Tools for Managing Frustration Based Reactivity

Frustration is all about access. Your dog is frustrated because they do not have access to what they want (the other dog). This is very different from fear based reactivity. In fear based reactivity, your dog wants the trigger to go away and leave them alone. In frustration based, they want the opposite. They want the trigger to get closer. They want to interact with the trigger. If your dog has frustration based reactivity then increasing the distance between dogs can be seen as a punishment.

IMG_1158The methods that have received the best results for managing frustration based reactivity involve teaching the dog to turn and look away from their trigger before reaching/approaching their threshold. You are giving them access to something else rather than the approaching dog. The best way to do this is to reinforcing calm/wanted behavior with play or treats. For Odin, I alternate between playing tug and treats. It all depends on the situation. Sometimes treats work better, and other times playing does. Showing them that you can be more fun or cooler than the dog across the street can help them to be less frustrated when seeing another dog. They will think that even though they do not get to go see the other dog, they still get to play with you. But this needs to be done before your dog reaches threshold. Once they reach their threshold, they will not care if you have a 10 oz steak; their brain will be switched off and will not be able to break its focus from the approaching dog. Overtime, you should be able to decrease the distance between your dog and the trigger. Most dogs will learn to auto-watch eventually. This means that they will learn to focus/look at you when they see and approaching dog because they know that the approaching dog means that you will play with them.

Two other training methods/tool are vitally important in managing your dog’s reactivity:

Set-Ups:

Set Ups are very important for frustration based reactive dogs. Treating and managing reactivity goes much faster if you can arrange a set up with your dog. The decoy dog (controlled approaching dog) you are using will not act unexpectedly because they are a part of the training. You can increase and decrease the distance between the dogs at will. If you do not have a friend with a dog (or if your dog is like mine and is not reactive at dogs they know), then seek out a behaviorist as they will have access to decoy dogs. You can also use places like the parking lot of the vet or local pet store for semi-controlled set-ups. For the most part you will know that the dog and their owners will be heading into the store and back to their cars. You can have better control over the distance between your dog and the trigger rather than at the park.

Target and other toy stores sell life size dog stuffed animals that can be used if you really do not have anyone or anywhere to go to successfully practice reactivity. You can create the set-up by using the stuffed dog. Have someone stand with the stuffed animal across the street with it on leash and train the same way you would with a real dog. If you need to make it smell like a dog, bring it with you to a local training group or the dog park. Some dogs with really good noses are not tricked by the fake decoy dog unless it actually smells like a dog. It is important that you do not introduce your dog to the stuffed dog. This will ruin the allusion and you will not be able to use it as a training tool.

Learning an emergency U-Turn:

IMG_3892Emergency U-Turns are helpful for both frustration and fear based reactivity. You want to use this when you un-expectantly run into another dog (they come from around a corner or from behind a bush or any type of blind spot). This takes a while to learn, but it’s not teaching the dog that takes a while, it’s reprograming yourself to instinctively U-Turn in these situations. The key to a successful U-Turn is to do a quick pivot and keep you composure stress free. This really can come in handy and actually is a really good technique to avoid hard situations. Just this past week I used the emergency U-Turn twice in Home Depot. I pulled out into the main walkway without checking and almost walked Odin into a dog. The emergency U-Turn saved Odin from becoming reactive. He didn’t even notice the other dog because we pivoted quickly away from the other dog. I happily laughed and cheerily talked with Odin to keep his attention on me and then smothered him with treats. He had no idea what was going on but he knew he was great at it!

IMG_0036***Remember that all dogs like different reinforcements, so make sure to use one that you know your dog will find as high value. For recall we use a tennis ball for reward however while doing reactivity training, I generally use chicken or hotdogs. I think the smell of food is very helpful for him during reactivity training and a tennis ball is unable to hold his attention in these situations. Your reward may differ for each training or situation, so be pre-prepared to try out different reinforcements. I am always carrying a tug toy and an abundance of treats with me. Another technique I have read about is teaching your dog to play tug on command with their leash. This way you will never be without a toy to play with. You can’t really forget your dog’s leash while on your walk.***

Frustration Based Reactivity? What’s That??

My husband, Derek, was telling me about his day at work last night, specifically that one of his co-workers asked him about how Odin was with other dogs. Derek explained that Odin was reactive and to his surprise, the co-worker actually had heard of reactivity because his dog was also reactive! This was really refreshing as most dog owners do not know about reactivity (unless they have a reactive dog).

His story reminded me of the non-stop questions I had received when talking with friends/co-workers about his reactivity. This made me think that there isn’t enough information out there about reactivity. And those that had heard of reactivity did not know about the difference bases of reactivity. Odin displays both frustration and fear based reactivity. There was plenty of information in regards to fear based reactivity, however there was very limited information on frustration based.

So, in response to the little information I could find, I have created my own explanation of fear based reactivity:

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Picture this, you are driving past Disneyland (with no intent of visiting) with your kid (or niece or nephew or some little kid). The kid can see the top of the Matterhorn and the entrance to the park. They can smell the popcorn and can hear all the sounds of joy protruding from the park. They get excited because come on, it’s Disneyland! They excitedly ask you if you guys can go inside the park. Sadly, due to unforeseen circumstances, you cannot stop (whether it be because of your schedule or monetary reasons). This makes the kid upset and they start crying and throwing a temper tantrum because they do not understand why they cannot go. All the other kids around them get to have fun and get to meet Mickey Mouse, but they are stuck in the car.

This is exactly how your dog feels when they have frustration based reactivity. They see the other dog (Disneyland) and due to their super noses they also smell the other dog. They want to play; the other dog looks like sooo much fun. However, due to unforeseen circumstance (you do not know the other dog owner, or you need to finish up your walk) you cannot let your dog go meet and see the other dog. So they throw their version of a temper tantrum. They do not understand why they cannot go to see the other dog (and you cannot communicate to them why) so they become frustrated with the situation. Instead of crying like a little kid would, they bark and lunge at the other dog.

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This is frustration based reactivity. And after a while of seeing other dogs (or Disneyland) time and time again and not getting to have fun, they become frustrated at the first sight of another dog. They know from past experiences that they cannot get to this other, super fun dog. So they throw their temper tantrum. Disneyland is no longer a fun place; instead it brings back the feelings of what they are missing out on.

Overall, frustration based reactivity is your dog’s arousal and stress of seeing another dog and not being able to interact socially with them. Leashes interfere with normal social interactions. Creates a barrier between dogs. They cannot greet each other which may create a stressful situation for your dog. That stress and arousal turns into frustration and prompts their aggressive behavior. Generally, frustration based reactive dogs do great with other dogs during off-leash situations. However, once leashed they become frustrated with their new barrier. In my next post, I will discuss how to overcome the pesky, unwanted behavior of frustration based reactivity.

 

New Job and New Schedule = New Training Routine

Tomorrow, I start a new job and I will be working a normal 8am-5pm Monday through Friday schedule. This is a lot different from my previous work schedule. Before I was working 13-hour night shift 3 or 4 nights a week. With this schedule I had 3 to 4 day weekends that were devoted to spending time and training Odin. My new schedule will give me about 1 hour of dedicated training time and 2ish hours of exercise per day. With this new schedule I will need to create a new training routine to ensure that I am providing him with the necessary training. By creating a routine, I will not be wasting my limited time on workdays figuring out what we will be working on day to day.

Creating a training routine will ensure that you continue with your training and will make it a part of your daily routine. It is easy put off training because you are tired from work and have limited time. Creating a plan beforehand will take the hassle out of training. Plan out your training for the week on Sunday and make sure you have all the tools you will need easily accessible. Motivation to continue training can be hard to come by, that is why I suggest signing up for a training course (either classroom or online) to use for structure and then add in fun training sessions on other days. I spend two training sessions a week reviewing what we learned and practiced in our classes. This means less for me to come up with on my own in terms of training material.

Below is an example of my training routine plan for Odin:

For each of Odin’s one hour training sessions I will start with a 5-minute warm up which will include going over things he already knows and has a strong foundation in, such as tricks (sit pretty, spin, etc). This will get him in mood for and ready for training.

From there the rest of the 45-min training will be focused on the following:

Monday – Fenzi Training: Bye, Bye Cookie. Hello Delayed Reinforcement

  • This is an online course provided by Fenzi Dog Sports Academy. The course focuses on getting your dog to work even when they cannot see their reward. It is mainly a focus building course with delayed reinforcement.

Tuesday – Intro to Agility (Classroom Training)

  • This is a 6-week training Odin and I will be taking at our local dog school. Signing up for local classes is a great way to continue with training, especially when you need help coming up with a training game plan.

Wednesday – Tricks!

  • On Wednesdays, we will be focusing on our trick training. There are a handful of tricks we are currently working on and building foundations for. Currently, we are working on Footsies, Handstands (muscle building only right now), and Obit. I use the App Puppr created by Sara Carson of the Super Collies. I find that the app provides great instructions on how to train tricks and there are a ton of ticks to choose from. The app also has regular updates where they add new tricks. It costs about $10 For full access to the tricks on the app and this includes any updates and trick additions. I think it is a great price for its value.

Thursday – Canine Conditioning and Fenzi Review

  • For this day, I will split the training time between conditioning using canine gym equipment and review the Fenzi training from the week. Canine conditioning is important to do with active dogs. It can help reduce long term stress and health issues due to high activity. I use FitPaws equipment and they have a handful of videos on their website that show how to effectively use their equipment. Since, Canine conditioning can only hold his attention for about 25 minutes, the rest of the time will be spent reviewing this weeks Fenzi Training activities.

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Friday – Agility review

  • We will spend our training time reviewing and practicing the activities/concepts we learned this week at training class. I have a handful of homemade agility equipment that I made out of PVC Pipe.
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DIY weave poles

Saturday & Sunday are free days with no plan. We can work on whatever we feel like. Usually, on my days off, I like to take Odin hiking or spend time training at the dog park. These are fun days and usually our training is less structured.

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Everyday we practice and train for managing reactivity during our daily walks. Walks provide the best environment for reactivity training for us and we also do focus work while out on walks.

Overall, having a training plan and routine reduces your daily stress as you will already have a plan in place. You can hop right into training, rather than waiting time developing your training plan. Developing a plan will also help to keep you on track as you will have a daily goal to complete. Life gets busy, but by planning ahead and creating a training routine you will be reducing the chances of life getting in the way of your dog’s training.

Do you have a training program or routine for your dog? How do you keep yourself motivated when life gets in the way? I would love to hear about your experiences! Please comment below!

Reactive Road Trip – Lessons Learned

Although we did have a few reactivity issues, overall, I was very impressed with Odin’s behavior during the trip. It goes to show how much his training has paid off. When we took him to a beach in Carmel last year, it was nearly impossible to get him back and leashed up when it was time to leave. This time, he was very focused on me, recalled very easily, and allowed us to leash him with no issues! Although I do A LOT of training with Odin, I was concerned that it wasn’t going to be enough for him to ever be an off leash or public dog (especially with him wanting to meet every dog he sees). This trip was a nice reminder of how well he is behaved in most situations. For most of the time in cities while seeing other dogs, we were able to manage his reactivity and he heeled/listened to commands even in the presence of distractions.

This trip showed me how far we have come in his training. Sometimes I get worried about Odin because we can’t always do the things that normal dogs do. He has restrictions at the dog park which means he doesn’t get to socialize as much as we would like him too. And because of his reactivity, we don’t get to do a lot of things in public (i.e. going out to dinner, or bringing him to the local downtown area). During this trip, I could see how far he has come along and how much all the time spent training has paid off. I hope this can inspire some of you to continue along the journey of diligently managing your dog’s reactivity. This is something that does take time. There is no overnight cure for reactivity. It is a bunch of little baby steps forward usually followed by a step backwards. Keep going and be persistent in your training. If you would have asked me a year ago, I would have never believed Odin’s reactivity would have been managed this well. Yes, there is still a long way to go in his journey, however this has made me hopeful and it was the energizing boost I needed to continue with his training.

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Coming out of the trip, there are a handful of things that we learned that we need to work on in addition to his reactivity. The two big things we need to work on are (1) reduced barking when one of us leaves the room and (2) working on him settling/relaxing. Although no one complained about his barking, it was not something I was proud of. Every time one of us left the room, Odin would worry and bark. Also, while we were in the hotel rooms, he had a hard time relaxing and would be constantly looking for something to do (this included trying to steal the bathroom towels, toilet paper, and trash cans in the hotel room) even though we had provided him with plenty of chews/puzzles. In the near future, I will post how I will be tackling each one of these issues and hopefully if you run into the same issues while traveling, they can be used as a guide.

One of the biggest things that helped me with traveling with a reactive dog was all the planning I did ahead of time. I researched beaches, trails, and locations to ensure that we were taking Odin to places where he could be successful. Bring Fido (website and app) and All Trails were very helpful in facilitating this planning. Bring Fido has information on dog friendly restaurants, hotels, activities, and dog parks all over the US. I utilize this app quite often as it is loaded with information. I used All Trails to find local dog friendly trails and found ones that were labeled “low traffic” to help ensure that we were reducing the chances of running into other dogs. Also, I had given myself soo many activity options that if we couldn’t do something, we had about 5 other things to choose from. My Oregon Road Trip travel binder was jam packed with all this information and was one of the biggest reasons for our successful trip.

Overall, these are the pieces of advice I found most helpful while traveling with a reactive dog:

1. Be flexible

If you get somewhere and there are too many dogs/triggers and you know that your dog will not be successful, skip it. You may not get to see what you wanted but your experience will be ten times worse if you try to do the activity and both you and your dog end up frustrated. If your dog is happy and calm, you will be happy and calm and be able to create happy memories.

We had to do this a handful of times during our trip. We decided not to do the Mount Pisgah Summit or Cannon Beach because of the large amounts of dogs visiting these places. We made the decision to not stop at these places during the trip and found less stressful things to do instead.

2. Avoid the hassle and order in

For almost every dinner during our road trip we ordered in as we knew it would be hard to eat out with Odin. This made eating significantly less stressful which made everything more enjoyable. We made sure we had hotels with nice views so we could have cozy dinners in our room every evening.

This is a big stress saver for both you and your dog. Also, you can eat in your pajamas in bed. What could be better?!

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3. Travel during the off season and do activities during off times

Go when you know there will be less people. We knew that traveling during the rainy season in Oregon meant less people and less dogs. This was one of the main reasons why we had lots of the places we visited to ourselves. The Oregon Garden and many of the state parks we had all to ourselves because it was not the high season. It was colder for us, but it made everything about our trip more enjoyable as we did not need to worry so much about other dogs.

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Hopefully, my postings can provide with some value and hope in terms of owning a reactive dog. When I first found out that Odin was reactive, I thought we would never be able to do something like this. However, with the right planning and mindset, it can be done.

If you have any tips or advice from your experience from traveling with your dog (reactive or otherwise) please comment below to share your experiences with others!

Disclaimer: Odin has moderate reactivity and can be managed to ensure the safety of all parties. Not all reactive dogs will be able to go on a road trip and the ability of your dog should be assessed by you and your reactivity trainer.