Diego's Reactivity - An Update

Hey guys! Welcome to my first real post of 2019! I was going through a bit of a weird rut in life at the start of this year, and couldn't bring up any energy to write or do much really. Thankfully I have had the support of family and friends who have got me through this weird time, and made me excited to be productive and achieve my goals. If you aren't already, I highly suggest you subscribe to our YouTube channel as I am making content over there at least once a week, and potentially will be increasing to twice a week when I can. Also, I post a lot more on our Instagram Page, so make sure you are following that too. With all that basic 2019 housekeeping done, let's get into today's post!


If you weren't aware, Diego is a reactive dog. It wasn't always this way, and has evolved over the years that I have had him. I have already made a few posts on this subject, so if you want the full insight please feel free to read them here. I last left you in May of 2018 where I found Diego's favourite reward over all others - his toy ball. We had trialled treats and they just didn't grab his attention enough, however the ball grabbed and held his attention for a lot longer.

Since May, we have been taking his toy ball on pretty much every walk and using it as a distraction tool when he sees a dog. Firstly we used the ball as a distraction when I personally noticed a dog. I would get it out and show it to Diego to hold his attention so that he either didn't see or notice the dog that was on the other side of a road or park. This worked great at distracting Diego enough to not notice the dog at a distance. I next wanted to make it so that if he saw a dog at a distance, he would ignore it and look at me for a ball instead. I would hold off on getting the ball out until he had initially noticed the dog, then I would say 'Yes' in my happiest voice and give him the ball. He eventually started to associate the sight of another dog in the distance as a chance to get his ball. Now, if he sees a dog, he will immediately look at me and get excited for me to get his ball out.

Diego had never been super reactive at a distance, he had started to cry and maybe growl at big dogs if they were across the road, but it wasn't a constant and had only just begun. This made this super easy to reverse, and meant that the above steps worked pretty much instantly within those first few months. I can happily say that Diego at a distance like across the street will not react in a negative way at all now, he may cry but I think that is in excitement for his ball more than anything.


The next step would be to get closer to a dog and have Diego be able to walk past them on a larger pathway without growling, lunging or screaming his little head off. This was a longer process than the distance one, but followed the same sort of steps. Initially I would get the ball out instantly to distract him from seeing the dog, or from reacting to the dog. This would work until he could hear the dog, in which case he would whip around and stare at them. Gaining his attention back was dependent on what dog was walking past, a larger, or darker dog would be super hard for me to gain his attention, a smaller dog was a lot easier.

As of today, for smaller dogs I do not distract first on wider pathways, I just keep walking, and then give the ball after walking past. Diego generally doesn't react past whining, and honestly, I don't think I will ever be able to stop him whining at everything. On skinnier pathways I judge on Diego's initial reaction on how I will cope with the situation, either getting the ball out before the walk past or after. If I think he might be sassy, I give him the ball to hold as he walks past and this works well for small dogs. I've actually started allowing him to sniff some other small dogs when he isn't wound up, and they generally have worked well. He even played with a random schnauzer on a path the other day.

For larger dogs, it is so hard to know how Diego will react. If the other dog has no interest in him and doesn't look at him, I can give him the ball afterwards and he will behave. If the other dog is straining at their lead, is staring at him, or making any noises, it's harder to say how Diego will react. Sometimes he is fine, and other times he starts to growl and may bark. I still am not up to the stage of allowing Diego to pass a larger dog on a skinny path, I either turn around and find a place where we can go off the path to allow them to pass. Or if there isn't time I just pick him up and walk past quickly. I know people hate the idea of picking dogs up, but I would prefer to prevent him reacting and potentially causing a fight. It works better for us in that moment, as well as long term as he doesn't associate his reacting as a reason the dog is gone.

If you couldn't tell, this is definitely a day by day process and I honestly still don't really understand the ins and outs of Diego's brain. I know he hates larger dogs, he hates dogs in his face, and he hates dogs barking. But sometimes none of those are the case and he will react, or other times the dog will be all of those things and he won't mind. I just try to set him up for positive interactions every time, and make sure I try not to push him further than he wants. The other day we went walking with Harley from The Four Sibes and Harley could not care less about Diego. He was just enjoying his own life exploring the area, and Diego ended up being calm enough to walk closely behind him and beside him with no worries. I got into a state of calm thinking that he would end up liking Harley and let me guard slip. After about half an hour of walking, Harley and Diego sniffed faces and Diego reacted. However, we kept walking after this and he was fine to walk beside him again. Things like that make me confused on what Diego is actually thinking!

By the way, this is Roko from The Four Sibes not Harley. A different meeting :P

We are still working daily at building Diego's tolerance but I am now at confusion on how to go from where we are, to where he will allow dogs to touch him. The ball works great with the dog at any distance, but Diego is known to toy guard, so would not work with dogs at closer range. Does anyone have any ideas on how to move over to the next stage of introducing Diego to more small dogs without the fear of him reacting?

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