Training notes; reactive Boogie

October 29, 2010 at 8:59 am 1 comment

I have been slackening off on Boogie’s training, but some recent incidents have jolted me back into the realization that I need to continue working with him. Everyday. Even if it’s for only 5 minutes a day.

A couple of weeks ago, we ran into our famous neighborhood crazy homeless woman. I did what I usually do … I led Boogie away from her and turned down an alleyway so that she could continue past us and there would be no cause for Boogie to react. I was a little too late because Boogie had seen her and let out a bark. And then much to my shock and horror, the homeless woman turned around and came stomping towards us down that alley, waving her hands in the air, shouting, and lifting her shirt at me (!!!) It was freaky.

Boogie was in front of me, doing his aggressive thing. I called out “Go away!!! If you come any closer, my dog will bite you!”. Of course, the woman was a nutcase so she took more steps towards us, shouting. There was nowhere for us to go… we were trapped in that alley… and for the first time in my life, I was extremely relieved that I had a vicious little dog protecting me.

The woman left eventually and Boogie turned to look at me. My natural impulse was to praise him and give him a treat (Thank you, Boogie!) … which I didn’t do because I was conflicted about whether this was something I wanted to reinforce.

In the following week, we had a few more reactive incidents… Examples:

When Butch was staying with us, I was walking the two dogs together. I noticed that Boogie was triggered by people even when they were MUCH FURTHER AWAY than usual. He stiffened and growled at triggers even when they were way across the other side of the street… a behavior that I found really disorientating because our “safe distances” were no longer safe and I was always unprepared, too late, or too close… And then there was the added risk that Boogie might redirect his aggression at Butch next to him, which he did once.

I have been told that environmental changes (e.g., having a second dog around) can make a reactive dog extra-sensitive. And the more often that Boogie practiced this reactive behavior, it felt like he was regressing… sinking back into old bad habits…

A few nights ago, (yes, night time = increased sensitivity and territorial behavior), I ran into a neighbor on my street. I led Boogie off the path because I didn’t recognize him at first. Then he called out and we started chatting. I didn’t move from where we were standing…. I noticed that Boogie seemed calm and relaxed. Body and ears soft, head turned away. My neighbor and I stood there on the sidewalk, facing each other, several feet away, and talked for about 10 minutes. Then we said our goodbyes and he turned and walked away. As he started walking away, Boogie sprang forward and growled and barked at him. It was embarrassing, not only that, the incident had me confused… If Boogie had a problem with this guy, why was he so calm, and why did he start reacting only when the guy was leaving???

The next day I noticed Boogie stiffen and stare whenever he saw people on the street who WERE WALKING AWAY FROM US, into the distance, their BACKS to us.

If distance = functional reward, it doesn’t make sense how this could be a trigger. Unless if the trigger is more about the person’s movement…

According to Sarah, Boogie has a “get you from behind” aggression style. He is extra aggressive when the mailman turns and leaves. When Boogie bit someone, their back was turned. He was most likely triggered by the neighbor’s motion of turning and walking away, being a motion-sensitive dog with control issues. (When the guy was standing still, he probably felt safe?) The growling probably meant: “Buzz off and don’t you dare come back!”

According to Emily, sudden reactivity is a common behavior with hypersensitive reactive dogs. She shared with me some of her experiences as a trainer. One client’s dog was calm and friendly when she was seated in the room with him but when she scratched her nose really quickly, the dog got startled and lunged. She said that many reactive dogs freak out when a human trigger does something unexpected like stand up or leave the room even when at first they seem relaxed and calm.

So we’re back to practising BAT on our walks. Repetition repetition.

I am again wary of distances and all kinds of triggers. Today we saw a dog leashed to a pole on the sidewalk who was definitely not friendly. The dog was standing tall and stiff and STARING INTENSELY at Boogie with tail high up. He barked a few times at Boogie. We did several trials of BAT in which Boogie turned his head and body away from the dog without any prompting from me. YES! Walk away and treat. Good boy, Boogie!

Meanwhile, I have been reading online writings on dog training (as I do) and came across this highly disturbing article – “When Dog Whisperer Can’t Help.

Canine disarming??? It sounds like such a horrible, unethical,  invasive and extreme thing to do to a dog. Like debarking.

Image via this LA Times article.

I’ve said this many times before – Boogie may never be 100% “cured” — he had a bite history even before I adopted him — but there are techniques that WORK…

Entry filed under: Articles, links, Reads, Training.

Questions for Pet People: What do you use? No Halloween costume

1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. barrie.lynn  |  October 31, 2010 at 11:34 pm

    So sad 😦 I used to pet sit for a Shar Pei who had had all his molars removed by a previous owner. I still vividly remember the initial consultation where I sat quietly not looking at the dog and tossed pieces of boiled chicken on the floor chatting with his owners the whole time until the dog was comfortable enough that he came up to me to get a piece of chicken from me 🙂

    I was as charmed by the owners as they were by my kind treatment of their dog when they very abashedly asked me if I would give the dog an evening kid scoop size of frozen yogurt every night!

    I hope Podie gets all the frozen yogurt he wants at the bridge!!!!


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