Potential for Disaster

Still reactive? Or reformed reactive dog?

Right now, I’m working with a young puppy who’s in training to become a service dog. After spending several hours with her in a crowded space on Saturday, I determined that she has no self-control when she’s around people and dogs. She’s essentially the antithesis of Risa; wants to go and play with every dog she sees. There goes my theory that I’d rather have that than a reactive dog. 😉

I know that she needs to realize that not every dog she meets is a potential playmate. She must learn to control herself. Unfortunately, I am a bit limited when it comes to places I can work on this with her. Petsmart is a possibility as it has aisles that can be used as a visual barrier. Standing outside the dog park could work as well though I don’t think she’s ready for such high-activity and multiple dogs yet. My best option, however, is to work her around a single dog in an otherwise not-very-distracting place. We have to start slow.

Again, I find myself without access to proper bait dogs. A solid dog who, no matter what happens, will just sit there and allow me to work with the dog who needs help. Unlike whenever I’ve worked with Risa, I do have access to one other dog in this case. My dog. My dog reactive dog. And I hatched a plan.

While this seems like a completely asinine idea, pairing an over-excited puppy with a dog reactive dog, I know my dog. Risa has made outstanding progress as of late. She is far less reactive than she’s ever been and, even when she does have a meltdown, her recovery is speedy. I set up the training session so that everyone could succeed and that no one would get hurt or scared.

I placed Risa’s wire crate in the yard and put her inside of it. I stuffed her Kong full of raw meat and froze it so that she would be rewarded with a high value goodie during this event. I set up two chairs and covered them with a blanket to serve as a visual barrier for working with the puppy. This area was set up about 20 feet away from Risa. Fifteen feet behind that was my car. Although the main purpose of this set up was to work on the pup’s self control, I was ready to pull the plug and end it if Risa were to show signs of reactivity or excessive stress. Risa’s thoughts were just as important to me.

Risa did get a bit upset at the start when she saw the puppy. But it was more frustration about not being able to meet the puppy as well as the fact that I was so far away from her and working with another dog. The pup, of course, started barking and carrying on in her own meltdown of frustration so we retreated behind the barrier. It wasn’t far enough away for her to regain her composure so we moved back behind my car. Risa eventually calmed down and started digging into her Kong. In fact, she enjoyed it with her back facing the puppy!

I was able to work the pup using Risa as a distraction with no problem. While Risa enjoyed her Kong, she was a perfect bait dog. Non-threatening and relatively boring to look at. A minor major distraction for the puppy. After Risa had finished her Kong, she stood and watched us work which was a bit more distracting for the puppy. I was able to get the pup to within 20 feet of Risa and have her calm and collected. She was able to focus on me and do a couple behaviors. Then, I called it quits.

I was so proud of Risa. Who would think a dog reactive dog would EVER be a good candidate for a set up like this!?

About Jamie

I'm just a traditionally-trained artist with interests in dog training. I currently teach classes at the local obedience training club (tricks, freestyle, and Rally-FrEe) and I also teach classes professionally for an organization who helps veterans train their own service dogs.
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