Calming The Capricious Canine:
Week 5 - Battle Stations!
This week we’re moving with contact range. Of course, don’t start these exercises if your dog is not able to work within 15 feet of a trigger. Ten to 15 feet is what I consider “up-close” work because the trigger is within reach of the dog if they lunge. This means that any dogs at risk of biting of that have a bite history should be working with a muzzle on at all times. Remember, safety of all participants should always be our number 1 priority!
When working up close I always want a long leash. This is to prevent unintentional leash corrects and to allow the dog to retreat when needed. At this stage, I also bring toys. If my dog does a good job calmly watching a trigger or they are ready to start watching me, I toss the toy behind us as a reward and a cue to retreat. My more active dogs who love to run this is a powerful reward.
Remember that long lines shouldn’t be thought of as an unlimited access to a trigger. Think of them as unlimited retreat. Make sure you have full control of your dog’s approach towards a trigger. Do NOT use a retractable leash.
Now that we are getting closer to triggers, we need a way to redirect our dogs that does not include tugging on the leash. Leash tension or a simple tug can send your dog lunging at the trigger. Instead, a great way to turn your dog or even start a retreat is with a nose touch to your hand. If your dog already knows the skill, great! But still practice in the locations and at the distances that you have been working at the last week or so.
Nose Touch Part 1
To teach the first step of nose touch, place a treat between your middle and ring fingers and present it to your dog. Do not touch them. Just place your hand about 2 feet from your dog’s face. Then wait for them to take the treat. As they take it, say “YES!” and release the treat from your fingers. See the video below:
Nose Touch Part 2
Now that your dog is taking food from you hand it is time to take the food out of our hand and reward them for the behavior. Simply offer your hand and say “touch” and when they touch it, say “yes” and place a reward in the hand that they just touched.
Once the cue is working well at home, start practicing it outside with no triggers and slowly closer to triggers.
Greet and Retreat with barriers
When we start allowing access to a trigger (be it human adult, human child, other pet, wildlife, or strange dog) we use a barrier. This could be a fence, baby gate, screen door (reinforced!), etc. Just make sure your dog, nor the trigger can knock it down or push a body part through it.
To begin greet and retreat, approach the barrier with the trigger on the other side. Control your dog’s approach. Don’t allow them to charge the barrier. If they become frustrated with how slowly you are letting me approach, try different angles or practice the popcorn game halfway along their approach. They shouldn’t come in hot, as it were.
When your dog is within 3-5 feet of the barrier, let them watch for a few seconds. You can feed them for watching just as you would the Popcorn Game. After the few seconds it us, retreat 10-15 feet away and reward them again. Repeat. Only do enough repetitions that your dog is calm and curious. If tension grows, stop before they explode.
Trigger Out of Context
Now that you are making great progress on triggers in their natural environment, we want to address some trigger elements outside of context. This helps break down emotional triggers. You can either play animals on the tv, trigger noises through a speaker, or use objects like jingling a collar. Apps like Pup School Noise App can also help.
Start out away from the normal location of the tigger noise. In the video a student dog is in the kitchen when the doorbell is rung. The owner feeds their dog while the noise is going on. After a few days of this, you can slow down food delivery. Use this to desensitize collar jingles, bicycle bells, automobile noises, people on a porch, door bells, dogs barking, pet or wildlife noises, car in driveways etc. It is so important that to change reactivity around a trigger, that we desensitize the initial cue for the trigger, which is usually sound, not a visual.
We have spent a long time talking and inferring about dog or wildlife triggers, but humans can be just as triggering and in a house there is less room to work. Even enthusiastic greeting can be addressed with this exercise.
For barking and over arousal, start with the Popcorn Game. Have your dog behind a barrier or on a leash you they can’t reach the guest. When they are watching more calmly you can more to step 2.
Now that your dog is calmer, arm your guest with the same treats as the Popcorn Game and instruct them to throw the treat BEHIND your dog. Allow your dog to approach a few feet (still out of reach!) and have your guest toss the treats behind the dog. Encourage your dog to go get the treats (and therefore retreat). Repeating will help your dog build confidence. For dogs that greet over enthusiastically, this also teaches them to wait and not run up on your guest.
At this stage of the course everyone is usually at a different point. The dog determines progress so only proceed with exercises that are appropriate. Teach Nose Touch daily. Try some “Triggers Out of Context” regardless of where you are at with the other exercises. And of course as always, share your progress.