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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.)
Lili Chen, https://www.doggiedrawings.net/;
Alice Tong, www.cpdogtraining.com (art work created by Lili Chen)