Play Away the Reactivity!

About a month ago, I set up a private appointment with Amy Cook, PhD who specializes in fearful and reactive dogs. We had hit a plateau in Odin’s reactivity training and it seemed like the traditional counter conditioning was no longer was working with Odin. I was very surprised to discover that Amy had been only 30 miles away from us this entire time! Amy was amazingly knowledgeable and had a long list of recommendations that she wanted us to try out with Odin.

giphyThe first and most profound change Amy recommended was moving away from using calm behavior while doing counter conditioning around Odin in the presence of the trigger. She wanted us to use play and fun to illicit an emotional change in Odin around his triggers. I want Odin to feel happy in the presence of a trigger, so I use a reinforcer that makes him really happy (a tennis ball). We switched from calmly giving Odin treats in the presence of a trigger to GASPING when we saw a trigger and then starting to play with Odin. The play could be done using toys or treats. We agreed that since a tennis ball is Odin’s highest value item, then that was the item we should be using. We got Odin a tennis ball on a felt rope (ETSY Link) that were easy to hide and play with on walks. We use the same methodology as traditional counter conditioning. The ball toy comes out when Odin sees the trigger and goes away once his trigger is out of view. We also started practicing playing with Odin while out on walks and while in the house. We GASP and then we start playing with him. Usually, I pick certain light poles or bushes and pretend those are his triggers. I GASP and then start playing with him. The GASP is a stroke of genius on Amy’s part. When we get surprised we will GASP, so we might as well condition our dogs to think it means play time.

The second recommendation Amy gave us was to change our walking location. We are no longer walking near the house as Odin has increased reactivity near the house. We think this may be due to territorial behavior as his reactivity is very bad when we are near or in front of our house. Also, walking through the neighborhood created a lot of situations where we could run into surprise triggers and situations where we could not increase our distance if necessary.

Changing locations has transformed Odin’s success rate for encountering triggers. We found a great park with very clear sight lines and lots to sniff and lots of room to create distance if needed. Over the past month we have seen over 50 dogs and have only had 5 reactions. There is nowhere in this park for triggers to surprise and there is always room to create distance.

IMG_5927Another recommendation from Amy was to get Odin out of the harness and onto a flat collar. This was due to the pressure that the harness will put on Odin’s entire body if I start pulling on him. Any pressure will make him explode and the harness made it hard to control the tension. Odin has lose leash walking in the bag, so there was no concern over using a flat collar. She also recommended that we walk him on a ten foot leash. Tension in the leash can almost guarantee an explosion from Odin in the presence of a trigger and 10 feet also would give Odin more freedom to sniff/explore while on walks. Per her request, I ordered Odin a personalized 1.5″ flat collar (ETSY Link) and a 10 foot leash.

Learning how to walk with such a long leash took a couple of weeks to get the hang of. Learning how to play with Odin with his toy while he was on the long leash took a little longer. Sometimes we got so tangled up we were like the scene in 101 Dalmatians.


We also stopped playing the “look at that game.” While this works for many dogs, for Odin, this only increases his stress and needs to ignore the triggers rather than look at them. Also, I do not want him feeling like he has to look at the trigger multiple times in order to get a treat. Currently we are working on getting increased/consistent focus and ignoring the triggers. The best way I have found to train this is to have a dog walking behind us (if the dog is walking the same direction, Odin has little to no reactivity) and pay Odin to when he makes eye contact and continue paying him for continuing his eye contact. This started out with me saying “Yes” almost every step so he wouldn’t break his eye contact, but as we have worked on it he has gotten better. Walking past people, he is breaking his contact with me less and less and is learning to ignore the world around him when I tell him to “watch me.”

As Odin gets better and better with his “watch me,” we have started to increase the difficulty of him keeping his eye contact. When we have a dog behind us and Odin is looking at me, we make a 360 degree turn and I reward him for keeping his focus on me and not looking at the other dog. We started doing this at great distances from the trigger and as he has gotten better, we decreased the distance between him and the other dog.

Overall, everything we have changed has increased Odin’s success rate while walking. He is less reactive in general. Yesterday we were out on a hike we passed two bikes and two hikers and he barely gave them any notice. Walking Odin is significantly less stressful and is actually enjoyable now. I look forward to taking him out for his walks and playing with him on the walks. I can tell his emotions are starting to change when he sees other dog. When we ran into a surprise dog while out walking. He happily looked at me when I Gasped and was ready to play with me.

4 Pieces of Advice for Dealing with Reactivity:

(1) Know what your dog finds reinforcingUse the things your dog finds exciting. Emotional change comes from inspiring a new emotion. I want Odin to feel happy in the presence of a trigger, so I use a reinforce that makes him really happy (a tennis ball).

(2) Practice! Practice! Practice!Practice the tools you will need so they become reflex! Practice playing and taking treats. Practice Gasping so the dog will associate that with play. If you cannot do these things in the comfort of your home, how can you expect to do them out in the real world? You wouldn’t go do a piano recital without practicing the song 100 times so it is reflex, so you should do the same when it comes to reactivity training! Pretend like you are walking past trigger. Pick an object (such as a light pole or a car) and make that your trigger. Practice the tools/methods you will be using and perfect them in a controlled environment.

(3) Set up for success – Pick a location to walk that increases your chances of success and gives you the most control over the triggers. The more positive associations your dog has with their triggers, the more successful you will be long term. When we encounter too many triggers in one day, we are on edge and stressed. Dogs can read this stress and they themselves cannot relax and walks turn into a stressful time. The reduction of daily pressures and decrease in seeing too many triggers turn walks into fun and relaxing endeavors. Before long, the relaxation becomes more of a habit and expectation.

(4) Listen to the needs of your dog Not every dog is the same and not every method will work for you. “Look at that” stressed Odin out and he feels much more confident playing “watch me” in the presence of another trigger. But other dogs might like keeping their eye on the trigger and will make them feel more calm. Listen to what your dog is telling you. If they are playing “look at that” and they are getting more and more worked up as time increases, “look at that” might not be the correct option for you.

I want to hear from you! What does your dog find reinforcing? How do you set up for success? What methods/tools work for your dog? The more we share with each other, the better we can get at understanding our dogs!

The Relationship Between Frustration and Extinction

Everyone has accidently reinforced an unwanted behavior. Whether the behavior was like mine and built its annoyance over time or was a bi-product of another behavior, or was just formed completely by accident, completely extinguishing the behavior can prove to be difficult. This post is meant to serve as an informational on how to deal with such an issue.

Dr. Susan Friedman, the pioneer of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA), coined the following statement in relation to animal behavior:

Happiness is a function of positive reinforcement

Depression is a function of punishment

And FRUSTRATION is a function of extinction

So what does that mean?

The first two make sense, but the last line is a little hard to understand without a little context or background information. So here we go.

During the process of extinction, a previous learned (and reinforced) behavior stops being reinforced. The decrease in the reinforcement of the unwanted behavior produces an aversive emotional state known as frustration.

This is still a little hard to understand so let me give you a very human example.

Let’s say every time you go to the grocery store, you buy your kid a candy bar. This happens every single time so now your kid associates going to the grocery store with getting a candy bar. Now let’s say this particular time you go and you decide you do not want to support your kids sugar addiction anymore so you tell them that they are not getting a candy bar this time. Your kid does not understand. EVERY SINGLE TIME they have come with you to the store has resulted in a candy bar. What’s different now? Your kid is probably not going to understand your rational and they start crying. You now have a frustrated and upset kid. You tried to extinguish the association between going to the grocery store and candy, and now you have a frustrated kid that does not understand why they are not getting one.

Now let’s dive into an example of the relationship between extinction and frustration I have encountered with my dog, Odin:

Odin always bring us a toy while we are sitting on the couch because he wants to play fetch. We reinforced the behavior by always throwing the toy for him. Know whenever he brings us a toy, he expects us to throw it. This can get really annoying if we are trying to relax or do something else while on the couch. If we ignore him, he becomes frustrated and starts to pull on the couch cushions to try to get our attention. Ignoring (extinguishing) his behavior leads to more and more frustration (more pulling on the couch and barking/whining). We eventually give in to him because his behavior is super annoying and we usually end up throwing the ball (sometimes we might put him in timeout, but this is losing its power). 

This frustration Odin is showing is called an extinction burst, which is essentially a physical display of increased frustration. His frustration will build, until he gets what he wants.

There are multiple issues with using extinction alone:

(1) Extinction is not a quick fix. Most dogs will escalate their frustration which will become harder and harder to ignore. And reinforcing the unwanted behavior (as I have done…) just teaches your dog that throwing the temper tantrum gets them the reinforcement they want. Ignoring your dog’s frustration bursts is not a realistic solution (and it’s just not very nice for the dog either).

(2) Increase in emotional behaviors, frustration, and aggression which are same side effects as punishment. 

How to deal with it:

Extinction is best used in conjunction with reinforcement of another behavior which ideally serves the same function as the unwanted behavior. This will redirect the dog away from the feeling of frustration associated with extinguishing the unwanted behavior.

So whenever Odin brings me the toy while I am sitting on the couch, rather than ignore him, I am going to reinforce another behavior such as doing some trick training, playing a game of Find It or presenting him with a Kong to chew on. Ideally, this new appropriate behavior will serve the same function as the unwanted behavior, however finding a behavior that serves the same function as fetch and that can be done in the house… well I haven’t been able to think of anything. If you do have an idea please let me know!

What does this mean for you?

If you are dealing with an unwanted behavior that you have previously reinforced, ignore the unwanted behavior (extinction) and redirect and reinforce a new behavior. If your dog is begging because you previously gave them scraps from the table, redirect them to a Kong on the floor that has been stuffed with yummy treats when they start begging. You are no longer reinforcing the unwanted behavior of begging (they are not getting your table scraps) and they are being rewarded for another behavior (chewing on the Kong is filled with yummy reinforcement.)

  • Not reinforcing the begging with table scraps = extinguishing the behavior
  • Giving them the Kong / another viable option = reinforcement with a behavior that serves the same function as eating table scraps.

This is a better overall example as the new reinforced behavior serves the same basic function as the unwanted behavior. You are replacing your food with a more appropriate food option. Eventually, you should be able to decrease the amount of yummy food in the Kong and they should stop begging you for food all together. The important thing about extinction is to ensure that you are showing them what to do instead so they do not build up frustration and annoy the heck out of you. This is better for both you and your dog.

Reactive Chronicles: Week 06/18/19

This week Odin was very high energy as he was on bed rest due as he was neutered last week.  His vet said that walks were okay, but any other activity was highly discouraged until he was fully healed.  


Today was a great walk. We left the house with some deli Turkey as Odin’s high value treat. He has been a little more pull-y than usual but I think that is because of the activity restriction. He has been very bored and is very excited to go out on his walks. About half way through our walk, I saw a guy approaching walking his dog towards us on the opposite side of the road. Luckily, Odin had not seen the dog and there was a car up ahead that would be able to block his view of the oncoming dog. Once we were behind the car, Odin did hear (or smell) the other dog and got a little excited but his default reaction was to look at me! (which equaled tons of turkey for him). We walked past the car and I told Odin to look at the dog that was walking away (and far enough outside his threshold). He happily looked and then looked back at me. No fear or frustration. We continued our walk and we shorty after we were joined by two people walking behind us. Odin got very interest in a storm drain (we checked and there were no red balloons inside) and he very nicely let the people pass us.  Next we saw a kid riding a bike with training wheels in the middle of the street. Ringing his little bell, as happy as can be. Odin looked at the boy, tilted his head in curiosity, then looked right back at me. I was a proud mama!


Another great walk today.  Odin sometimes get too distracted and frustrated by people that he can see and wants to meet.  This can sometimes result in a reactive episode.  We often walk by a woman in a green sari and man in white turban.  Odin is obsessed with them and very much wants to meet them, which sometimes results in him becoming frustrated and reactive.  Overtime, they have become weary of Odin.  Today, however, Odin did great while the walked passed us across the street.  Odin was able to stay engaged with me and even did an Orbit while they were walking past.  I am very happy that Odin was able to perform some tricks while they passing.  Not only did it show how well he is managing his reactivity but also, I want to show people what a goofy, smart, and attentive dog he is (not the screaming teenager that throws temper tantrums when he becomes reactive.)  A couple of blocks later, Odin was tested with and extreme challenge!  A white cat wearing a bell darted across the street up ahead of us.  Odin stared at cat and pulled towards the cat, but he was responsive and checking in with me.  “BUT MOM!  Don’t you see that cat over there?!”  He continued to slowly walk with me and past the cat.  However, the stilly cat started following us (Thanks cat, you were not making this easy for us) But Odin did very well and kept moving.  He would check behind us to keep an eye on the cat every time he heard the “ding, ding” of the cats collar.  Once we reached the end of the block, the cat stopped following us and Odin was bored with the cat.  Coming to the end of the walk, there was one last challenge.  Two dogs were crossing the street a head of us at the T-intersection!  Before Odin had registered what he was seeing, I turned and said, “Let’s go” and we proceeded to back track.  His U-turn was perfect and his amazing, beautiful, engaging eyes were staring right back into mine.  He had no worries about what was behind him.  We were focused on each other.  Once we were a good distance away, I had him practicing his focusing/calming behaviors.  He was able to perform his “chill” and relax on the sidewalk while the other dogs were in view.  Once they crossed the street and proceeded to walk away from us, we finished our walk.  It was a great day.    


Today’s walk was very boring.  No other dogs were out, no silly cat with a bell.  It was overall very uneventful.  Minus the one bark, Odin let out when he saw a stroller come out behind a car.  Once he realized it was not a threat, he looked back at me.  I was relieved that he only barked once (probably more of a warning bark) and had no other signs of discomfort. 

Reactive Chronicles: Week of 6/11/19

This was written a handful of weeks ago…. Back at the beginning of June.  I was debating whether to post the Reactivity Chronicles, or whether to keep them just for myself.  However, as I have been writing them, I have noticed a change in my mindset and feelings around Odin’s reactivity. I hope this helps some other reactive dog parents.


This was the last week of rain, and I will be greatly missing it.  I hate being wet and cold, but I love that when I take Odin out on walks, that we will be the only ones out.  Most people opt out of walking their dogs in the rain.  However, for us, rain is the perfect condition.  Now that summer is quickly approaching, more and more people are starting to take their dogs out.

During the winter/spring, I am able to let my guard down while walking Odin.  It is very unlikely that we will run into another dog.  I think I got too comfortable with this and was not ready when I took Odin out for a walk earlier this week.  We passed three dogs and all of them Odin got severely reactive towards.  I think he too had gotten comfortable with not seeing other dogs while out on walks.  It was as if he had forgotten all of the progress we had made last summer and fall.  It felt like we were starting back at square one.

I was very lucky that this was the same week we started up our Reactivity class.  It was nice to be able to practice with Odin in a parking lot with another dog in a controlled environment.  This made us more prepared for future walks.

During our next walk, we got lucky enough to be on one side of a four-lane road and another dog was across the street heading the same direction as us.  This was perfect for a training opportunity as I wanted to start slow with Odin and the distance between the two dogs was ideal.  There was no concern about Odin going over threshold, yet the dog was just close enough to hold his interest.  We jogged up and back, keeping Odin parallel to the dog across the street (the owner must have been super confused as to what we were doing).  We practiced focus work and relaxing while the dog was across the street.  He did incredibly well.  Then, another dog turned the corner up ahead and the dog and his owner started walking ahead of us in the same direction.  This was perfect!  The difficulty was increased a smidge, and he was still able to focus and heel and not react.  As a reward, we ended the walk at the dog park where he ran around with his friends. 

It sucks that we took so many steps backwards, but it was nice to see that we were not starting from scratch.    

After writing this, I thought it might be a good idea to start making a habit of writing about our walks.  Writing about our walks makes me look back and reflect on things that we need to work on and helps me to see the improvements he has made. Sometimes we are so focused on the negatives and challenges we face, and forget to celebrate the small victories and successes we have.  I have been writing these for about 2 weeks now, and I feel infinitely better about Odin’s reactivity and our daily walks. These entries give me hope and help me to see the good days, when the bad ones become overwhelming.


So here, I start the Reactive Chronicles:



Huzzah! Odin made it past two dogs at once! It was with the help of chicken breast meat, but whatever, one small step at a time. Since summer started we are starting to see more people out in the morning due to the weather. Today it was easily 70 degrees out at 6 am when I took Odin out for his walk. I am needing to take him out in the mornings as it is not cooling down fast enough in the evenings (96 degrees at 8 pm).  

The two dogs this morning were the two annoying black labs that live in a corner house backing up to the open space. The dogs themselves aren’t annoying, it’s more their situation that is. They have a metal bar fence. So the two dogs can see everyone and thing that walks past their house. They are not thrilled about passersby’s and throw a barking fit when they see anyone/thing coming. When they were approaching, I was expecting the two dogs to see Odin and start barking (which creates an instant reaction from Odin). However, they didn’t even seem to notice Odin. Odin did great while they passed and we moved around in an odd pattern to keep him both interested in me and prevent him from focusing too hard on the other dogs. Chicken has become a godsend for his reactivity (but a damper on my wallet).


Almost, he almost made it past the other dog across the street this morning without reacting. When the dog was approaching in front of us (a medium sized, 35 lb. terrier) I got prepped, armed with lots of chicken in my hand. I told him to “look” he did. He saw the other dog and quickly looked back to me. I gave him a treat and we started walking again. Every two steps, I would ask him to look, he would look back at me, “Yes!” and treats. Once the dog across the street got behind a car across the street, out of view, I got greedy, I was too slow with the treating and didn’t treat while the dog was behind the car. The dog made it past the car and Odin whined and then reacted “WOOF! WOOF!” But it was only a couple of barks before he calmed down and focused on me. Not too shabby. Next time I will need to be faster with the treating. The young blonde girl across the street smiled at me and gave an expression of it’s all good” on her face. I greatly appreciate when other handlers are understanding of the situation. It makes everything easier and like everything is going to be okay.

Reactive Road Trip: Mendocino County

So a little over two month ago, Odin, Derek, and I went on a small road trip up the Northern California Cost.  We rented a house in Manchester, CA (located in Mendocino County) and were surprised to find that there were many state and regional parks that were very dog friendly.  I was hoping that since we were going on a weekday (we left Thursday night and were driving back Saturday) that there would be less people and dogs.  I was right and we had a blast. 

First off, the house we rented had private access to Irish Beach.  We went down to the beach Friday and Saturday morning and had the entire beach to ourselves.  We could see miles down the beach and there was no one else around.  This was great.  We walked up and down the beach, throwing Odin’s toy in every direction.  He had such a great time.  He was free to sprint around and we were able to put our guards down and enjoy this time to its fullest. 


There were very few tourists/hikers at all of the locations we stopped at.  I think we were far enough north that not too many people ventured this way.  We were north of Elk but about 40 minutes south of Fort Bragg.  The towns in the area are very small with populations of less than 100 people in each town.  I think this location is ideal for reactive dogs.  Lots of dog friendly places with no dogs (although this could have been due to it being a weekday during spring).

 Recommended Parks for Reactive Dogs:

Here is a list of a couple of places we stopped at:

·         Point Cabrillo – Cute little light house at the end of the ½-mile trail from the parking lot.  There were very few people at the park and NO DOGS!  The pathways also provided great visibility so we could see all oncoming traffic on the trail.  There was a small bay next to light house were a handful of harbor seals were floating and sunbathing in the water.

·         Russian Gulch State Park – The Park has a handful of dog friendly trails and provides a great view of the Russian Gulch Bridge.  Beach access is also dog friendly (on-leash only).

·         Mendocino Headlands State Park – We drove through the park and stopped at a handful of the turn-offs.  The trails at this park are very close to the edge, so be careful and overly observant of your dog’s movements. 

·         Gualala Point Regional Park (Farther south down Highway 1) – Although we ended up not hiking through the park, while we were in the parking lot (20 min), we did not see any dogs.

As we headed south from Manchester on Saturday, we noticed that the more south we headed, the more crowded the parks become. 

The following is a list of the more crowded parks that should be avoided by reactive dogs:

·         Dillon Beach

·         Point Reyes National Seashore

·         Salt Point State Park

·         Doran Regional Park

I would highly recommend Mendocino County as a vacationing location for reactive dog owners.  There were plenty of parks to explore and trails to hike. We only saw one other dog our entire vacation. Has anyone else traveled here? What dog friendly things would you recommend for a reactive dog?

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 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:


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.


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.