'Not only is punishment risky, but it also fails to teach the dog an acceptable alternate behaviour. The dog does not learn what to do the next time he is in the same situation. He only learns to fear the situation.' Emma Parsons, Click to Calm p73

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Exercise and Reactivity.

Over the past week and a half or so, we've been spending a lot less time playing fetch. It wasn't so much a conscious decision as it was me choosing to do things that would tire Lola out faster so that we could get back indoors, and some of those activities are things she loves so much that I'm keeping on doing them.

This is just context. I don't know if it is actually responsible or not, but maybe it is. Regardless, I've noticed, yesterday and today, a marked decrease in Lola's dog reactivity. If you've been reading this blog for a while, you'll know she's a moderately reactive dog: she's shy around and fearful of humans, and seems a mixture of excited and aggressive around dogs. Because she's a terrier, she reacts to anything she likes and doesn't like in one way - by barking at it.

We've been working on her reactivity since I couldn't ignore it any more in summer. We did a lot of work in my months off of university in summer, but then when I went back again after the holidays it quite fell to the wayside. We use Look At That! games primarily to keep her focus, and I do these daily with anyone we pass on our walks. I try to do a longer conditioning walk/session at least once a week, which means we go up town or similar.

She's becoming very good with other people at a distance. She is still likely to react to certain triggers (people walking behind us; people bending over her; people speaking to her; people trying to talk her; disabled people; people with "wrong" silhouettes (e.g. carrying huge backpacks); loud people with exaggerated gestures), but by and large we can walk through town with a few handfuls of kibble and a blissful silence. She's still very uncomfortable about people coming to the house (barking, then growling and keeping her distance), but she is getting better with that, too. It's slow going because university is taking up a lot of my time, and most of my friends that do come round are people she has no problem with now.

If we see a person, she will bark maybe once every hundred encounter. But if we see a dog, she will bark once every five or so encounters.

It doesn't help that, naturally, we don't see nearly as many dogs as we do people; nor does it help that I have my own hang-ups about other dogs, thanks to Jessie's dog aggression. I socialised Lola well with other dogs (admittedly, I did not socialise her well with people: I know that, accept that, and feel awful for it), but at a certain point she ceased to view other dogs as potential best friends, and more as a thing to remove.

Lola's entire system tells her to "get a thing". Terriers, especially Jack Russell Terriers, tend to be very 'dog hot'; they often see dogs as competition to get their thing, or as something in the way of getting it, or as the thing that they ought to get. They are the dogs that never give up - by and large, terriers are filled to the seams with gameness. (This gameness, driviness and inherent 'dog hot' nature is, in my opinion, the reasons why the bull and terrier crosses could so easily be used for pit fighting.)So when Lola hit a certain age, that dog hotness turned on. She is often very competitive with other dogs, and she redirects easily onto Jess when she's excited (though oddly not when she gives an aggressive display).

At first, I used a mixture of Look At That! and Behavioural Adjustment Training to try to get Lola's attention back on me around other dogs. It seemed to work, so much so that we primarily went with BAT... until I realised we weren't progressing any more but backsliding, because, it seems, that going away from the dog is not what she wants. Obviously, I can't be one-hundred-percent certain that there is no fear driving her behaviour to other dogs; but whereas her reactions to people are very much rooted in fear, her reactions to other dogs don't seem to be. If there is any fear to her dog reactivity, I think it is, at most, a secondary aspect of it.

All the time this was happening, we spent most of her exercise time playing fetch - and Lola had a lot of encounters with dogs who had no recall whatsoever, in which she learned all the more how to make them go away when she was doing a thing and didn't want them to join in.

Back to the present day.matter: since we've stopped playing so much fetch (and going to other places than the park with the awful, no-recall dogs and owners), I have noticed some differences in her dog reactivity. She would calm down faster, react slightly less, and be a smidge more responsive during.

I didn't pay much attention to it until yesterday, when a woman walked by on the other side of the road with a lunging, barking Patterdale terrier, and Lola gave it only a few glances whilst otherwise giving me full focus. I would have expected her to bark or growl back, at the very least. And then today, we nearly met two different dogs head-on, and each time Lola turned her back on the other dog and moved toward me (away from the other dog) for her reward.

At this point, naturally, I can't make a link between the different exercize schedule and activities and her apparent reduction of reactivity: two days isn't enough to go on, and correlation is not causation. But I find it interesting, nonetheless.

Both times today that Lola saw the other dog, she was pulling on the leash already. Yesterday I made up a quick 2'' collar so that we can do some hand-walking*, and I slapped the collar on her today and let her pull a lot. As of yesterday, she's also been wearing a doggy backpack** with nothing in it, to tire her out. Other exercise we've been doing has primarily been flirtpole*** and "springpole"***; then, secondly, some fetch of balls/frisbees and some playing with Lola's Boomer Ball.

*Hand-walking allows Lola to build muscles better than loose leash walking (LLW), and will be a better way of tiring her out in winter (when an hour of hand walking would be superior to two or three hours of LLW). It also gives her a reward other than food--if she behaves, she gets to pull. It's a very simple reward that uses the Premack Principle pretty well.

**Next: wearing a backpack will again increase her fitness, and it gives her A Job To Do. As a neurotic terrier, this is a very important thing. Lola's reactivity has always been noticeably less when she's given A Job - e.g. carrying a ball or tug toy in her mouth.

***Flirtpole and springpole both allow Lola to indulge in her prey drive, in ways that fetch doesn't permit. Our springpole isn't set up yet, so "springpole" here right now means tugging at a toy hung over the doorframe. It's pretty crappy but it does the job. Flirtpole lets her catch a thing, Springpole lets her kill a thing.

Where are we now? I'm interested to see how our changed exercise schedule affects Lola's reactivity long-term: at the moment it's just something happening at the same time as something else, so I can't draw any conclusions. I'm also planning on having a number of friends that Lola has met only once or twice before to come over during the Christmas holidays, to see if I can't help her learn more that sometimes scary people can become her buddies, too.

Lola's temporary 2'' hand-walking collar and backpack.


Sara said...

Not sure if it is the same for Lola, but Oreo needs a lot of downtime. If he doesn't get a good days rest after a stressful incident, he is much more likely to react to minor stressors.

Now that I have eliminated most stressors for Oreo around our house (no neighbors/noises/cars), he is able to manage other stressful situations so much better.

Bailey Be Good! said...

Wishing you and Lola a very happy Thanksgiving holiday!!

Woofs & hugs, <3

~Bailey (Yep, I'm a girl!)

Winnie said...

I think you are doing a great job with all the work you do.

Sounds like Lola's doing well.

Love and licks, Winnie

An English Shepherd said...

That backpack looks like a good idea :-)

Ludo van Doggy said...

It sounds like you have it quite in order and are making good progress. I know it can sometimes be one forward and two back but you have a lot of strategies. The job is a good idea and I do agree with Sara, learning to chill is a good skill too.

Robin Sallie said...

Nice job! Keep up the great work!

Via is a much easily to live with dog when she gets to work on the flirt pole for at least 45 minutes per day.

I also do "hand walking" put did not know that was what is is called. I will add the back pack with weights.

I have the stuff to make a spring pole but no where to hang one. I am also looking for out of the way places for Via to do more free running. Since moving to a new state, I've lost all of our old haunts.

I have also committed myself to train Via Dog for at 5 minutes out of every hour that I am home and awake. I have not made my daily goal once since I started but have gotten close on occasion.