Much to my great shame, we have another dog in a reactive dog class. I thought we were past this, but Leo lashes out at bicycles and joggers and other dogs when we’re on walks. I’ve been reassuring myself that he’s not really reactive. Not like Isis. Leo’s problems are leash specific. Of course, this is how it started with Isis, so it’s a good thing we have some experience and can nip it in the bud.
The first level of our class had us in a classroom with other dogs, where they hid behind covered X-pens and worked one at a time. Leo was a little bit stressed out, but did well. I didn’t consider this practice for real life, though. We don’t need Leo to be able to see another dog on a leash inside a room, we need to be able to pass them on the street.
We advanced to level 2 of reactive dog class where we meet in different locations and practice being around other dogs on leash. He rumbled at the other large male German shepherd during the first class, but in the following two sessions, he was fantastic. His body language was relaxed and he was able to look from the other dogs back to us. Rob said, “I think he’s cured.”
More significantly, he’s been doing really well on our walks. I walk him alone, using a Halti and two points of contact lead. We go in the morning before work, when there’s not a lot happening on the sidewalks.
A major obstacle continues to be the golden retriever who often hangs out in her front yard and barks at us, making it impossible for us to pass. I think Mia could get by, but I’m not sure, because Mia shows some limited barrier frustration. She’ll bark at another dog from the car. Not usually when she’s on a leash, but you never know, this golden is special. The golden set Isis off and she sets Leo off, where other barking dogs behind gates did not and do not. If she’s out front, we have to turn around and go the other direction.
We’ve made big progress with bicycles. Lately, when we see a bike, I make a kissy noise (in place of a clicker, because I don’t have enough hands), and Leo whips his head back to look at me and get a treat. Jackpot. This is exactly what I’m looking for. He sees something scary, and instead of barking at it, he checks back with me, where I let him know it’s all cool. Here, have some dried lamb lung.
This morning, we saw the golden (I’m pretty sure it was the same golden) on a walk, heading onto a small stretch of trail we often cut through on our way back to our block. In the not so distant past, my strategy would have been to skip the trail and go around on the sidewalk, but I decided to use the golden as a training exercise. When Leo saw her, he perked up and lost interest in me. I had some trouble getting his attention, and had to back up and move him out of her line of vision several times. Clearly it was stressful for him to follow this dog, which is why I kept a good distance and slowed down when they slowed down. I just wanted to show Leo that he could walk behind that dog and nothing bad would happen. He did not need to bark at her. I would keep him safe.
I heard the sound of feet on gravel and realized a jogger was coming our way. Leo has yet to master the jogger. Especially on a narrow trail. Usually, I walk off the path and into the bushes in hopes of getting him to look at me and my treats instead of the rapidly moving person. I’m pretty sure he has barked and lunged at every jogger that has passed us on this trail. Sometimes the person passes us all right, and I’m in the middle of saying, “Good boy,” when he barks and lunges at his or her backside.
Our cues usually go like this: I see the jogger. When I see that Leo sees the jogger, I say, “Easy.” And then when he barks, I sigh, “All right” in a fairly emotionless manner, which is my cue that he has not done what I wanted. Some trainers use “Oops” or “Uh oh.” Never “No.”
I hope that “Easy” hasn’t become my cue for him to bark and lunge, but I think there have been a few times at least that I’ve said it and he hasn’t barked, and then I reward him for that. Anyway, the “Easy,” “All right” cues are sort of a reflexive damage control. I’d rather keep Leo calm enough that I don’t have to say, “Easy.”
So when I saw the jogger, I moved Leo straight into a bush and held onto him by the back of his harness. (Not ideal, but it’s the only way to ensure he doesn’t lunge.) He looked at the jogger and then back to me, and I gave him some dried lamb lung. Then, another jogger passed from the other direction! Again, he looked at the jogger and then back to me for his lamb lung.
This may seem like a small victory, but he already was stressed from the proximity of the despised golden, which increased the likelihood of an outburst. And two joggers came into his field of vision fro different directions very quickly, moving very quickly, and he did not bark.
I was enormously proud.