Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Working with Viva who has reactive behaviors

Viva's behavior becomes intense when she hears a dog collar, smells a dog in the air or sees a dog. When we agreed to take Viva as a foster dog we were well aware of her reactivity when seeing dogs on lead.  I've worked with a number of our past foster dogs who were leash reactive and Catty and I have worked through a lot of her leash reactivity.  So, I figured I could work through this with Viva.   As often happens, my training plan has had many adjustments in the time Viva has been with us.

First off I didn't realize how much distance Viva was going to need from dogs.  Here we are in the first week that Viva was with us.  We are at a park, and about 50 feet from where a dog could be walking.  We also have a visual barrier of a tall sloping hill.  So there's no way that Viva could visually see a dog.  But, as the video shows - she can hear & no doubt smell a dog.  In the two video's below, Viva is a dog over threshold.

Debbie Jacobs' quote: "The threshold is the point at which your dog can no longer deal with a trigger before reacting in a negative way (with fear or aggression).” — A Guide to Living With & Training a Fearful Dog, 2011.


When a dog is in this state they react the way that has worked for them in the past.  It was interesting as I watched this video. I had no idea what I was doing while this was going on.  I'm clearly trying to calm her down and she can't think, nor can I.  This was a stressful moment for both of us and it gave me useful information to think about how to tighten up managing the environment and what behavior modification to apply.

Another interaction we had occurred because we were trapped between dogs coming from each side of the path we were one. So, the only thing I could do was to manage Viva the best I could and hope the dogs moved along quickly.  In this video you can see Viva quickly going over threshold and the dog that is walking by, is doing it's best to ignore Viva. This was not good for a number of reasons and it happened during the first couple of weeks Viva was with us.

So, all of this behavior gave me information on how to start working with Viva.   If you are new to leash reactivity here are some good starter articles:

And we all need to remember...

Knowing that B is for BEHAVIOR that's what we started working on.  Teaching Viva new behaviors that she can eventually use when we are out walking.  I did a series of post about all the behavior work we've been doing.   Here are those posts if you missed them.

A new park for learning and having fun

Some excellent articles:

Teaching A Leash Reactive Dog To Make The Right Choices

Training Your Reactive Dog

 Leash reactivity: It’s trainable (but not how you might think)

Below are a number of videos of the work we've been doing on our walks.  These video's were after Viva could give the me the behaviors we'd been practicing.  Viva has really done well as you will soon see.

Practicing new skills of  "Look, lets go" 

Using a visual barrier (the cars) between Viva and a walking dog.

Using skills "look, let's go" with a dog down the street.  This was hard for Viva but, she makes a number of good choices!

Good girl Viva!  She's doing great and I should have had us leave at the 30 second mark.  You can see how she starts to go over threshold after the 30 second mark.  But, we recover and she's awesome.

Doing great!

More excellent work and she's makes lots of great choices.

Clearly our progress is moving along.  But, as often happens in life, we had a number of set backs in close order.  There's no way to 100% manage the outside environment.  You do the best you can and that's what I do.  However, there are jerky dog owners who do not leash there dogs and we had an incident with a very large out of control dog running up on us. It was a bad interaction and I gave the owner a face full and called animal control.   Public service announcement - if you cannot recall your dog when it sees a dog your dog should not be off leash. Don't be an inconsiderate jerk with saying "my dog is friendly" as it's running full tilt at me and my dog that is freaking out.  I continue to be amazed and frustrated with how inconsiderate and clueless people are.

Our next set of  issues were around the loss of daylight.  This environmental change has proven to be a very big deal for Viva.  With the lack of light, it's a huge challenge with being able to see what is coming.  Viva still in not convinced that humans don't always have dogs with them. So, Viva was becoming more stressed out when we would see people and this wasn't good.   And because Viva was showing stress, when we actually did see dogs from a distance & who were leashed, Viva struggled with staying under threshold.  When a dog is too close, this creates a Viva who was on high alert and when that happens she can't think or practice her new skills.   With a  dog - they set what distance is comfortable to them.  The human's job is to monitor that distance and respect what the distance the dog needs.

The other problem was raccoons.  They are everywhere! I don't know what is going on in Seattle but, we have a raccoon problem and these are big raccoons!  On one walk we came across 3 different raccoons.  I hate raccoons - they are mean and will chase you. Viva loses it because she wants to attack them and I'm scared of them.  None of this is good.

I work full time so, it's important that Viva and I walk in morning.  This gives her a good walk before the long work day and it gives us time to work on new behaviors.

So, lots of environment changes in a short amount of time.  When the environment changes, dogs are deciding if they are safe, unsafe or neutral.  What I  was witnessing was Viva feeling unsafe. So, time to make some changes.

All of the above has set us back which is to unfortunate.  But, we are not throwing in the towel.  Instead I'm doing what the trainer of 4paws University posted on her facebook page:

Time to Evaluate the situation and Adjust my plan.
Stay tuned to see what the next steps are for us!

And a wonderful quote by 4paws University!

Thank you to another northwest  New Rattitude volunteer who created this picture for me


  1. We're cheering on Viva for being so plucky and ready to learn, despite setbacks. Thanks for all the bits about behavior and reactivity...helps us keep perspective and patience and reminds us to be grateful for those small steps forward. Appreciate the extra information/resources about reactive dogs, too.

    1. Viva says thanks! I know we'll work through the reactive stuff, just going to take time. Viva is a special girl and I'm glad I can help her. Glad you like all the information and resources and even if one doesn't have a reactive dog it's interesting stuff for sure!