Diego's Reactivity - Finding his Reward

Hello! I have been doing this series for a couple of posts now, where I update you on Diego's dog reactivity and how we are going with this. You can find the previous posts here. This post is going to be a ramble, and maybe not make sense but I have just come back from a successful walk so wanted to update you all. I do suggest reading those previous posts because none of this will make any sense otherwise.

We have been dealing with this issue for a while now, and I have to be honest, I don't always deal with it the best. After getting help from Lewis, I did start to implement his tactics, but Diego reacting to one single dog would set back any progress I felt like we made. I started to dread walking again, I avoided walks where we might stumble upon a dog, and when we did go out I was always on edge. That's not a great way to feel about something that you used to really enjoy.

I guess I am still actually dealing with the above. It is hard to see progress when Diego can be good for weeks, and then one dog gets too close, and he will be on edge and reacting for any subsequent walks and dogs. I need to see this more as a long term lifestyle, like healthy eating, and not an end result, diet outlook. With that in my head, I do try to go out every day and love every walk, but honestly, that isn't realistic.

What I have learnt so far, is that treats aren't Diego's main motivator. If you have been following my blog, or social media for a while, you might think the obvious motivator for Diego would be a toy. You are right. But it was so much of a motivator that I hated bringing it on walks. Diego would know when I had it, be constantly getting under foot in hopes of obtaining the toy, and would not enjoy the walk. Instead he would be either attached to me, or sprinting full speed after a ball. So I tried and tried and tried with treats. They would keep his attention long enough to obtain the treat, and then he would go back to crying and staring at the dog. It wouldn't keep his attention. I went through multiple types of treats, and although Diego loved a lot of them, he would always resort back to staring at the dog. This is what we had wanted to avoid. He also learnt that if I started to open my treat bag, there was a dog around, if my hand went near my treat bag, there was a dog around, etc. You see where I am going with that.

Once I took Diego's new ChuckIt ball on a walk, because I wanted to try them with him while they were still new. He couldn't have cared less about the dogs on the walk. Yes, he was still annoying, but it was more enjoyable to have him squishing a ball than trying to growl at a dog walking past. Slowly, I done this more and realised that if he had a ball occupying him, he could walk past any dog without reacting. He would still drop the ball and get annoyed if they got in his space, but he wouldn't react to the mere sight of a dog. This was an improvement from how he had been lately.

Now was to try and teach him how to become less obsessive. Lewis had pointed out that this was a trait of Diego's and could be used for good or bad depending how he implemented it. In this case, I didn't want him to be constantly fixated on a ball. I wanted him to have the ball when dogs were around, give it back and then continue to enjoy and sniff the environment we were exploring.

I am still in the process of trying to get rid of his fixation on a toy, but the successful walk I talked about went like this:

We were walking along the riverbank and along this path it is usually dog walker free, but has a lot of dogs in fenced properties that run along the path. These vary from not being able to see the dog, to the dog looking like it could easily jump over the fence. It also is mainly big dogs, and black dogs which Diego has an absolute hatred for. When the first dog was nearly jumping out of the property to see Diego, and I could see Diego about to sprint for it, I said 'BALL!' in my loudest voice. With that, Diego spun around and came flying at me, to be rewarded with me throwing the ball into his mouth. We had a few rounds of fetch, and then I exchanged his ball for one of my K9 Naturals treats, and we continued on our way. Diego was a little bit involved with the ball, but I kept saying 'okay' which is my release command and eventually he just headed off back on his journey. We came upon another couple of houses and I repeated the above activity. By the fourth house, Diego understood the concept of dog barking means he gets a ball, we play ball and then I take it away and we walk on.

This is where things got interesting. Instead of investigating the area like usual, walk around, find a place to wee, wee, and repeat; he started to scent. He went from nose to the ground, to in the air and walked in circles, criss crossing patterns, along fence lines before turning abruptly around. He would do this until he came upon a house with a dog, in which he would then run to me happily. The first time I didn't even realise there was a dog there until we got closer and it barked. We played ball, and then Diego repeated the scent work. I have never seen this behaviour from Diego apart from when he is looking for his toy. I made sure to show him I was putting the ball in my pocket, but he still continued to scent. My only conclusion to this is that he was looking for dogs, not to play with them, but as an opportunity to play with his ball. I am excited for our next walk now to see if he still has the same thought process about dogs = ball. We shall see.

I know this is only one good walk, and it doesn't mean that Diego will never react again but it was finally a full walk, with lots of dogs, that he didn't react once. Usually he reacts at least once if there are lots of dogs that we encounter. What do you conclude from that final behaviour?


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