Thursday, March 17, 2011

Reactive Rovers Night Six

Elo continues to improve! This is the first night he has been able to look at other dogs without teetering on the edge of threshold. He was calmer than he has ever been. And we did quite a bit of dog work. Lots more than last week. I kept the exposures super short and brought him back behind our barrier before he lost control. He was even able to look at other dogs while standing and moving which is a pretty huge deal for him!! In addition, his recovery time after reacting was VERY much improved! After getting back behind our barrier he was able to compose and refocus himself almost immediately.

He wasn't as focused as last week. Outside of the barrier we weren't able to do as much nice loose-leash walking and attention. But it makes sense--increasing the difficulty of one task is going to decrease performance of others. He had a lot of work to do, staying calm around other dogs, and I was really happy with how well he did that.

We did the CU exercise "there's a dog in your face" for the first time last night. What that involved was having the stuffed dog walking towards the reactive dog while continually feeding, and then not feeding while the dog walks away. I was pretty sure Elo wasn't ready for the length of exposure this would involve, but thought we'd give it a try anyway. This was the worst he was all night, back to right on the edge of reacting as the dog walked towards him and then he did react as the dog walked away and he wasn't getting fed anymore. Thanks to his new-found recovery skills though, it didn't ruin him for the rest of the night and we were able to do some more nice (shorter) dog work afterward.

After failing at dog in your face, I had a discussion with the instructor about Elo's "fear" issues. She tried to convince me that his "fear" of dogs leads him to react as they walk away. I don't know, I could be wrong, but I still don't think he is fearful. I don't see any fear body language from him. I really just think he was poorly socialized and doesn't know what to do with other dogs he sees. She said that if it was not fear I might as well just treat it operantly, not bother with counter-conditioning, and just be like "oh, you're not going to do that." Interestingly . . . that's exactly what I've been doing for the past two weeks, during which I've seen the most improvement. E.g., now when he starts swiveling his ears around at dog sounds, I ignore it, rather than giving him treats. And when he starts air scenting for other dogs to bark at, I tell him no and redirect him, rather than giving him treats. He only gets rewarded for good behavior.

She also said that if it were not fear it wouldn't take so long to fix. Personally, I think Elo has improved a huge amount in just 5 sessions of work--I don't think that's a long time. And the quick improvements I've seen with previous behavior mod work I have done with him on cars, people, etc. tells me that all he really needs is to learn how to respond properly to these stimuli. The only way I could see him improving faster is if I were to use positive punishment, which I know she's not advocating and I'm not going to do--even though I think it's possible that Elo's behavior would improve very quickly with positive punishment. I don't want to just suppress his current behavior, I want to teach him a new one--looking calmly at dogs and focusing on me around them. Teaching new behaviors takes time, especially when you are trying to replace a self-rewarding behavior. What we are doing right now seems to be working well, so I'm going to keep doing it this way for now.


  1. I'm glad things are continuing to go well! It sounds like your plan is the right thing to do with him. Are you going to continue for another session?

  2. I want to, but they are discontinuing the Wed PM class and I can't make the other sessions. I looked into the HS reactive class, but it is ridiculously expensive! ($250 for 9 sessions, and only 6 are working dogs!) So after our final class next week, we will just be spending a ton of time at the back of the Petsmart parking lot!