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July 02, 2020


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No real advice but this piece names his problem as reactivity. Maybe a trainer would have suggestions. http://www.ispeakdog.org/dog-reactivity.html

In terms of easy, I'd get him a calming collar (https://www.amazon.com/Calming-Pheromone-Collar-Appeasing-Effect/dp/B01FSFY624/ref=sr_1_8?dchild=1&keywords=hormone+dog+collar&qid=1593794768&sr=8-8) first. They don't work for all animals, but they DO work for some, so it's worth a shot.

Next, I'd look into some sort of social anxiety medication. It wouldn't necessarily be a forever med, but it might help him with your socialization attempts. It could be a daily med, like Prozac, or an as needed one, like "We give him a Xanax 20 minutes before each walk." It depends on what your vet thinks.

Your idea of veeeery slow exposure therapy is good, but a reactive dog like you've described probably needs a dog trainer to help. You can Google reactive dogs and see that they do need a lot of help - sorry. When we took Liz Lemon to dog training, the trainer had some reactive dogs there each time our class arrived as a sort of practice.

If you go with a trainer, make sure you find one that actively speaks about positive training and reinforcement. Speaking of which, I hope you're rewarding him with whatever he loves most (cut up hot dog, pets, toys, etc) whenever he is NOT freaking out or freaking out LESS around a leashed dog. Reward the behavior you want, even if it's just a little of that behavior.

A couple of scattered thoughts from watching relatives train dogs, probably not all relevant, but maybe something will help!

Adding treats to the exposure therapy might help? Tiny pieces -- smaller than your fingernail -- of cheese or some doggy delicacy, as a reward when he can keep it together for ten seconds, or whatever he can manage. Twelve tiny pieces of cheese at ten second intervals may be enough motivation to let a dog go by on the other side of the road, at least on a good day? And he will eventually start building the association of other dogs = cheese! which should be an improvement on his current associations.

Maybe also worth thinking about how you are physically handling him in these situations -- a harness gives you more ability to direct him away from other dogs and 'on to safety' than a collar, and a harness over the nose more than one over the chest. Depending on the size of your dog-loving son relative to Champ, picking him up and carrying him past the troublesome spot may be an effective, if inelegant, technique.

Some dogs are just inherently nervous and it seems to be a slow process getting them comfortable, especially, I think, if they perceive the interaction as a territory dispute, so a certain amount of avoidance is probably necessary, especially at first. But the good association of the treats for being a good boy does seem to help! (For some dogs a thunder vest that puts gentle pressure on the chest also makes them feel more secure, but I don't know if that fits Champ's issues.)


We had a cat who was so reactive and territorial that we had to keep her separated from our other cats for 18 months in a tiny apartment. She would go into meltdown/kill mode.

We did everything we could think of and then had a consult with an animal behaviorist. He suggested creating a screen door that was covered with paper. We would only take tiny slots out of the paper. This allowed her to slowly get used to seeing small glimpses of the cats. It also allowed her to smell themand also play with paws under the door.

He said that the trigger took her into a red zone. The small exposure helped to acclimate her to bringing her red zone down.

That really helped, as did her maturing and getting on Prozac. It felt good to have a plan of attack. Pam Johnson’s technique of resetting cat behavior also helped. Now, all the cats mainly get along.

So, I would suggest reading about canine behavior modification, maybe speaking with an animal behaviorist (the rescue may have someone they work with or ideas) and seeing if the vet would recommend some drugs.

I also have to make a pitch for damaged animals. We’ve always taken in animals from rough circumstances and have had to help them heal. I think of it a little as our charism—we are willing to spend the time and resources to help them be the animals they can be. Not many people are willing to take on the challenge, but the reward is immense.

Good luck to you and Champ!

I agree with the suggestions above about working with a trainer. Are you fostering from a shelter or a rescue group? Maybe they have a staff member or volunteer who does training, or at least could connect you with a trainer.

I also like the idea of working with treats as part of exposure therapy. How's he do with 'sit' on command? You could try working on 'sit' with lots of treats under gradually increasing levels of challenge - in the house, in the house with kids doing something interesting nearby, in the yard, on a walk. A rock-solid sit, or another behavior that you can train him to do, is good because it is much easier to get a dog to DO a thing (Sit! Oh what a good boy!) than to NOT do a thing (Don't freak out about that other dog!) and sometimes you can get them to do the requested behavior and they won't be able to do the unwanted one. Champ's level of reactivity might be to high to be pre-empted by a sit, but some trick training with treats is fun for dogs and people even if it doesn't solve behavior problems.

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