Calming The Capricious Canine:
Week 3 - Retreat!
Welcome to Week 3! At this point you should be pretty comfortable with the Popcorn Game and scenarios where you can play it. If you are not, I recommend starting this week later in the week and going back and practicing last week more. It is vital that you feel comfortable and confident with the Popcorn Game in your home/neighborhood/park/ etc that you can start changing things up.
So once you have a good Popcorn Game going, you will want to know how to end it. It can end a few ways. The trigger can wander off, your dog can lose interest, you can interrupt with touch, or your dog can go over threshold. But if none of these things happens and you’re stuck running out of food, there is another option - Retreating.
I like retreating a lot and I use it in a lot of applications. The reason is that when your dog increases distance with a trigger, it can reinforce the previous behavior. Retreating is also a powerful behavior that is coincidentally taught when you add it onto the Popcorn Game, because they will learn to retreat on their own.
To start adding in a retreat, create a Popcorn Game scenario with either a long feeding period or observe a more boring trigger. Once your dog seems relatively calm, you can slowly slip behind them by backing up and letting out some of the leash. If they take the slack and move forward, go back to the Popcorn Game. If they stay stationary, just wait a few moments. If they do not turn and retreat when they notice you’ve moved, you can prompt them with their name, but try not to get into the habit of this. We want them to move away without a cue ideally.
In this video you will see that the first attempt my dog went over threshold but after he shook off and we stayed a little further away he could retreat without being prompted.
When attempting to get a retreat or just to break your dogs attention, you can use a whole host of noises but beware that we are not trying to use noise as a punisher. This means no coin cans, throw chains or anything else meant to strongly startle your dog. If they can’t be redirected with a simple kissy noise, or their name, then they too emotionally invested and the aforementioned devices will actually create more harm than good.
Find it games
When Popcorn Game plans get out of our control or you just need to let a trigger pass, Find It Games can be super helpful but you have to teach them ahead of time. Start by going in your backyard and tossing some treats in the grass. Then point to a treat and say “find it.” Repeat until all treats are found. Repeat a few times in the yard and then try in a more public place but with no distractions present. After a bit of practice, saying “find it” will get your dog to look on the ground immediately, but be sure to throw food. Don’t “trick” them into looking down. This method is also very handy when trying to get a reactive dog out of a car in a parking lot. Have them search instead of scanning for things to react to.
Popcorn game outside!
Most of you have been using the Popcorn Game outside to start but I wanted to mention that with training outside, don’t get distracted by your training plan and your trigger. New triggers can come from anywhere so stay alert and be on the lookout for anything. For very reactive dogs, having a car parked nearby to jump into can be a handy exit when things get chaotic. And never underestimate the smallest trigger as seen from this video.
Keep those Popcorn game videos coming! Try some retreats too. Practice as much as possible because we are seriously upping the challenge next week.
Also if you are recording videos I seriously recommend getting some gear or some help for next week as we will be moving around a lot more.