Since recognizing that Gretel needed more help building confidence, being less fearful and not barking or growling on the leash I have been searching the internet for suggestions. I found a lot of stuff but much of it seemed contradictory (even within a specific training modality such as positive reinforcement) and confusing. It all made a little bit of sense though so I resorted to trying a little bit of everything.
One method I found particularly helpful was the distraction method. When practicing this, you somehow distract your dog’s attention away from the items they would react to until it passes. I was doing this with treats and got her to focus on me and soon as I spotted a potential problem. The occurrence of outburst definitely diminished.
I used this method last week when we met with our big-dog Twitter friend. I kept Gretel focused on me and she seemed less scared. She eventually let PDog sniff her without incident.
In spite of our success, I felt like we were avoiding the problem instead of addressing it. I felt like we needed more help so I took Gretel back to school.
In class I learned that the distraction technique I was using was good but there were a few elements missing that would actually help Gretel deal with her problem.
The ONE most useful thing I learned was the exercise “look at that”. In the exercise you give your dog permission to look at another dog by pointing and saying “look at that”.
When doing the exercise, it is good to use another dog that does not have the same issues as your dog. You want to avoid getting your dog worked up to the point they react.
Let this other dog get close enough that your dog will notice them. Once they do, say “look at that” and point at the dog.
Make sure your dog looks right at the other dog then ask your dog to look back at you by saying their name or holding out a treat. The idea is to get them to break there attention on the other dog. As soon as they stop looking at the other dog (they don’t necessarily have to look directly at you) give a marker (usually a click from a clicker or the voice marker “Yes!”) and feed a treat (motivator).
In this way your dog will get used to seeing other dogs without reacting. Eventually you can increase the time between when your dog looks at the other dog and you ask your dog to look back at you. I assume then at some point you can decrease the distance between you and the subject.
This is SO CLOSE to what I have been doing but I was missing the part where I asked Gretel to knowledge the other dog and then look away. I was trying to manage the issue using pure avoidance. I can’t wait to start practicing “look at that” and see if it helps.
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