We had this beautiful young lady in today for some help with her reactivity, to just about everything that moved.
Blondie is 9-months-old and we could tell as soon as she got out of the van that her reactivity was nerve based and had no real malice or intent behind it. Not all reactive behaviour can be diagnosed so easily, but once you’ve seen really nerve based reactivity it’s pretty identifiable.
A byproduct of lockdown is going to be a wave of dogs who’ve not received the environmental exposure that dogs typically receive. Taking them to parks, beaches, roads, carparks, crowds, training classes, stores, pubs and trips. These things are absolutely essential in building a dogs confidence and giving them the tools they need to operate within society.
Blondie is no exception to this and you can see this in her easily spooked nature. A part of this issue is certainly genetic and very typical within German Shepherds, but in this case, certainly exacerbated by a lack of environmental exposure. Changes in the weather, sounds of vehicles, people and dogs, all adding up and causing stress to build, pushing her over the edge into the realm of reactivity.
We got to work putting some consistent handling in place to keep Blondie focused on us, rather than being overstimulated by the environment. We began utilising some of our stooge dogs to put her to the test and within a short while she was passing dogs comfortably and without reaction, or being spooked by passers-by.
Next, we looked at Blondies level of obedience as her owner had been having issues getting her to follow basic commands. Due to her overall stress level, she doesn’t take treats of any form outside of the house. When dogs are stressed they won’t typically eat, and we use this to gauge threshold while we’re working on reactive behaviours.
Because Blondie’s owner has been free feeding her, letting her have access to boatloads of toys, and rewarding her without having obeyed commands, Blondie has no real incentive to cooperate or earn reinforcement. This is particularly troublesome when we need to motivate the dog towards positive behavioural change and want to use reinforcement to encourage them.
Obedience needs to begin in the home for Blondie so we can begin to build her confidence in environments outside of the home. Without clear communication and a working relationship, helping our dogs to navigate otherwise intimidating and complex landscapes becomes more of a battle than a journey.
If you‘ve found yourself with a dog through the lockdown and are experiencing similar issues, start by working on your dogs level of obedience to arm yourself with the tools you need to communicate effectively in areas of higher distraction and stimulation.
Great work today guys and I look forward to seeing you put the plan into action!