4 Great Visuals for Understanding and Managing Reactivity

While researching reactivity and BAT training online, I came across a great set of visuals created by Lili Chen. She has created visuals for multiple dog training books that focus around reactivity and dog training. Below are four visuals created by Lili Chen that I found to be a helpful way to learn more about my dogs own threshold/reactivity and how I could learn how to manage it.

Doggie Language

First let’s start with a great visual, Doggie Language. It is very important as an owner of a reactive dog to know how your dog is feeling which they show through their body language. You need to be able to tell when your dog is relaxed, stressed, anxious, alert or angry in order to determine the next course of action with your dogs reactivity. Dogs have a complex vocabulary that they communicate through their body language. The more you know about their language the less frustrated they will be and the easier it will be to handle uncertain situations. Do you know what your dog looks like when they are happy? Sad? Stressed?

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Space Etiquette

The next visual shows the importance of space etiquette and how it can affect reactive dogs. As an owner of a reactive dog, these types of situations stress me out the most. 9/10 my dog will be fine with the approaching dog, however, I do not want to test my dogs patience. It is also hard to explain to the approaching owners how their actions affect my dog. I try to have a few of these DIY Booklets to handout to people for them to use a resource. I feel it is a better way to educate others without creating a stressful situation.

Reactive dogs need space because they are more sensitive to situations. If you are approaching someone who is not conforming to your space etiquette needs, the best option is to turn around before your dog hits their threshold and remove yourself from the situation. If you cannot escape the approaching dog, the next best course of action is to try to distract the upcoming dog. This can be done by throwing treats on the ground towards to oncoming dog. Hopefully they will be distracted by the treats, allowing you and your dog to have time/space to make your escape. If the treats don’t work, you can attempt a body block by stepping in between your dog and the oncoming dog to hopefully redirect the oncoming dogs attention onto and tell it a forceful “no” to try and stop their movement or by creating a barrier for the other dog to get through.

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Being proactive about the areas you are walking your dog in can help you decrease the chance of running into these types of situations. There is a park near my house which although requires dogs to be leashed, many owners disregard this rule. Since I know this, I avoid this park like the plague. In addition, I also look at any and all park maps prior to hiking to find out where there are off leash dog areas so I can avoid them. Being proactive and scoping out areas prior to taking your dog can be time consuming, however, you are increasing your dogs chances for success.

Considering Your Own Actions

When managing a reactive dog, you also need to consider your own actions and how they affect your dog. You need to consider and understand your dog’s feelings when approaching other dogs. The visual below shows an example of how your actions affect your dog. While you might be thinking that your dog wants to interact with other dogs, your dog may be trying to communicate that they are nervous of the situation. Your negative reaction to their reactivity can accidentally reinforce their reactive behaviors.

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The Engage-Disengage Game

The next and final visual is my favorite. It shows the engage-disengage game (or Look at That) that I play with Odin when we are approaching a trigger. When managing reactivity, it is best/ideal to keep them in the BAT Zone in the presence of a trigger. In the BAT Zone, your dog is comfortable and confident, displaying low levels of stress. When you are in the BAT zone, your dog will be comfortable enough to practice managing their reactivity. For a refresher, BAT is simply allowing your dog to make choices when they are near their trigger. By allowing them to make their own choices, you are building their confidence around their trigger. When your dog is under their threshold in the presence of their trigger (and they are aware of that their trigger is near) and they are being acting like a normal dog, they are in the BAT Zone and you should be rewarding this calm behavior.

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This game is great as it allows for your dog to make their own choices and you are reinforcing their behaviors with treats. By using positive reinforcement around a trigger you are decreasing your dogs anxiety and teaching them something else to do instead (focus on you). When Odin is fully comfortable in the presence of his trigger, he knows to play this game. Once he sees the approaching dog, he will look at me for his treat. He is associating seeing another dog with receiving a treat. This moves his focus away from his trigger and onto me/the game. If I am not paying attention and he sees the dog first (and in the BAT zone) he will remind me that he needs his treat by booping my leg with his nose. Once your dog starts to show signs of reaching their threshold, be ready to change directions to move your dog away from your trigger. Odin loves playing games and learning the rules to games so this game has worked well for him and managing his reactivity (especially when paired with a high value treat such as cooked chicken, blue cheese, or blueberries).  

I hope these visuals provide you with some value in regards to managing and understanding your dog’s reactivity. If you would like more information, visuals, and training material in regards to BAT training and reactivity I highly recommend Behavior Adjustment Training (BAT) 2.0 by Grisha Stewart. This book has been the best guide for navigating my dogs reactivity. Plus artwork by Lili Chen is used in the book which give great visual explanations to accompany the training materials.

(I am not in anyway shape of form receiving anything from Grisha Stewart for promoting her book or from Lili Chen for promoting her artwork. Both were resources I found to be very helpful in understanding and managing my dogs reactivity.)

Photo Sources:

Lili Chen, https://www.doggiedrawings.net/

Alice Tong, www.cpdogtraining.com  (art work created by Lili Chen)

4 Easy Tips for Managing Reactivity

Reactivity is frustrating and tough. You feel like you are constantly on the defensive, watching for other dogs and triggers in the distance, and need to explain our dog’s behavior to those who don’t understand. It is emotionally and physically draining, however, with the right management, your dog can be successful when they encounter their triggers. Odin has an assortment of triggers which includes dogs, scooters, skateboards and roller-blades (bikes used to be a trigger, however we have been able to manage his reactivity towards them).

Management is important for reactive dogs as they need our help with they go past their threshold because once they become too emotional they cannot regulate their behavior on their own. They need your help! When you help to manage their behavior, you become the support and structure they need to lean on in stressful situations.

GH010981-3.jpgOne of the biggest mistakes you can make when managing a reactive dog is not going anywhere with them out of fear of their reactivity. If you fully remove them from the outside world, you cannot help to teach them to manage their behaviors. Now I am not saying you should just keep bringing them into stressful situations, but rather that you need to structure and be proactive about their outings so they can be successful and learn how to manage their behavior. The more time you take practicing real world situations, the more places you will be able to go successfully. When I take Odin out for a walk or IMG_0938.jpgrun, I take already planned out walking paths that I know have locations where I can make quick escapes away from upcoming triggers. For example, when we took him to Crater Lake we made sure there were no other dogs at the viewpoints we stopped at before bringing him out of the car. If there were other dogs that we knew would be too close for him to handle, we passed up the stop and continued driving around the lake.

My overall goal for Odin’s reactivity is to be able to take him to a local festival/event without fear of him reacting over seeing another dog. I know this will take significant practice and time (possible years until he is ready) as we still cannot successfully pass another dog on the same side of the street without triggering his reactivity. However, I will be fine if this is something he will never be able to do with me. I have been working consistently on Odin’s reactivity using BAT and clicker training for 6 months and we have made significant progress. When I first started, Odin could not pass a dog on the other side of the street without his reactivity being triggered. I know managing Odin’s reactivity will not be something that can be fixed overnight, or within a month. It is something I will probably be helping him manage for the rest of his life.  

Here are some important tips to understand when managing your dogs reactivity:

1. Understand what is going on with them emotionally.

We cannot read our dogs minds, however, we can learn to read their bodies. Obviously barking and lunging at their triggers means they are not feeling good. They are acting out for a reason. If their trigger did not bother them, then they would have no reason to act out. When you are out with your dog, your chief concern is reducing their emotional negativity and stress. This usually means providing them space from their triggers  before they start feeling uncomfortable and rewarding them for just being themselves.

Sometimes, your dog may be behaving well (ie. not barking/lunging) which can give you a false sense of security about your dog’s emotions. Even though your dog isn’t showing reactive behaviors, if your dog is unable to look away from their trigger or respond to your commands, then they are stressed and not outwardly expressing their feelings. Spending too much time in this proximity to their trigger can cause them to become overwhelmed and react. So once you reach the point where they become unresponsive, it is time to start proving them space from their trigger before they become overwhelmed. As their manager, it is your responsibility to know your dog’s limits and emotions and the respect them.

2. Be proactive about what your dog needs.

For both you and your dog, protectiveness is far better than reactivity. You need to be proactive in setting situations up correctly (ie. mapping out walks beforehand, or sending a scout up ahead/around corners to ensure there are no triggers up ahead.) Doing this before hand and during your walks will set you up for success. You are preventing yourself and your dog from entering unknown situations and are not as likely to be surprised by a new challenge.

Some ways to be proactive include knowing what distances from the trigger your dog has been doing well with, what kind of situations they struggle with, knowing what the environment will be like beforehand (ie. will there be a large amount of dogs, children, bikes, etc.?) By being proactive, you are entering the situation with a plan instead of going in blind.

3. Override what others think about your dog.

You will often need to override what others think about your dog. Sometimes people don’t understand when I turn away from them when we are out walking or tell them that “no our dogs cannot meet” when Odin is not being reactive and is below his threshold. They see my dog as friendly and under control, whereas I know that once they come too close, Odin will go over his threshold. To them we may seem over-protective, coddling or open to unsolicited advice, however, we know our dogs best. Let their remarks roll off of you and do what is best for your dog. You need to be their advocate.  

When others try to engage me while Odin is being reactive and over threshold, I ignore every remake and make my main focus about getting him away from his trigger into a comfortable situation and into a comfortable situation. There is nothing that you can say to someone who remarks “you should get your dog under better control or train them better” that will make them understand or better the situation for the dog. Your main concern at that moment is the emotional state of your dog.

If you do find yourself in an unwanted engagement, give a quick “sorry he/she is shy” and continue moving away from their potential trigger.  This may seem harsh or unfriendly, but it is what your dog needs and will help manage their reactivity in the long run.

4. Manage their fatigue  

You need to keep your dogs fatigue in mind. Keeping control of themselves and seeing their triggers takes a huge effort and can be emotionally/mentally draining for them. They can only be managed for so long before them become fatigued and the training/management loses its power.

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Stay tuned. Later this week I will post some good visuals that relate to thresholds and reactivity management. I hope you are able to find some value and peace of mind from these posts if you too have a reactive dog. You are not alone!

Odin’s 1st Birthday

Odin turned one today (Sept. 9, 2018) and yesterday, I held a small birthday bash with my husband and my parents. I made special peanut butter pup-cakes from him and picked up a piñata for a little birthday fun. In addition, we ordered some food and enjoyed a nice afternoon hanging out in the backyard enjoying the nice weather and good company. Some people may think this is a little odd and eccentric, but that’s who I am.

Starting off the day right!

654C8BFC-6048-48E2-BFAF-CC8FBEB81ECB.JPGDressed in his special birthday bandana, we (Odin, my husband and myself) headed off at 8am to his weekly Pooch Patrol walk where he saw old friends and made some new ones. We walked around downtown Livermore, taking in all the sights and excitement our little downtown has to offer.

From there we headed home where Odin took a nap while I prepared for his party which included finishing up making his pup-cakes and some people friendly cupcakes, and stuffing his dalmatian pinata with some yummy treats.

It’s party time!

giphy-2.gifOnce my parents arrived, we started with presents. Odin was excited to find out what special present was hidden beneath the Spider-Man wrapping paper.

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The first present consisted of a rubber kong ball with a tennis ball trapped inside. This toy drives him crazy as he cannot get the tennis ball (his most favorite thing in the entire world) out. Then he opened up his new larger soccer ball type ball.

He enjoyed chasing both balls around the backyard and in the house.

The human at the party enjoyed Vietnamese food from a local vendor while Odin patiently waited for the main attraction, the piñata. But before that, he needed to pose for a birthday photo in his birthday hat and enjoy is special pup-cake.

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Next was what everyone had been waiting for, the main attraction, the PINATA!

giphy.gifWe attached the fireman dalmatian to his flirt pole and after a few curious looks from Odin, he was enjoying himself trying to tear the piñata to shreds. First he removed the body of the piñata, and then went after the dalmatian’s head until the piñata could no longer be identified. He enjoyed the special blueberry dog cookies that had been placed inside and seemed happy and content with the days activities.

 

Happy First Birthday Odin!

Yes, I am obsessed when it comes to my dog but that is because he is a big and important part of my life. It would be weird to not celebrate the joy he has brought to my life. He is always happy to see me and my husband. When we come home from work, he is overcome with joy and zooms around the living room not really knowing what to do with all his excitement. Even when we let him back in from going to the bathroom in the backyard, it is like he is seeing us for the first time in ages. It is very rewarding to be that loved by someone and share such a strong connection. He provides me with unconditional love and brings out the best in me. He has challenged me in so many ways, from being a reactive little butt-head to destroying anything fluffy. He learns so quickly that it takes a lot to keep up with him. But now that we have been together for almost a year, I have figured out how to best communicate with him. Teaching him new things is simple and usually quick because we have worked hard on our communication with each other. He learned back up in 30 minutes and last week he learned targeting a special object in a handful of minutes.

IMG_1758.jpgSo, yesterday  I threw him a birthday party to show him how much he means to me, how much I love him, and how much I will continue to love him. When he first arrived home last November, I did not understand how much I could love something. I will continue to love him for many birthdays to come and I will continue to throw him birthday parties because he is such an important member of my family.