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.


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.


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.
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.


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!