Finding Peace with a Reactive Pup

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Let’s be HONEST here, it’s NOT easy living with a reactive dog, especially when you are first starting out. Now that Oreo and I have been on this journey around 4 years recognizing her reactivity, training, and managing it, we find peace more often than years ago. Although this picture might not look PEACEFUL, it in fact is one of sheer joy for Oreo. Today it snowed more than 10 inches on top of 15 already, creating a winter wonderful for furry fidos. While some dogs don’t like the snow, Oreo LOVES it! What makes this time even better is she & I have no worries-NO DOGS OUT, STRANGERS, SQUIRRELS, OR ANYTHING FOR HER TO REACT TO!

Finding peace can be difficult if you are just starting out or in the midst of training. Peace won’t come to you, YOU HAVE TO FIND IT.  Sometimes, you even need to CREATE IT.

Here are some ways that I found peace in the past or present with a reactive dog, I hope these may help you:

Walking-if you love it, find somewhere your dog will not come in contact with many triggers. I’m not saying avoid triggers forever because as you know in training your dog may need to see a trigger (example : another dog) from a distance and accept treats. However, your dog also needs peace and definitely needs days to calm down after a stressful event.

Where can I go walking, I live in a busy neighborhood/apartment/condo/city?

  • Find an empty parking lot. I’ve walked Oreo around school yards on off seasons, company parking lots, and even parking lots of grocery stores that are out of business.
  • Find a large, open space park. Some of my favorite parks were located near my condo where we used to live. After Oreo got attacked I couldn’t/wouldn’t walk her through our neighborhood. She froze up out of fear and quite frankly so did I walking around our neighborhood unaware when the next loose dog would attack. We found 2 favorite parks. Both parks weren’t super busy, and if one was busy, we went to the other. Both had lots of open fields, sports fields, and many exits. They both had various walking paths but also grassy areas we could cut through to avoid dogs or other triggers.
  • Tennis courts. I’m not saying go into a tennis court that has a sign NO DOGS, but I am saying if you are lucky enough to have a neighborhood tennis court like we did, they are a great place to have your dog off leash if no one is around. Oreo loved her time running free, chasing tennis balls. We also practiced recall, my husband and I on separate sides of the court, calling her and rewarding her.

Inside Your House-Depending on your dog’s reactivity, you may be able to find peace in the home.

  • Close the shades, put up window film, whatever works. If your dog is reactive when looking outside, don’t let them. If you aren’t working on training-don’t let your pup learn to bark at triggers (they will think they made the mailman/squirrel/dog go away).
  • Turn on the tv, radio, a white noise machine or fan. We always leave a fan running at night because our neighbor’s dog that barks. If the fan is off, Oreo will bark. If the fan is on, we sleep through the night.
  • Make a safe place for your dog, especially if you have kids. It could be a crate, a dog bed, or a gated area or room where your dog can go to feel safe and relax. This is also a good place for you to find peace if someone arrives or you feel your dog can’t handle a stressful situation, have them go to the peaceful place.

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My personal favorite time to find peace with my pup is walking in the neighborhood while snow is falling with no one is around. This is a time Oreo and I can do something we loved without fear of dog attacks, while everyone else is bundled up inside we are being adventurous in the snow 🙂

No matter how much stress you or your pup is in, it’s always important to cool down and FIND PEACE or MAKE IT. Reactive dog parents go through a lot of stress, take some time for you and your pup to relax!

GO TO YOUR BED!

Remember when you were a kid, got in trouble and your parents told you to “GO TO YOUR BED (or room)!” Well, instead of a negative thing, sending your dog to their bed is a very positive trick, giving your dog confidence, routine, and a calm corner to relax.

I am revisiting an old trick I haven’t practiced in a while-sending my dog to her “bed”. This can be very important for all dogs, especially fearful dogs. There are many dogs who need a “cool down” or “calm” area, away from kids, stress and distractions. There are many dogs that can be possessive of space-they don’t like when you are too close walking by or need a space where no one can bother them when they are tired. Perhaps they need a space to go when the door bell is suddenly rang by someone delivering a package. Dog beds can be used as a safe space, a place to rest, to eat bones, and to practice routine.

Oreo, my reactive dog does not enjoy guests unless they are close family she is very familiar with such as my parents or sister. If someone like a delivery man approaches the door the usual reaction is barking and pacing. My goal is to give her something to do-SOMETHING ELSE besides reacting in an undesirable way. This can be very helpful if you have the bed behind a dog gate, once your dog goes in there to their bed, you simply treat, close the gate and answer the door.

Does your dog jump up, beg, or stare you down while you are eating? Mine doesn’t always, but after some trips to her grandparents house where they fed her some food from the table, she developed some habits which are fine, but can be solved with a dog bed. Instead of staring at us, she will learn to go lay down on her bed and relax, that will keep her calm and she will be rewarded with a treat there, but not from the table.

Do you have kids or even a spouse or friend who makes you nervous around your dog? Well, if you are nervous that your dog will react the wrong way-think of how your dog feels! A simple way to solve this problem is to teach anyone who comes into your house that the dog bed area is off limits-a dog gate would even be better so they CAN’T get to them. If you are nervous or you see your fearful dog is nervous-send them to their bed. They will feel more confident for completing the trick.

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Okay, enough with the many reasons, let’s learn how to send them to their bed. There are two different ways.

Way 1: 

1. Decide on what you would like to call your trick-“Go to bed,” “Go to mat,” “Go to cushion” and so on. We always taught her bed is when she travels into our room at night, and my husband’s name is Matt-so that won’t work. We picked “Go to cushion.” Go near the dog bed and say “Go to bed,” and place a treat there or lure your pup with a treat.  Use a clicker or a word maker like “Yes!” when your pup is on the bed (release the treat if you are holding it for your pup to eat).

2. Encourage your dog to lay on the bed by saying “down” or whatever word you use for that trick. When they lay down click or say yes and treat. It’s best to teach them to lay on the bed, this way they can relax and you may want to continue to teach them more to the trick-like staying on the bed for periods of time.

3. Continue practicing having your pup on the bed by saying, “Go to bed” before they actually are on the bed. Use a treat to lure them and they will associate the bed with the signal “Go to bed.”

4. When they seem to get this, start asking them to “Go to bed” without the lure sometimes. Eventually, with practice you can fade the use of luring, and treat after they do the trick. They will no longer need to even know you have a treat. You can practice this from short distances and work your way up to more challenging tasks like having your dog “Go to bed” when you are in any area of your house. Eventually you can have them “Go to bed” with many different distractions happening at once.

Way 2:

1. If you like shaping or “catching your dog in the act,” this is the way for you. When you see your dog do anything near the dog bed (look at it, step on it, sit on it, stand on it, get near it) you click and treat.

2. You continue this “game” until your dog starts to realize good things are happening near the dog bed. Eventually your pup will realize being on the bed is when brings treats. You can continue shaping to add a sit or lay down.

Whatever way you chose, the trick not only helps your dog stay calm, but can help keep your dog safe. I will continue working with my pup on this and let you know how it goes! If you have taught your dog this trick, how did it work out?

Counter Conditioning-Cool!!

The ASPCA defines counter conditioning as “re-teaching the pet to have a pleasant feeling and reaction toward something that he once feared or disliked.” Counter conditioning is VERY valuable in training, especially with fearful dogs. Here’s how it works:

1. Identify what your dog is fearful of (men in hats, skateboards, large brown dogs, and so on)

2. Get yummy treats (cheese, chicken, steak, something special).

3. Expose your dog to their fear in a controlled environment (ask a friend to help or do training at class). If not, then go somewhere your dog can see/experience the fearful event at a very safe and far distance.

4. Make sure you expose them at a far distance. If you were fearful of snakes would you want a snake thrown on you? NO! You would start seeing it at a distance first. You need to figure out what your dog’s threshold is. Do they get scared of a dog 50 feet away? 20 feet? 10 feet? When does your dog go from being confident to being worried to completely losing it (barking, snarling, hiding)? You want to find the point when your dog is a little worried, but not losing it.

5. When you have your distance, give your pup those yummy treats when she/he sees that scary thing. Don’t give it to them when the scary thing is gone, only when it’s there. You want your pup to associate the GOOD TREAT with something scary-this way your dog will come to have a neutral or positive reaction towards it. Example: You work on looking at dogs at a distance. Your dog gets nervous 30 feet away. You bring your dog to a park and see a dog 30 feet away. Your dog looks at the dog, you click (use a clicker or a word to signal food), then deliver the treat. You work on this for days, weeks, or even months depending on how well your dog does. Eventually your dog sees a dog and looks up at you-YAY! Your dog EXPECTS GOOD THINGS when they see other dogs!

6. Once your dog is okay at a certain distance, get closer. So now we move to 25ft away instead of 30. We work on this the same way with treats until the dog expects treats at this level and doesn’t show signs of being overly nervous.

7. Continue until you get closer. Not all dogs are meant to get super close to other dogs or what they fear. Don’t push the dog TOO MUCH. Take baby steps & think of what your dog needs. Does your dog NEED to be close to other dogs all the time? Does your dog need to greet dogs? I know my dog was attacked by another dog and isn’t comfortable playing or greeting other dogs. Has she greeted them since the attack and through training? Yes she has, however, I don’t feel the need to push her anymore-She’s okay with them being 10ft + away, and that works for both of us.

Counter conditioning allows your dog to associate something scary with something good. This turns something horrifying into something yummy and fun. When Oreo finds something scary she knows where to look-at me for yummy treats and we keep moving on our walks.

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Have a Happy Hound at the Holidays

Most of us love the holidays, and we love our hounds. However, some people are VERY busy during the holidays depending on the size of their family. It’s a wonderful time to spend with family & friends reminiscing about the year and holidays past. We also don’t want to forget our pups…we want happy hounds.

  • If you have a nervous Nelly pup it is important to try to keep up with a somewhat normal schedule. Try to talk them at normal time (if possible).
  •  If they are nervous around lots of people/excitement or anything, don’t forget to manage their behavior/fears or use it as a training time. If it is very busy & hectic make sure they have a safe place, whether it’s a crate, a bed in the corner, or in another room.
  • Don’t forget foods that are poisonous to them. If you have that uncle or dad who can’t resist feeding them, remind them these foods are not good for eating:
    • grapes, raisins, currants (in fruitcake)
    • chocolate
    • gum
    • too much fatty scraps
    • alcohol
    • any medications relatives may leave out in bags on the floor or somewhere your dog can reach.

Another thing we need to keep an eye out for are decorations that may be dangerous:

  • hot potpourri (don’t let them lick/get close)
  • watch they don’t get too close to the fire!
  • snow globes (if they are imported) they contain antifreeze—YUCK!!!
  • lillies, holly, mistletoe

DSCN4117Oh yeah--Don’t forget to get them toys & gifts too!! They love opening them 🙂

Have a happy holiday & happy hounds!

Brushing a Reactive Dog’s Teeth

As you know, reactive dogs are afraid of many things. Oreo is afraid of ANYTHING new. I reward her when she explores new things without growling, barking, etc. However, if you put anything new near her face, she’s very likely to back away, run away, or if continuing to put it near her face, snap at you. Why worry about brushing your dog’s teeth? Dog’s teeth need to be brushed just like ours do-they get tartar and have problems. If you’ve ever had to get your dog’s teeth cleaned-it’s also very expensive. Recently the vet mentioned Oreo is getting tartar so I need to brush her teeth. Whether your dog is reactive or not, steps should be taken to familiarize your dog with toothpaste and a toothbrush. (*FYI-don’t use regular toothpaste, there are special dog toothpastes. Don’t use adult toothbrushes either, stick to children and soft bristled.)

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Here are some tips that helped Oreo love toothpaste & her toothbrush:

  • Most important FIND A TOOTHPASTE FLAVOR THEY LOVE!!! I can’t stress this enough-I have tried a few brands/flavors with Oreo and she hates certain ones and tolerates others. However, the CET Poultry flavor-she LOVES! I pull that toothbrush out and her tail wags and she runs towards me-sometimes she is licking it so much it’s hard to get to her teeth to brush!
  • Take baby steps-Don’t thrust the toothbrush at your dog’s face right away.
    • First familiarize your dog with the toothpaste. Put some on your finger and see if your dog likes it. If not, try another toothpaste. If your dog won’t take from your finger or let you near them, don’t worry about brushing their teeth right now-work on building a relationship and working with a professional positive trainer. If your dog won’t let you touch and manipulate their muzzle and mouth-work on that (touch their mouth, lift a lip-click treat! Teach them good things happen when you are touching their face/mouth.)
    • At this step you can either skip to the next step, or if your dog really doesn’t like things near/in their mouth, use your finger or a finger brush (you can find them at pet stores near the toothpaste-they fit over your finger). This will familiarize them with brushing their teeth without sticking a toothbrush in their mouth (it could be scary!)
    • Next you can put the yummy toothpaste on the brush and let your dog lick it. Depending on how scared your dog is you may want to do this a few days so your pup knows the toothbrush brings good things. Some dogs may need more time for this step, while others don’t.
    • Use the brush in your dog’s mouth to brush the outer sides of the teeth-don’t brush hard, be gentle. Do this for weeks. You may want to treat your dog in the beginning to reward them. Don’t keep the brush in their too long-start small at first-a few seconds if that is suitable for your dog. If your dog is happy, continue longer but stop in the beginning to reward them.
    • If your dog isn’t comfortable with you opening their mouth wide, and clamps their mouth shut when brushing their teeth, work for weeks (or days) on opening their mouth (NOT FORCIBLY).  Treat your dog when you put your hand on their snout (not over their nose-behind it). Work your way to opening their mouth gently and treat them each time. When your dog is comfortable this is when you can brush the inside of their teeth (I haven’t worked up to this yet with Oreo-but am working on it now).

It’s really up to you-how to pace introducing the toothbrush and toothpaste & how often you can brush their teeth. It is recommended that this is done daily, but if not a few times a week. Just remember-baby steps-for some people their dogs will love it right away-for others you may work on it for weeks or months-or perhaps never perfect it. However, remember your dog needs their teeth brushed so it’s important to work on this with your dog. Do you brush your dog’s teeth? How often?

Planning a Vacation With a Reactive Dog

Planning a vacation with a reactive dog isn’t always easy, but there are some tips I will share that helped us have a wonderful vacation with our reactive pup, Oreo.

  • First, rent a cabin/house instead of a condo or hotel room if possible. This will ensure less noise and intrusions.
  • When renting a place make sure it is reactive dog friendly, by that I mean make sure it meets your dog’s needs. Sometimes rental companies or owners don’t disclose to you right away that your dog has to be in a crate when you leave, or other dog related issues. Oreo is deathly afraid of crates, therefore we did some serious house hunting before we found the right one. Read the contract carefully.  If it’s in the contract you must follow the dog rules.
  • Bring your dog’s favorite things! Anything that can make your pup more comfortable is great. I brought Oreo’s favorite toys, her bed and food bowls.
  • Make sure to bring something to keep your dog busy if you are away. We were away for many hours at a time exploring the Smoky Mountains and Oreo was free walking through the house. I brought her kong and another toy stick I could stuff with treats. I made sure they were extra special treats like pieces of cheese.

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  • Make the trip a vacation for your pup too! Don’t forget to walk/run around with your dog and explore new areas. However, make sure you watch for other dogs/people or whatever your dog is afraid of. We stayed in the yard and walked around the “neighborhood”, which wasn’t crowded. Also-I brought some special new toys for her-ended up she didn’t really need them since she loved the place-but it would’ve been handy in case she was stressed.
  • When renting a house, make sure it is semi-private. You don’t want to be worrying about your dog barking & stressing while you are on vacation. Find a place where you aren’t right up against a neighbor. Maybe they have a fence, maybe a large yard. In our case we had a house at the end of a road. The other houses weren’t so far away-probably only 50-80 feet away. However, our deck we sat on faced the quiet woods. There were bushes and trees between some of the houses. This ensured we could all relax in quiet and she couldn’t look out windows and see other people/dogs.

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  • Bring something to calm your dog down-just in case. I brought Oreo’s ThunderShirt. I used it when we first got there-but she didn’t really need it anymore-she loved the house. In fact-she behaved better there-super quiet with not many people or animals to drive her crazy!
  • This probably goes without saying-but if you are vacationing with other people-make sure your dog is comfortable with them-otherwise leave your pup home.
Oreo loved hanging outside on the deck in the quiet.

Oreo loved hanging outside on the deck in the quiet.

We went to the Smoky Mountains for the week with my parents & Oreo. I was very worried so I over packed dog supplies. I prepackaged all of her food in portions with her medicines to make it easy. We made sure to walk her and spend time outside with her. Every time we left I left the tv on for noise and put some treats in her Kong. She hardly barked the entire time and didn’t seem stressed at all! Don’t forget if you are driving a far way (we drove 10 hours!) make sure to stop at plenty of rest stops to take fido out and give him/her water. If you plan, you can have a fun trip with your pooch!!

Here are some pictures from the vacation.

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