Reactive to Traffic, Horses, People, Dogs
Here is beautiful Jack, the 8-year-old Doberman Mix I visited about five weeks ago.
Everything at home has been going brilliantly, but I received a message saying that Jack was getting worse on walks – even more reactive to people, traffic, dogs, horses and other things – hackles up, rearing and barking. He might even go on strike. They felt he was being stubborn.
I know that if it’s being approached the right way – with some enthusiasm, and if people realise it can take a long time (not just days or even weeks) things always gradually improve. So, today I went to see them again.
This is what they were finding: Originally they were using a Halti and the only way they could get Jack past things was by using force. With the new harness I recommended he had more choice in the matter, and he was digging his heels in and refusing to budge. The gentleman could not inspire Jack – which isn’t surprising because he himself wasn’t inspired. Out in the street Jack seemed worse. He could barely hold him when dogs or horses appeared.
This is what we did: Already in place should be Loose Lead walking, practised somewhere quiet like the garden (see my demo http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ag9AMjJxJa8 ).
After our half-hour session this morning Jack is already a different dog. He wasn’t stubborn, he was scared. For starters I enjoy walking back and forth and communicating with the dog. To me it is a pleasure, not a bore. I do my level best to inspire the dog. I keep him busy. I do all the decision-making. He can rely upon me. You can see the progress in Jack’s body language from the first picture to the last as the gentleman copies what I did.
1) With his harness and lead attached at the chest, I tried walking him around the house. It was difficult to get him to move, and although I succeeded with a lot of encouragement, silly noises and effort, his tail was down. His ears were back. He was licking his lips. He was worried.
2) I took him to the front door but only when he was ready to come willingly, and opened it. We didn’t go out immediately – just stood there, waiting for him to relax. The lady and gentleman stayed behind in the hallway, watching. I then stepped out a couple of steps, turned around with a bit of verbal encouragement and walked straight back in through the door again. I must have done this about ten times. Now Jack was visibly relaxing – particularly as there had been nothing other than a passing car to worry about and he barely looked at it. He was beginning to trust me – just a little.
3. I now stepped out a little bit further – out beyond the driveway, and we walked back and forth within a radius of about five metres, going back indoors several times. He had started off looking very much like the top two pictures, watchful and wary. Head down. I stopped and let him look about. I turned and went back indoors and then tried again. Over and over. He began to relax – as in the third photo. I wasn’t making him confront anything that worried him. He was beginning to trust me just a little bit more..
4. Now he was ready to be pushed a little further, whilst remaining within his comfort zone. Some people were walking towards us – about two hundred yards away. Jack clocked them and I turned around and walked back indoors – then came straight back out again. They were nearer now and again I kept Jack busy, I turned away and then turned back again – all the time watching very carefully for any deterioration in his confidence. At the first sign of his fixating on anything, we turned away. By the time we finished the people were walking into a house across the road and Jack had stopped looking at them. TIP: It may help to walk into the dog to get him to turn away as you will physically be moving his head around. For instance, if he’s walked on the left, instead of turning right which is more natural, turn to the left and walk around him, bringing him with you.
5. Now I advanced a little further away and Jack stopped for some serious sniffing in grass. A good sign! A dog in a panic doesn’t stop to sniff the grass. I waited for him to be ready to move again and as we walked back to the house we heard horses down beyond a bend in the road – probably only a hundred yards away. Again, I kept Jack busy, kept his attention on me, and walked him into the house. I turned straight back out again and at the end of the driveway the horses were now visible. Keeping busy, I didn’t stop. I turned around and walked back in. We stayed in as the horses passed, he wasn’t ready for that, and I fed him little treats while he listened to the clip clop as they walked by – quite calm – in order for him to associate his not reacting to horses with something pleasant. TIP: If you are by the open door or gate working on passing horses, dogs etc., hook the lead around the handle so that you can relax and everyone is safe, just in case you have misjudged it and he panics.
6. I then took him out again, keeping him busy and changing direction. He was wanting to walk now – much happier (as in the final picture). No more putting on the anchors. However, I wasn’t to be pulled. I was the one making the decisions, so we did some turning and going the other way and then started down the road opposite – the road where he knew several dogs lived. The enemies. Being Sunday morning none had actually come out which gave us a good opportunity to make progress, but Jack seemed quite chilled. He was even relaxed when cars splashed through puddles – something he normally hated – and when a loud fast car drove towards us. Then the heavens opened and we called it a day!
All this needs to be done daily, always keeping within his comfort zone whilst also pushing ahead, advance-retreat, advance-retreat.
Although no other dogs appeared, it’s exactly the same process as for horses and people. Owners so often get disheartened after a couple of weeks or even months, simply not appreciating the time it can take. The two vital ingredients are patience and enthusiasm. Meanwhile, for exercise and mental stimulation they can pop him in the car and take him somewhere open on a long line (his recall isn’t good yet) where there are unlikely to be horses and dogs.
Just see how much more confidently Jack is already walking in the final picture, after some inspiring work with the gentleman.