Lisa contacted me in February 2017 to arrange some home training for her Romanian rescue dog Ziva. Ziva had been adopted into her new home at the age of 2 years old, and had spent the first couple of months settling in.
When out walking Lisa had noticed that Ziva was becoming increasingly reactive to other dogs and people. She had started growling and then barking when she saw other dogs and people on walks. Lisa and Ziva adored each other and I was determined to turn their walks from stressful to happy!
For the last few years I have seen an increase in the number of dogs that I work with on home training sessions for on-lead reactivity, or general noisiness and activity when on lead around distractions.
Dogs typically become reactive on lead either because they are scared or because they are frustrated. We guessed that with Ziva’s history, her reactivity was fear based.
The most successful training techniques in these cases are usually desensitisation and counter conditioning.
Punishing a dog for reacting is counterproductive and can make the problem worse because it damages the bond between dog and owner, and adds to an already stressed dogs anxiety levels. Luckily Lisa knew this and wanted to help in a positive way!
We used a short lead, harness and a high visibility jacket whilst on walks. To help Ziva relax in her new surroundings I asked Lisa to avoid other dogs and people until she had learnt the techniques that would help her cope around them.
In working with dogs that react to other people and/or dogs I like to keep things simple for everyone by teaching a few exercises that can be used in lots of situations. For Ziva these were loose lead walking, Watch and Targeting.
We taught Ziva her exercises in the comfort of her own home initially, so that she wasn’t worried whilst she was learning, as stress can slow down the ability for a dog to learn. Once she had worked on Loose Lead, Watch and Touch at home and was able to do the exercises when asked, we started to practice these outside.
To reduce Ziva’s worry around other dogs and people, we kept her at a distance from them on walks so that she didn’t become so stressed that she was unable to learn. We then showed Ziva that every time she saw a person or another dog that she would be fed one of her favourite treats.
This did three things; It helped to reduce Ziva’s on walk anxiety, as she wasn’t being put in situations that she would find stressful, it showed Ziva that she was still safe even if she didn’t bark at her trigger, and it also showed her that actually these scary things made something good happen! This is desensitisation and counterconditioning at work!
WHAT HAPPENED NEXT?
Dogs took a little bit longer to work around than people. This is usually because while people were able to see Ziva’s high visibility jacket and give Ziva the space she needed, dogs didn’t understand this so sometimes came too close for Ziva to cope with.
Following our course of home training sessions, Ziva has joined our Barky Bunch Club! The Barky Bunch Club is small group classes specifically for dogs who become noisy or bouncy around other dogs or people on walks. The small groups have a maximum of 4 dogs and are designed to complement and follow on from the exercises we had practiced on our home training sessions. They allow us to work in a safe, controlled environment on structured set ups to support the on-walk training Lisa was doing.
Lisa and Ziva worked so hard at our exercises and stuck to the plan we had set out. They were an absolute pleasure to work with! Amazingly within 4 weeks of starting our training plan, Ziva was no longer reacting to people on walks at all! Lisa is now confident walking with Ziva past a range of people of all ages without the muzzle on.
‘With Ziva being a rescue dog she was quite shut down when she came to us, so seemed very polite and quiet for the first few weeks. But once she had started find her feet she began to bark at dogs and people and walks were becoming stressful for her (and us!). We needed help to understand what was making Ziva react in the way she did, and how we could help her feel happier. Our 6-week course with Nicola was brilliant, as every week we learnt new techniques, practised them, and then fed back what worked. We now have a toolkit of techniques to use, and are continuing to learn with the Barky Bunch on Sundays.’