, she helped poor Sofi learn to cope with her fears and finally become a really lovely dog who was welcome everywhere. I’d give a lot for another teacher like that for Hugh but in 4 years of looking, still haven’t found one so we cope as best we can. It’s a long road but we’ve made so much progress and I’m very proud of my boy.

  23. Lisa says

    I’m a big fan of BAT for my clients with reactive dogs. I find it’s easy for the dog owners to implement and it seems to get them more in-tune with their dogs’ body language very quickly. To the extent they make a mistake, it’s that they sometimes forget to turn and walk away and mark and reward with a treat instead. I tell them it’s a “mistake” I’m happy to see because it still gives the dog the right information.

    It is amazing sometimes to see the dogs’ body language go from anxious to relaxed as soon as the owners walk them away from the dog. For me, this is the big difference between BAT and regular DS/CC – less conflict for the dog and instant relief.

    I’ve been seeing some really fantastic progress since I started including BAT in my protocols for leash-reactive dogs. It is easy for the clients, the dogs progress more quickly and everyone is happy!

  24. Kat says

    kat raises an interesting point. I hadn’t really analyzed it before but Ranger has a reactive JRT pal in the neighborhood. When we walk the dogs together the JRT isn’t reactive he watches Ranger for his cues on how to interact with the dog, person or children coming toward them. Ranger is calm, confident and pretty nearly bomb proof. He adores meeting other dogs, he’s delighted to greet new humans, and he’s ecstatic about meeting children. When we’re walking together the JRT and his person hang back while Ranger and I go forward. Once the JRT sees that Ranger is happily interacting with the dog, person, child(ren) he joins in. It’s like he decides “Ranger says it’s OK and I trust Ranger so I can be safe in approaching and interacting.”

  25. says

    I attended your seminar in Toronto by the way (really enjoyed it). One of the things I was curious going into it was your opinion on CAT and BAT, but your inclusion of both pretty much answered that question.

    I recently added BAT to my toolbox and my personal experience with my own reactive dog has been very positive. I have done a small number of private lessons with clients’ reactive dogs; mostly in ad-hoc setups where we use dog parks or dogs that are behind fences. In all cases, I see a level of enthusiasm and relief in the reactive dogs that I never see when we feed high value reinforcement in other context.

    Recently I was watching Leslie McDevitt’s Control Unleashed 4-DVD seminar series – in one chapter, she goes on a tangent a bit and talks about how many well-intentioned trainers will recommend that a people-fearful dog be introduced to a wide variety of people who offer yummy treats to the fearful dog. She states that this puts that dog in an awkward situation of internal conflict when all the dog wants to do is to avoid interactions. I see this too with reactivity cases – and the more I use BAT, the more I feel that is a natural and conflict free (as in conflict free from the dog’s decision making process) way to work with reactive dogs.

  26. says

    I have a female, 8-year old ABDI, Layla, who became dog reactive around the age of three. We’ve had various trainers over the years, none of which have been very successful with dog reactivity.

    The first really smart thing we did was to have Layla evaluated by Pat Miller in April of this year. She was a godsend for Layla. We attended her weekend reactive dog class, which gave us many more tools than we ever had before.

    After that class, Pat recommended a local trainer for us, Alison Coates. I credit Alison with Layla’s turnaround because Alison introduced us to BAT! She came to our house three days a week to train Layla (without me around), and then on Saturdays she came to train me with Layla.

    Layla and I have been on our own for a month, practicing BAT on our daily walks, and in the house when she starts hearing neighborhood dogs bark.

    I have so much more confidence in myself now…and in Layla…making emergency escapes and quick turn-arounds!

    This past Saturday, Alison bought her dog, Beo, over to be our decoy. Beo was able to come within 3 feet of Layla, and she had no reaction at all…she was playing “find it” in the grass, and could have cared less about him.

    What I see in Layla now is that she is making choices to “look at that”…then look back at me, and get a treat. Before BAT, she was so over the top that she would not eat any treats, no matter what they were.

    We still have a ways to go…all I can say is BAT! WOW! I love it!

    Wish I could have made it to Seattle!

  27. says

    here are a few of my thoughts:

    First – any program which requires months or YEARS to produce a marked improvement is, IMO, really questionable in value. My breeds of dogs only live 10-12 years; I can’t spend years( a fifth or a quarter or a third of the dog’s life! especially if you adopt an older dog) fixing a behavior. When I hear of people working on this for years, I really want to run for the hills screaming. Either we’re not doing it right, or the method is useless. And yeah – I’ve been working on it for 4 years…..(head bangs wall)

    Second – too much of most of these programs is really about management & training the handler. It seems that the vast majority of dogs in the ‘positive’ growly dogs classes & programs are not really changing their views of the stimulus. They’re frequently just being managed, often in gentler, more humane, quiet methods than previously advocated – which is good! – but it’s still just management. See a dog? Sit & look at handler & get a cookie! Sure there are gradual improvement as cc kicks in but it’s painfully slow & even a small change like a bigger dog or a darker dog or a dog who is more ‘bouncy’ will all of a sudden lead to a reaction.
    The U-turn fallback is the epitome of handler managing the situation…..

    You know what I wish? I wish people would be honest about this. When I adopted a reactive dog, I got the clear impression that this is fixable. Fixable to me does not mean spending years on classes & trolling internet boards begging for volunteers to offer up their non reactive dogs for practice. The vast majority of people do not have the access to tons of ‘good dogs’ to work with. All the ‘good dogs’ are out there having fun in the parks & not many are interested in meeting with someone’s ‘aggressive’ dog. I have been bribing folks, offered people $, made donations in their names to animal rescues etc all just to get someone out to work with me & still, most of my training has to be on the fly, with the general clueless public out there. I can’t do incremental stuff, I can’t do parallel walking or gentle circling because I can’t find the dogs to work with.

    If I had known what this would be like four years ago, I don’t know if I would have taken this on. Sure my dog is ‘better’ but not great. I can walk her but she’ll act up if someone else handles her. She’s fabulous in class because class has rules & structure & there is no unexpected stuff happening. She was never truly awful, she’s had chances to hurt a dog and she never has. She’s all bluff and noise and pretense of being tough but deep down she wants to be friends. Give her a few minutes to think about it & check the dog out from a distance, and she’s ready for a polite greeting. But that doesn’t happen when you walk down the street.

    I still hope that there is a better way, a faster way, and a way which actually fixes the dog, rather than training the handler how to deal with the situation. One thing I wonder is if the growly classes stop too early? It seems that many dogs desperately need “Growly Class 2 – remedial socialization”…..It’s not enough to not bark/lunge/growl/hackle/stiffen. The next step has to be “calm quick polite greeting & move on”. Until I arrive at that, I’ll always feel she was never fixed, and just managed by me.

  28. Kristine says

    Shiva used to bark and lunge at everything. People, dogs, cats, lawn ornaments, rocks, plastic bags, garbage cans, everything and anything slightly different looking, especially if it moved. It started about three weeks after we brought her home. Obediance classes helped, I was able to get her to the point where we could walk on the other side of the street from people without her barking. But that was where we stalled. If someone else was coming down the sidewalk I’d have to cross the road or turn around. We were scared to take her to the park for fear it would overwhelm her. I’d never seen her bite a person or a dog but I wasn’t sure it wouldn’t escalate to that.

    But after our trainer’s advice and after I read “Fiesty Fido” I started using Auto-Watches and “Where’s the Dog”. The difference in her behaviour after a couple of weeks was gigantic. She was no longer nearly so afraid of every little thing. The first time we were actually able to pass someone on the sidewalk without her lunging, I was euphoric. It was something I’d never thought possible. A year later she’s still a little timid with strangers but she hasn’t barked at anyone for a long time. She even lets strangers pet her on occasion.

    It makes me wonder though if Shiva’s reactivity towards other dogs was based mostly out of frustration at not being able to play with them. While she doesn’t bark at other dogs any more, she does still pull and rush to greet them. It’s all very “in-your-face”. She doesn’t do this with people, just dogs. Since not every dog in the world wants to be her friend, this can cause problems. They don’t all take kindly to her enthusiasm, and I can’t say I blame them. So, for the most part, unless I know the dog and the owner, we still keep a bit of distance between us. Other owners don’t always take her abrupt greeting as friendly and I find myself apologising for her bad manners all the time. Maybe I just need some better rewards? I don’t know if BAT would work so well since what she wants is to get closer, not to move further away.

  29. says

    I am a huge fan of BAT for my clients with reactive dogs. I find that whether the dog is fearful, offensive, over-aroused, no impulse control or just a brat, the BAT protocols can lend success.

    A dog that is fearful, gets distance from the trigger, by moving away rather than the trigger moving away. I was never a fan of the trigger moving away; it teaches the dog that there IS a way to make people go away, I prefer to teach the dog that he has the option to remove himself.

    A dog that is over-aroused is not necessarily punished by the removal technique and in fact I believe they are rewarded by it, by not being subjected to the presence of the trigger – kind of like “if I can’t have the chocolate cake, then I don’t want to see it either so I’ll just leave the room and forget it’s there”. Eventually we can sit at a table with cake and not touch it, but it takes impulse control and conditioning.

    The BAT protocol gives owners simple options while the dog learns. AND it can be used, successfully, in conjunction with basic DS/CC protocols as well including LAT.

    A poster commented that BAT and CAT require a professional coach, I agree, I also believe that any pet owner with a reactive dog, who wants to rehabilitate the behavior, should invest in a good coach; a qualified trainer well versed in body language and behavior modification.

    BAT works excellent in a group environment as well. I have a team work 2 dogs at a time. The team helps the handler recognize signals AND helps shape subtle signals into much better signals. My clients also use the BAT protocols before and during our group walks on Sunday mornings. They are finding ways to use the BAT protocols naturally and during their normal routines.

    It’s a GREAT tool for the toolbox, definately.

    Donna Savoie, CPDT

  30. Nelson says

    One of my dogs started out as non-reactive, but became reactive after several reactive encounters – pre-emptive “trash talking” as I view it. Although it now sounds so obvious, just as one crazy encounter was about to start, I started throwing cues (come, sit, down, stand, sit, shake, etc.) at my dog, and to my surprise, he followed through! Fortunately, I walk with treats and he was richly rewarded. By his hard mouth, he was still aroused – but there was a different look in his eyes, as if the cues gave him direction for his anxiety. Not only were the cues incompatible behaviors, but with the multiple sequence both his body AND brain were distracted from the other dog. I started at the edge of threshold, but the cues kept him below threshold as the other dog passed. Now when we encounter a dog that makes him nervous, he comes to me waiting for cues and sometimes starts offering sequences on his own.

  31. Pike says

    Fascinating topic!

    I have used most methods that are described in the literature with Ronja the Beahound and failed to make much progress until meeting with Grisha and her lovely dog Peanut for a BAT session.

    It was then, that I realized that I had always let Ronja become too aroused and way above the threshold where she could still chose behaviors other than lunging and barking. Our BAT session used “good dog” as a marker when she chose to look away from the new dog – followed by the functional reward of walking in a direction that would increase the distance to Grisha and Peanut.

    Relatively quickly the threshold distance shrank from 50+ feet to maybe 6-8 feet. At that point it was interesting to see, that the functional reward needed changing: Now – that Ronja had established that Peanut was not scary, she wanted to greet him – so increasing the distance was not a reward anymore. We gradually decreased the distance between us and eventually the two dogs walked together and in the end met peacefully face to face after maybe 20 minutes or so.

    This approach was eye opening for me and has foremost taught me to be much more careful about staying sub-threshold. I also love the concept of functional rewards over treat rewards and am trying to use those as much as possible. BAT works well for me in planned situations where I have had time to carefully set up a greeting-new-dog-scenario. The time it takes Ronja to be able to peacefully meet with a new dog is now down to a couple of minutes.

    I have not yet mastered any technique that would allow for me to better deal with the dogs that surprise us (the onrushing, offleash “he is friendly” in your face dog, barking from inside parked cars, passing pick-up trucks, etc.). In those situations it is still all bark/lunge, drag Ronja away before her nails scratch up car with barking dog, nothing learned.

    Unfortunately, we live about 7 hours away from Grisha and Seattle and will have to wait until another opportune time, when we can meet up again for a sequel to BAT 1!

  32. Cheryl says

    A friend and I are using a combination of BAT and my calm, friendly dog with great success to reduce her dog’s dog-dog, dog-stranger, dog-child, dog-bicycle, dog-jogger reactivity on our evening walks. He does seem to be influenced by my dog’s confidence and watches her closely when she takes the lead in new situations. When he starts to approach his threshold, his owner, who is wonderfully attuned to him, uses BAT. She pick up on a calming signal and rewards him by turning him around. He’s too aroused to take food or a toy but her moving away works great and following her as she backs away from him is a big motivator for him. (He looks like a GSD on Bassett legs.) Of course, then I need ask my dog to do something so I can reward her, too.

  33. says

    I’m so glad you could make it to Seattle. It was just as fabulous as I thought it would be.

    Thanks for writing this all out to discuss with everybody. I imagine a lot of non-Seattleites are looking forward to the DVD of your talk! It’s an honor to have you mention BAT. :)

    I wanted to clarify for your readers that the stages are not quite as linear as my numbering system implies. If a dog can handle a higher stage at a given moment, we do that. So when we’re doing a set-up, we usually do Stage 3 right away. With that same dog on a walk, we may drop back to Stage 1 for surprise encounters (click before the dog can mess it up, get out of there, and treat) or use higher stages if the trigger is further away. I should probably have names for the stages to keep them from seeming so linear. One of Ahimsa’s trainers, Mireille, uses “BAT Light” to describe Stage 1.

    BAT does take some skill on the part of the handler, so when I run into people on the street and want to give 30 seconds of advice on how to deal with their reactive dogs, I only tell them about BAT Light or I tell them just to feed their dog every time he sees another dog. But if I have a client, BAT is very likely to be part of the protocol because it is so good for the dog to have a savvy handler. As any trainer knows, a dog in the hands of a savvy handler is much less likely to have a bad reaction than in the hands of a clueless handler, who puts the dog in over her head. I love using a marker signal for the sake of the dog, but it’s really good for teaching the human what to look for, too.

    One take-home phrase from your talk that I will now be mentioning is the Rehearsal Effect. That’s exactly why we don’t do extinction in BAT. Only perfect practice makes perfect!

    Thanks again for coming to Seattle. The evaluations were unanimous – everybody was impressed!

    p.s. Thanks to all of the folks writing in about their experiences with BAT. Such a good functional reward for me!!!

    p.p.s. I agree with Donna that this is not just for the fearful types. If you look at the dog in the Organic Socialization DVD, you’ll see he’s not a timid dog. He just headed in aggressively to bite/shake when he saw the stuffed dog (aggressive in the sense of intent to do harm). But BAT, using increased distance as the functional reward, is working for him! He just needs to be outside of the ‘magnetic field’ of the other dog.

  34. trisha says

    Such great, useful comments. And boy are they emphasizing how some things work well for some dogs, and not for others. Some dogs are more nervous if asked to look at another dog on cue or not, while others are worried and frustrated if they can’t. It all gets down to knowing your dog, mastering your timing (Is there anything in training that doesn’t require good timing?! sigh, I don’t think so…..) and setting up situations where you can win. And I should add, in answer to one important comment: No, it is absolutely true that not all dogs can be ‘cured’ or ‘fixed.’ Some can, literally 100%, most can be changed significantly, and some (most?) will always need a tremendous amount of management. But that doesn’t mean that the dog hasn’t improved so much that life is completely different. Three years ago if Willie saw a dog 2 blocks away he’d begin hysterical barking and lunging, eyes pancaked and pupils dilated. I’d never take him to a dog park now, but I can walk him anywhere and if he sees another dog he might whine a bit if he wants to go greet it, but otherwise he is quiet and mostly relaxed. That might not be a cure, but boy does it make life different.

    And yes yes, it is indeed true that decreasing the distance between dogs is sometimes a punishment for the subject dog… if they are barking and lunging because they are frustrated that they can’t run to greet the other one. If that’s the case, then polite behavior should be reinforced by letting the dog greet the other dog, I completely agree. (I wonder if that would have been the best reinforcement for the lab cross, Yogi, at the seminar on Sunday. He was so aroused that the seminar setting was not appropriate for him — glad in a way that we had an example of that, especially since I don’t think we set him back at all — but I don’t think he was afraid of other dogs, more likely he was out of control excited and frustrated.)

    Keep writing your comments and stories, this is such a common and difficult problem, and I think it is so useful for others to read how the problem has been handled by others.

  35. says

    Pike – good to hear that Ronja’s making good progress. I had a whole section on Sudden Environmental Contrast in the talk on Saturday. Definitely something to keep working on. I can’t remember if we had time to talk about Stage 1 BAT. If not – that’s a good thing to do when surprised, as well as Dr. McConnell’s emergency u-turn (from Feisty Fido).

  36. Kelly says

    Thanks for the fantastic summary! I wish I could have been there.

    I’ve been using BAT for a couple months with my border collie Nate and have seen some fantastic progress in a short time. Previously we had been mostly relying on Classical Counter Conditioning and we had made initial progress but kind of stalled. We also use the “look at that” game quite a bit. I found that game very helpful in shaping his Autowatch, so that now he will see another dog and look to me right away. He no longer barks or growls at other dogs that are on the other side of the street and his threshold has shrunk to about 6-7 feet. He is much more tolerant of his housemates occasional rudeness as well.

    I also started jogging with him nearly everyday to make sure he gets at least 20-30 minutes of real physical exertion everyday. (I’m sure he’d go longer but he has to drag me along and that’s the most I can do.) This seems to make a big difference for him. I’m interest to see what you think of the roll of exercise as adjunct to behavioral therapy. I am heavily influenced by the work of Dr. John Ratey, particularly his book “Spark.” And how that might play out for dogs as well as humans.

    I’m also looking at some Chinese medicine to help reduce his overall anxiety levels. So we’ll see where that goes, as well.

  37. Alexandra says

    @ Barb – To respond to your question about how long did it take to get my reactive dog to better greet dogs, my answer is never. I simply do not allow my reactive dog to interact with strange dogs. One of the major breakthroughs in training her, was when she realized that she did not *have* to interact with that scary, strange dog (or person) and that I would protect her from unwanted interactions. It was very hard for me to learn to accept that, as I had hoped for a friendly, outgoing dog. Generally, she just wants to be left alone.

    As far as introducing her to a dog that she’ll see on a regular basis that I would like to become her friend, such as when my neighbor’s got a German Shepherd last year, I have a process. The first part is to assess the other dog. If the other dog has any “issues” at all, then I don’t even bother trying for an introduction because there’s just too much risk of problems. If the other dog is pretty much normal and well-adjusted, then I’ll spend about a week or two of 5 minute sessions allowing Izzy to see and smell the new dog from a distance, gradually working up to parallel walking, obedience work in each other’s presence, and finally, when Izzy is looking 100% comfortable, not looking nervous or fearful or overly assertive, and expresses an interest in going to meet the new dog (she doesn’t want to meet every dog she sees), I’ll allow a meeting.

  38. Mary says

    Thanks for this post. I am also not a fan of having a dog go over threshold consistently. With my own dog, I found that hindered progress greatly. He improved dramatically when I learned to be patient and slowly increase his proximity to the other dog or person instead of pushing him into kind of a flooding situation.

    Being nit-picky here, but isn’t Trish King’s technique one of negative punishment- removing the owner-removing something of value (negative punishment) instead of adding something unwanted (positive punishment)?

  39. Alexandra says

    I also wanted to second the comment about not all reactive dogs being fixable, but that training sure can make life a lot better. Although I wouldn’t call Izzy “cured” exactly, her life with me now at age 6 is night and day compared to what it was when she was 2. I could list a lot of examples, but suffice to say that I used to walk her after 9 pm to avoid as many people as possible, and she almost certainly would have gone on to bite someone. Now, I can comfortably walk her on a loose leash or long line anywhere I like, and she gets to enjoy much more variation in her environment than would have otherwise been possible; I’ve been able to add a second dog to my household who is her BFF; I’ve been able to take her to group training classes; and I no longer worry about having her out and about when guests, even small children, visit. Other dogs are still an issue that I have to manage, but she is under my control and I know what to do to manage various situations. While she isn’t the dog I wanted, she was the dog I got, and I am incredibly grateful for the learning experience I have had and how much she’s taught me about dogs and about myself.

    I think it can be tempting to look at the prospect of months or years of training for a dog and think “there has to be an easier way,” but I think you have to consider the complexity of the problem and that a dog’s got the same kinds of fundamental emotions that we do (because they have a similar mammalian brain) but little/no ability to trump those emotional reactions with higher thought processes. You have to rewire those emotional responses by putting new behaviors & emotional responses in place. Brains are plastic enough to do that, but it takes time. Certain TV shows might make you think you can take care of that with a few well-timed leash pops, and maybe that does work for certain dogs, but those TV shows are geared around what sells and what entertains, not what works. You have to consider each dog as an individual.

  40. says

    I just had a BAT seminar this weekend for 3 reactive dogs. I have used it on a few dogs now and I am so amazed at how fast it works! As for my own dogs, I have used “Look at That”, emergency turn around, aut eye contact, and hand targeting to keep my dog from staring. This weekend I was able to try BAT with LOla. We didn’t do much- but I could really see how excited Lola was about having power to get herself further from the other dog.

    Crystal Saling, CPDT-KA, KPA CTP

  41. Judith Azaren says

    BAT worked phenomenally for my human aggressive dog. After the first session (about an hour) he was like a different dog. We had previous tried CAT, but after several dozen hours and two decoys he was no better. He hated being still, and BAT let us do the moving around and allowed me to interact with him in a fun way. BAT can be such a great game for the dogs (and handlers), which may be part of the reason it’s so effective. I love it, and so does my dog.
    Thanks a million, Grisha, for introducing BAT.

  42. Megan says

    I’ve had my herding breed dog since he was 8 wks old and as he is my first puppy. I have been striving in the 1 1/2 yrs since to make sure he was very well socialized while learning everything I could about positive reinforcement etc.

    I take my dog everywhere and he used to pull hard when we saw another dog or person because he loved everyone. I trained him to look at me or to lay down off to the side of the trail so that the person didn’t get jumped on or the other dog didn’t lunge. We avoid dog parks unless there is just one or two known dogs so we don’t often go. He has two or three pals he sometimes plays with. We have taken lots of classes and most of the time he focuses on the training but sometimes gets all jazzed up – taking treats hard — starting to stare at the darker dogs — being a pain in the butt. I was assured it was normal but I still hate it. I want him to be rock solid and yes, my pride hurt.

    The problem now is that on walks he has taken that laying down step and using it as a launch pad the moment the other dog passes. It doesn’t always happen — just enough to keep me on my toes. I spent hours Saturday at an outdoor dog friendly festival rewarding him with hot dogs and cheese when he ignored other dogs but he suddenly lunged at some shepherds. Frustrated he couldn’t herd the nearby sheep? Too much stimulus with a crowded event? Why does he suddenly go berserk over some dogs? And why is he suddenly barking at some men with facial hair and going ga-ga over others?

    He is a really great dog and I want to fix this bump in the road before he does become “reactive” if he isn’t already. Am I expecting too much from a dog this young? Did I do something wrong? How do you teach them dog manners when you don’t have a mannerly dog to show them?

    So much to learn! Thanks so much Dr. McConnell.

  43. says

    Dog-dog aggression and dog-dog reactivity are my “pet” problems (pun intended, I have one of each in my house). I always felt I had a great grip on these cases, and was able to help people with their dogs who reacted undesirably to their fellow canines. When I stumbled upon Grisha Stewart’s BAT I decided to try it out on my young border collie who (though extensively socialized to dogs) was developing some fear-based reactivity to other dogs. This was almost a year ago, and I have never looked back. My dog has made a HUGE turnaround, you wouldn’t believe the situations she can handle now (and she is still very young, 22 months). I have taken BAT to several clients and colleagues with great success. I have to disagree a little bit on your assessment that a cued operant response is easier for people than BAT, my clients have reported quite the opposite, and I have to say I have found it easier to teach them to recognize and mark/reward calming signals than it was to teach them to shape a cued response and ask for it consistently. I have discussed this matter (since I was truly surprised by the ease at which my clients took to BAT) with some friends who are pretty dog-savvy and own reactive dogs. They are all reporting the same stuff: easy to carry out, as well as highly reinforcing for the human end of the leash due to the quick results they’re enjoying. Wish I could have made it out to the seminar, it was beyond the budget this time, but would have loved to attend both your and Grisha’s talks.
    Sarah Stremming CPDT-KA
    Fort Collins, CO

  44. Jackie says

    My dog probably isn’t fixable, but I still hope that one day he will be easier to live with. As Hornblower says, if I’d known we’d still be struggling this much 18 months down the line, I wouldn’t have adopted him. I imagine he would have been pts, but even so I wouldn’t have adopted him. Which sounds very harsh, I know.

    However I would say that being advised by a very honest behaviourist that management was more realistic than expecting a big improvement has made a positive difference to our lives – keeping him away from people/dogs/visitors makes all of us less stressed, while we still plug away with CC and LAT in safe situations.

    But I hadn’t heard of BAT before, though intuitively sometimes I have rewarded him by taking him away from scary things. Definitely something I shall try.

  45. says

    My trainer has actually started having me use a time-out for Inara (5 year old APBT) when she acts stupid. Inara is hypermotivated to be around the other dogs, but lacks serious social skills, so her “punishment” for being an idiot is to not be allowed to see the other dogs. Because my cue for her time out is “sucks to be you!” (said very cheerfully!) I call them my “sucks to be you sequesterings,” or STBYS. I’ve posted a lot about them and how fantastically they are working on my blog (click my name and it’ll take you there). I’m forever grateful to my amazing trainer for thinking of that idea. My formerly psycho dog (couldn’t see another dog ANYWHERE without barking and lunging) is now successfully competing in obedience competitions. :-)

  46. Rose says

    I think the best part of these comments is that it makes those of us with reactive/fearful/aggressive/special needs etc feel not so “alone.” Having a dog who isn’t comfortable/reacts to humans and/or dogs (mine is dog-dog reactive) can be a very ‘isolating’ experience both in that many people/dog owners don’t ‘get it’ (no my dog will not just ‘work it out’ with the other dogs at an off-leash parks..yes your dog may be friendly but mine does not like greeting offleash strange dogs)and that (in my case) I have to do most of my dog walking solo.My dog can’t go to offleash parks or walk offleash so I don’t get to socialize with people there and particualarly in the beginning I had to walk solo with no friends around to distract me to focus fully on her.Personally, I work all day so all my spare time is devoted to exercizing and spending time with my dog…which means I definitly lack anything close to a social life!

    In terms of managing vs cured:A well-skilled (and HONEST) trainer is vital in helping you set your expectations in this regard. I know mine was great at maintaining a positive outlook for my dogs progress as well as being realistic (my dog will never go to an off-leash park and meet many new dogs).

  47. says

    @Jackie – there’s a nice blog series about BAT on Edie Jarolim’s “Will my dog hate me?” site. It’s written by Irith Bloom. The series doesn’t have a good link, but I searched her blog for BAT and found this: The newer posts are at the top, so scroll down to Training Tuesday: BATboy. There’s an intro on July 13, followed by three guest posts by Irith, then a video. I also have info on my site (click on my name, above) and a Yahoo group,

  48. says

    I too love using BAT, and do BAT setups with many of my clients. BAT is extremely effective and tends to get quite fast results. I have used it with dogs who behave fearfully, as well as dogs who behave aggressively or rudely, and my clients have been thrilled with the results. BAT can be a bit difficult to convey in words, but once clients see it in action and get the hang of it, they can do setups on their own (as well as Stages 1 and 2, of course).

    It always seems to me that fearful/reactive/aggressive dogs are trying to find a way to control a situation that is uncomfortable or overly arousing, and BAT helps give them control. Thank you, Dr. McConnell, for spreading the word about this method!

  49. Reidun says

    It’s been 3 years since I rescued my reactive Malinois girl from the highway, and it has been a long, winding road to where we are now. She used to be reactive to EVERYTHING, including scents, and she being my first truly reactive dog, I wasn’t prepared for this roller coaster ride that living with her has been. I live in a rural area, and I have no trainers (except for myself) or training premises to go to, so we pretty much have been on our own, trying to cope with roaming loose, barking dogs that are out of control, sheep, horses, big birds, people …. 3 years later, I know that my girl will never be “fixed”, but yes, we have come a long long way. Using mainly LAT, CC and targeting to hand plus search for goodies on the ground where it is possible- we can now walk past almost everything – except other dogs – she still needs a good distance to cope with that. I believe her reactivity is based on a mix of fear and frustration of not being able to play…. but I never know if she will play or attack if she gets the chance to meet another dog so I prefer not to risk it.
    I always try to keep out of situations that I know will arouse (of course she is very excitable) her and I also try to give her down time to keep stress hormones low. To take her places where I would love to take her with me, is not even an alternative.

    I have 2 more dogs, easy friendly dogs, the only thing I regret that managing my reactive girl and keeping her very intelligent mind busy, take so much time away from the other two, but with a full time job, there are only so many hours left in a day. And of course I wouldn’t be without my “problem girl” for all the money in the world!

  50. Susan says

    I have a young male chihuahua who was not well socialized for this first 3 years of life (either with other dogs or people) so is reactive to both. He is very easily excited by seeing both dogs and people – especially children or adults running – while on his tie-out. He is usually at fever pitch with the barking and chasing and does not respond with food/treats while at this high level of excitement. What has been working (some of the time) is calling his name and then turning away to either go in the garage or in the house. He will come running to find me, almost like a game. At that time I will praise him for coming. He does fairly well on leash by me saying ‘leave it’ when he sees another dog but could use some help staying focused. I have fostered several puppy mill dogs who are more shy than reactive and have never encountered this before. Is he trying to protect the house and yard by exhibiting this behavior? I should also mention he likes to escort people out of the house by barking and doing some small charges. Yikes! Any advice?

  51. Melissa says

    I am not a professional dog trainer, but I’m hoping I’m learning to think like one! Having a rescue dog has been a lot more difficult than I’d thought (this was ignorance on my part; while she was described as wonderful in her foster family, she was the offspring of a stray dog and didn’t have human contact for that period – or at least not kind human contact). At any rate, we are utterly in love with Trudy even though she displays the very behavior we didn’t think we could handle and would be likely to “return” the dog to rescue for.

    Both my husband and I are seeing progress from BAT – it has been somewhat slow, mostly due to our own laziness and due to the cost of hiring dog walkers to be decoys (our dog is wary of strangers). With the help of Grisha, though, we have recently refined our approach and are now seeing steady progress. The worst set-ups used to be where there was a lot going on (which is hard to avoid in the city!), but the last set-up was full of difficulty and somehow I managed to stay cool and use it to our advantage. From what Grisha said Saturday, I am thinking this will help Ms. Trudy generalize (we were moving back and forth across the street as strollers and joggers came by, mixing in a little stage 1 and 2 to deal with unavoidable situations, etc.).

    The more I learn, the more I want to shout from the rooftops how misunderstood dogs are! Why do joggers jog right at us? They don’t understand that a) that’s rude in the dog world! and b) some dogs are scared of their own shadow! Imagine if those of us with rascally dogs didn’t have to worry about someone coming out of nowhere to pet our dog or about someone letting their child toddle over to the dog without checking first. And I think that’s precisely why I am so fond, emotionally, of BAT. It teaches dogs to feel more secure in this not always dog-friendly society.

    Patricia and Grisha – you were both great and I learned so much this weekend. Many Thanks!!!!!

    p.s. if you see the BAT DVD “Organic Socialization…” my Trudy is the brindle “mutt.”

  52. Anne J says

    Hornblower has some really good points. I haven’t seen a dog yet that was completely fixed from this problem. They can be trained so you wouldn’t notice the problem in your average walking/class/ dog show environment, which is different than being absolutely reliable in any situation. It’s definitely easier to get a non reactive dog by adopting or buying an adult that you know is already that way than to try to train it out of them. Puppies can be a gamble- you don’t know if that friendly little pup is going to get reactive as he grows, even if the parents were stable dogs.

  53. Marnie says

    Dear Trisha,

    That was a terrific seminar in Toronto. You are such a generous teacher!

    As to your question, my leash-reactive dog is a “mystery mix” of (best guess) German or Belgian herding breed, Border Collie, and Husky. Off lead he is gregarious, appropriate, and not reactive. On-lead he could be quite dramatic. We’ve been using combinations of CC/D and LAT for several years with slow and gradual improvement in his leash-reactivity.

    However, we very recently worked with a trainer, using BAT techniques doing ad hoc setups in a dog-rich park, and had stunning success. We created distance by doing “run aways” at the first calming signal offered by my dog. In addition to the increased distance, the act of running itself seemed very reinforcing for my dog, and burned off a little of the stress energy each time. (It was also not a bad workout for me.) Although my dog’s leash reactivity comes from frustration at not being able to get to another dog, creating distance seemed to relieve that frustration and reduce his level of stress arousal. I was really quite surprised and excited at how far we came in that session.

    We’ve continued to use BAT techniques in real life situations, when my dog first begins to tense at the sight of another dog, and it has been a tremendous tool. We don’t always run, but even quiet movement from the stressor burns a little energy, refocuses the dog on me without my having to cue a thing, and lets us get a little closer the next time.

    BAT is proving to be a good tool for us, and I would guess that two months of it has taken us 2 or 3 times farther than 2 years of counter-conditioning and desensitization.

  54. Kim says

    I use a combination of Look at That and BAT with my dog. She is fear reactive toward mostly men, but also reacts to strange novel objects. I would like to tell of a recent success that we shared. While at a flyball tournament my girl notice a rather animated male spectator with both a hat and very reflective sunglasses on (trigger x3). She stiffened, tucked tail ever so bit, lip-licked and offered me a very nice look-at-man, look-to-mom, look-at-man, look-to-mom sequence so I promptly praised and moved a yard or so from the man. She visibly relaxed.

    Later on in the day, this same man came from around a corner into her view. Again I got a nice look-at-man, look-to-mom, look-at-man, look-to-mom behavior, but with more relaxed body language for which she got some nice praise and an ear scratch. When she went to look at him again, he had passed out of view. Next around the corner came a female friend of mine whom my girl is very comfortable with. She tried a look-at-friend, look-to-mom behavior but I jokingly said “She’s not scary enough. You have to do better.” Surprisingly, my girl scanned the environment and walked past buckets of tennis balls and a flyball box over to a push cart, which had alarmed her previously, and gave it a nice nose touch before coming back to sit in front of me and offer a wonderful AutoWatch. It illicited huge chuckles from my friend standing nearby who is familiar with “that looking game” that I play with my dog. For actively seeking out and interacting with something that previously alarmed her, my smart girl got a cookie and a game of tug.

    Is it management or coping skills? If I hadn’t acknowledged her looks would she have reacted to the man? Very likely. Is she “fixed”? Nope. But she does have a wonderful form of communicating to me that she is uncomfortable in certain situations. It’s taken 2+ years to get as far as we have, but now she can look at “normal” looking and acting men and will even target the legs of men as we pass by. I’ll take that over a reactive display anyday!

  55. Elizabeth says

    hornblower – thank you! there are days i want to scream with frustration and other days i want to weep in despair. i’m not looking for a “cure”. but i’d sure like to move beyond management. i would like to be able to walk down the street and greet old friends (and their dogs) without having to shout at them from across the street while i shovel treats into my dog (and, yet, just being able to do that is progress).

    i’d sure like an aggressive dog owner support group. i’m so sick of being told (1) there’s nothing wrong with my dog (it’s natural for dogs to bark and lunge at each other); (2) it’s my fault my dog is neurotic (i must be communicating my fear to the dog, or i’m not alpha enough, or whatever reason someone finds to blame me for their dog being off leash and causing a problem); (3) i just need to watch cesar milan videos and he’ll be cured instantly; (3) he needs more/better excercise (we do 3 hours a day); (4) i’m reinforcing his bad behavior by giving him treats; (5) why do i want to change my dog, can’t i just accept him the way he is? and on and on.

  56. says

    Let’s see if I can briefly summarize my two reactive dogs and the various methods they’ve been subjected to (makes me wonder who’s really reactive here, me or the dogs :) ) Dottie is a more typical reactive dog, a terrier mix of some kind who could run all day and not be tired, barks a lot, and literally did not lay down out of doors ever until the age of three, and then it was cued. Can’t go camping, can’t talk to friends on the street without her getting loud and impatient, etc. She was attacked a few times by other dogs and developed dog-dog reactivity. BAT has been a godsend for her. She literally stiffens, leans forward, purses her lips, then goes “oh yeah!” and turns around to me and we sprint away. Tons of fast progress where regular CC/DS and LAT did not seem to be helping much. I call her my “operant” dog: always wants to do what works and learns quickly.

    Gustav, my boxer/BSD mix, is human and dog aggressive. He has excellent impulse control and is the type to stay in the stay you put him in long after you released him. He is more stoic and difficult to read, and seems “fine” until he explodes when the person took the one step that put him over the edge. I always thought the word “suspicious” was a better label for him than “fear-aggressive.” He feels pretty confident that he can take care of business if need be. Autowatches and CC helped a ton for walks, but I never did see the part detailed in Cautious Canine: “when your dog looks as though he wants to meet Ken . . .” He did his autowatches and licked his lips but never seemed to actually be relaxed or happy about seeing the stimulus I was constantly pairing with chicken and steak. I used CAT with him, but just standing there he seemed to get bored or agitated and I wasn’t convinced he was connecting his behavior with the retreat of the decoy. Now I use CC/DS and BAT on walks, and do sessions of a mix of CAT and BAT with a friend of mine once a week. He’s also in Reactive Rover class, which is great practice since all the conditions are so carefully controlled. I would say the jury is still out on this one, since he wants distance but he’s reluctant to give up the control he feels while staring. I couldn’t say for sure if BAT/CAT is the answer for him yet. His issues seem so much more deepseated than Dottie’s.

    I have two questions about these procedures: one, I saw so much more progress in CC/DS when we were WAY under threshold, like basically as far as we could possibly be where Gustav still noticed the stimulus. In BAT, however, Grisha recommends working at the “top of the hill,” much like the zone of proximal development in Vygotsky’s sociocultural learning theory for children. Not so easy that it’s a foregone conclusion they won’t bark/lunge, but not so hard they can’t possibly succeed. Why are the optimal zones to work in different in the two methods?

    My other question: I adopted Gustav as a calm companion for Dottie when he was between two and three. I used to have people over, no problem, and he could get pet by strangers on walks and see dogs with no problem. He used to go to the dog park. Over the last two years, all his issues worsened to the point where he is crated for visitors, doesn’t go to the dog park, and bark/lunges at dogs on walks. Why? Did I just miss all his subtle signals he was uncomfortable and felt like he had to take matters into his own hands? Did I do something wrong during that time? Did having a reactive dog as a companion make him worse, like with Willie and Hope?

    And to everyone coping with the realization their dog will not do the things they wanted their dog to do: I totally empathize with this process. I’ve started thinking of my dogs as slightly different pets than other peoples’ dogs. You wouldn’t bring your iguana to the iguana park, because they just don’t do that. You don’t bring your cat to walk down the aisles at the pet store, because they just don’t do that. My dogs are good for cuddling in the house, romping in the yard, and taking on carefully controlled neighborhood walks, because that’s what they can do. Doesn’t mean you can’t continue to work on things, but it kind of takes the pressure off.

    Thanks for this topic, Trisha, there’s a big need for it!

  57. Lori says

    I have a reactive Border Collie that I adopted from the county animal shelter. Soon after I brought her home, she broke with a severe upper respiratory infection, so it took several weeks before I realized that she had a problem.

    To make a long story short, she was diagnosed by a veterinary behaviorist with generaliazed anxiety disorder and fear-based dog aggression. She’s never harmed a dog (and has had ample accidental opportunity),her displays were always designed to increase distance.

    I couldn’t do much with this dog until she began receiving “Vitamin P” (prozac). We took the dog = cookie tact. It’s almost 2 years later and she is significantly improved, but she’ll always need to be managed and to coin a term from the horse world, she’s “hot”. I’ve often wondered if her improvenent is largely due to my ability to read her in an almost telepathic manner. I’ve also been forced to read the envirnoment in order to protect her. I’ve probably become just as hypervigilent as she is!!

    Despite the continued use of prozac, I don’t think that she’ll ever be normal or completely non reactive except in a herding environment, where she is too interested in the sheep to be concerned about the other stuff.

  58. says

    I just found gold here! I have a reactive-to-everything by nature BC/GSD/Staffordshire bull terrier mix and have been looking for litterature on the subject. Thank you!

    Trish wrote she’d never take Willie to a dog park, but can walk wherever she wants with him. Interesting! I’m sort of aiming for my dog to be like other dogs, but of course that will never happen. I guess there’s no shame in not being able to do certain things – like going to a dog park.

    It was quick and easy, done in one evening, to teach my dog not to react to joggers, bicycles, children shuffling their feet, and to pretty much cure her horse fobia. Not reacting to other dogs seems harder to do. From her cage in the car she’ll bark and grumble every time she spots a dog out walking. When on a leash I can’t stand between her and the other dog as she wants to face the strange dog so all I can do is drag her to a distance where she is not gasping and swallowing her tongue anymore. In obedience class she understands no playing with the other dogs and is able to concentrate on training but, of course, she knows the dogs that are there.

    My dog is not aggressive but it’s more like she looses control of herself when another dog comes her way and her dog language is probably just gibberish.

    I’m looking forward to trying out method 2 and 4.

  59. says

    I wish I could have made your seminar in Seattle. It sounds like it was great. I own akitas that tend to be reactive and work with a lot of reactive dogs in my classes. For my own dogs, I found the “look at that” game by Leslie McDevitt in “Control Unleashed” worked really well. One of my dogs is a bit of a control freak and needs to know what is going on around her at all times. Being able to look at dogs walk by worked better for her than trying to stay focused on me while they were walking by her. She had too much anxiety not knowing what was going on out of her view. Eventually it turned into a sequence of look at the dog, look at me, look at the dog, look at the me until finally it became look at the dog, look at me and then ignore the dog. For this type of vigilent personality, I found it helpful. Other dogs I have found prefer to be like the proverbial ostrichwith its head in the sand and would rather focus on the owner and not have to look at the other dog. I have also done somewhat of a modified BAT using dogs behind a fence as the decoys and found that I was able to cover more ground fairly quickly.

  60. says

    My Vanya, a rescued pit bull, has a little bit of everything: intense excitement when he sees other dogs, utter lack of communication skills with new dogs, barrier frustration, and high stress levels. And an intense love of playing with familiar dogs–unfortunately, his housemate dogs are 15 years old and less interested in playing with him. (What he doesn’t have is any history of fighting or real aggression, although much of that is due to my careful management. Trainers who have assessed him have felt that his terrible communication skills would quickly lead to a fight. But with decoy dogs, his language is too pushy, but not aggressive:

    Off the farm, he’s a bit OCD, stressed, whining with excitement at just about anything. It’s nearly impossible to keep him below threshold at first, because he whines at anything new–a leaf in the distance, a person, a dog. Because he’s thrilled to meet all new people, and because he reacts to new dogs the same way he reacts to new people (with stress whining and then shrieking), I’ve been very confused about how to work with him, since it’s almost impossible to keep him below threshold. He can calm down, however, quite quickly.

    Months of practicing the relaxation protocol has helped a bit with his stress levels. Low doses of prozac have helped as well with his OCD behaviors and his stress levels. Years of playing the Look at That games from Control Unleashed and auto-watches from Feisty Fido have helped a tiny bit, and working with decoy dogs has helped as well. Now we’re trying a bit of BAT, a bit of playing after he sees another dog, a lot of targeting in the presence of other dogs. What really works the best is to put his muzzle on him and let him practice a very brief, 2 second greeting with a calm, bomb-proof dog, but alas, these are rare in our current life. He has a few little dogs who don’t seem to mind him, and with his muzzle on, I trust him for the 2 second greetings. The rest of the time, I try to keep him far enough away from other dogs so he can see them (he immediately alerts and begins to whine, but doesn’t bark or lunge or shriek), but still respond to cues such as target cues, or offer calmer signals on his own (at which point we run off and give him treats).

    It’s all very confusing. He needs motion and activity. A muzzle helps my own nerves tremendously–I keep it in my back pocket or the treat bag when we walk, and he practices wearing it at random intervals in return for treats, so he doesn’t association the muzzle with my tension.

    The hardest thing, by far, is finding dogs for set-ups. Classes don’t work, because his threshold distance is too great. I’m lucky to have connected with people on various lists (hi Cynthia!), so we can practice weekly. But of course, all of us have reactive dogs, which is great for distance work, but not great for finding bomb-proof, calm, calm dogs who love to rough house.

  61. Jerry Bies says

    Do you know of any place I can get training in C.A.T. (Constructional Aggression Training) ? I’d like to explore the possibility further. The only information I’ve been able to find is the single set of DVD’s of Dr. Jesus Rosales-Ruiz and Kellie Snider, M.S.presenting their work in about 2007

    Thanks in advance.


  62. says

    For those who are interested in using DS/CC with their dogs for reactivity issues, I suggest watching some of the videos made by Drayton Michaels, from Urban Dawgs. He’s in an urban setting, so surprises are part of daily life! Outstanding use of parked cars as barriers lol. So, he easily constructs set ups by positioning dogs behind cars and waiting for things to go by on the other side so he can feed quickly while the dog remains under threshold.
    Another great resource is Kim Moeller’s book and DVD. Reactive Rover.
    For the poster above who said there should be a Reactive Rover series of classes, there is! Kim has four levels. I believe that Pia Silvani at St. Hubert’s does reactive dog agility classes, which I think is a stellar idea for dogs that are generally fearful. Great confidence builder for any dog really.
    The poster above who uses the “sucks to be you” sequesterings is using negative punishment, which is a technique we often recommend for dogs that go over the top during play or greeting behavior. It tells the dog that the way to continue playing or being able to greet is to control yourself, or you will be removed. Great technique and I find that it works exceptionally well as described in that post – done cheerfully and without anger.
    When deciding what intervention to make, my preference is always to use a humane hierarchy, and try the least invasive, most minimally aversive method first. As Dr. McConnell so rightly points out, timing is so important, but so are mechanics and motivation. If you have poor mechanics, or the dog is not sufficiently motivated (we’ve all heard “he isn’t motivated by food”) then you will be unsuccessful. So, once we check our own skill, we can go to addressing motivation. If the dog isn’t motivated by food, he’s dead;-) So, either up the ante, take the dog to a further distance from the offensive stimulus, or close the economy on food so that Fido must earn it by participating in the training, not from a food bowl. For dogs that are food motivated, but hyper, you can reduce stress by feeding them from a Kong instead of the bowl (I hate bowls – so boring lol).
    One fun thing I like to teach clients to do is Pam Johnson’s “Surprise Party Game” (you can find it on YouTube). It has made many of my clients happier with their dogs, because it’s supposed to be fun, and they haven’t had fun with their dogs for a while…

  63. LP says

    I have dog reactive malamute. Even when riding in the back of the car he will see a dog on the street on in another car and go whacko, snap at my other dog who is not reacting.

    He pretty much acts like an angel when I take him to school and he has been to several. Recently at a local doggie event he was able to walk up and sniff a few dogs but there were still a few he felt the need to scream at. I’m not sure if he wants to play or kill. Think it may be a combination of both.

    Really wouldn’t be much of a problem if all dogs were on leashes, but they aren’t. I am terrified of walking him in the neighborhood, taking him to the park, etc. because almost everywhere I go I run into a dog off leash. Afraid that he will set off the other dog and be attacked. So I would like to know have any of you had an off leash dog run up to your reactive dog? What happened?

  64. peter says

    hello i have a very reactive malamute she is an angel in the house but is very rude on her lead she is 3 years old and we got her from a rescue center, she is very rude to other dogs she pulls VERY strongly to get to the other dog whilst having the hairs on the back of her neck and back on end and she snaps at the air and whines but doesn’t bark or growl, i have been told she is just excited and is a frustrated greeter, i was wondering if you could offer some advice or links to help me with her and how to begin socializing her with other dogs safely

    thank you so much

  65. Frances Brock says

    I love your books and comments – please could you/ anyone advise me what to do when my young Border terrier/cross neutered dog is attacked, whilst on lead, by another dog which is off lead? This has happened three times (twice by my neighbour’s dog!), with the result he’s now reactive and fearful, and I don’t enjoy meeting other dogs, as mine looks and sounds like a vicious thug, when I think he’s just scared! I’ve worked on the ideas of treats when we see dogs, at distance etc – but, when he’s is attacked, how can I help him to get over it, please?

  66. Joyce Gauthier says

    >>(Can you spell German Shepherd? Forgive me, but do the GSD folks out there agree that GSDs seem to care deeply about being with their humans, more so than many other dogs? I am NOT saying this is appropriate for every GSD, or not for other breeds, don’t get me in trouble by misquoting me!)<<

    Ha! As the owner of five GSDs over the years, I have to wholeheartedly agree :) With the exception of my one Feisty boy Raven, adopted at 3 1/2 yrs old and for whom it took a LONG time to build a bond where abandonment training would work for him. That said, with my other four, if they had reactive issues (thankfully they do not), yes, absolutely, they would immediately cease what they were doing and come to me if I ran away. I always tell my students in my training classes that have GSDs that recall training is "easier" with them because they so badly want to be with you :)

    While instructing my students w/ their Feisty dogs, I use a lot of classical counter-conditioning to start, and then use the other methods you described and see what works best for each dog/handler.

  67. Joyce Gauthier says

    >>Can anybody speak to how long it took them to achieve success in meeting/greeting other dogs? I know each case is different, but it feels like I’ve been working with the dogs both on my own and with a very good trainer, and I haven’t seen major success as of yet. I am aware that this is a long process. Still, I have hope knowing that both dogs can be around and play with dogs that they know and met when they were younger<<

    It is different w/ every dog as you said and there is no way to know when or if it will be the right time to allow your dog to greet. Also, not all dogs want to greet unknown dogs. With my boy Raven, adopted at 3 1/2 yrs old, kept tied outside most of his life w/ no interaction with other dogs, he NEVER got to the point where I let him meet/greet other dogs. Not because I didn't want to put the enormous amount of time into his training that it would have taken to get to that point, but because I realized after working with him for a couple of years, that he had no desire to meet dogs that he did not know (the dogs he lived with and one friend's dog). He lived a very happy life learning to calmly be around dogs, learning how to communicate to me that he wanted to move away from other dogs, going on hikes and sitting quietly as dogs passed us on the trail, etc., but never showed any desire to want to meet those dogs.

  68. says

    I never want to give up on a dog but I have a client with a very aggressive Boxer. I am his third trainer. The previous trainer had him use a prong collar, worn continuously and a shock collar for his reactivity. It is my belief that this has caused his aggression to children and dogs escalate. I have been setting up Bat sessions but the owner, no matter how much I instruct him, pushes the dog to far and the dog is not responding. Our last session asking the dog for a simple down caused him to attempt to bite my hand, lucky for me he was muzzled. When do you say enough? Any help is appreciated.

  69. says

    Thanks Patricia, this is a helpful summary.

    My preferred method is to teach the dog some basic skills (look, touch, sit) and teach the owner and dog loose leash walking, as well as teaching the owner how to read their dog.

    Working with the dog, I always stay below threshold. First I develop a positive CC response upon seeing the neutral dog.p. (I have the luxury of using my non-reactive dogs, Buddha and Gandhi) or in some cases I must start with a realistic stuffed decoy dog.

    Then I prompt a Look or Watch response until it develops into an auto-Watch. Gradually I reduce distance and add variations to the exercises: One dog is stationary while the other moves; Different angles of approach; Different speeds; One dog follows the other; Both dogs walk parallel; Dogs pass one another. If all goes well we work up to brief calm meetings and departures. If we don’t reach that stage at least the dog owner can go for walks in the neighborhood without drama.

    I encourage the use of a no-pull front attach harness and hands-free leash, use of very high value training treats, avoiding any location or activity likely to push the dog over threshold until we have solid CER, and the emergency U-turn.
    These things work well with most dogs and the owners seem to grasp the process rather quickly.

  70. says

    Thanks for always sharing ! You continue to set the standard for us all.
    Briefly – I would say I believe the next tool I see being added to WATCH, LOOK AT THAT etc.. is FIND it with foraging. It adds in looking down for reinforcement. I realized the power with a very fearful – reactive (to people) beagle . Once day a person entered the room unexpectedly and rather than react he started scanning the floor for tidbits of treats then looked at me for the FIND it game to start.

  71. says

    I’ve owned several reactive dogs and I’d estimate that 90% of my private training clients have dogs with some level of reactivity causing them distress.
    My “go to” tools for students are:
    Threshold identification
    Look at that/ Look at me
    Classical conditioning
    With my own dogs I add in:
    alot of attention/ eye contact reinforcement/ focus on other task
    BAT in real life scenarios (If I get in over my head I do not move way until my dog offers SOMETHING non reactive.)

  72. L W says

    I’ve been reading A LOT about dog reactivity since my 12 month old GSD, barked and lunged at a dog while in the show ring. I immediately got a trainer!

    I take NO offense at the GSD=clingy comment. It made me laugh. One GSD lady at the show, said GSDs were the poster children. for separation anxiety.

    Thanks so much for all of this info!

  73. Suzanne says

    I have read your amazing book but I have a specific question and I will attempt brevity while also giving the right context.
    I’ve had a fear based reactive dog since he was a baby he is 3. He is a large dog (110lbs) Pyranees, Rottie, Malamute. While always sensitive to improper human approaches he was always great with dogs and shied away from people. At 9 months he began to charge people at a distance barking and since he was already 60+ lbs we had to stop going to parks with him. He has been in many training classes and to many trainers since. He became much better with people in public but his dog reactivity (originally non-existant) began and has increased dramatically. He now nips dogs and foolish people who reach out to him through fences when he’s barking. Of course we have eliminate his dog contact but even leash walks are difficult.
    We have only used pure positive training and he is a perfectly trained and well behaved dog otherwise. We are considering tap training just for his dog reactivity (which doesn’t appear to be fear based) and only so we can take him on walks without him losing it at the end of his leash across the street.
    I’m reluctant but at this point it’s a safety issue. We understand he will never be a dog park dog and just want him to have a functioning life with the proper exercise. At what point is responsible collar training an option? 2 years of pure positive consistent and thoughtful has made no improvements.
    I welcome any reasoned advice. Thanks!!

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