The slow and steady work of making associations (Week 3, Reactivity Class)

Notes from Week 3 of the Feisty Fidos class
Deven Gaston, Canine Campus

I missed writing up a Week 2 recap, but you can read the fundamentals of this class on my Week 1 post (which I recommend, for anyone who has a reactive dog).

As Deven said, “This class is about as interesting as watching paint dry.”

Because that’s the long, slow, hard work of classical conditioning and making new neural pathways. During the past two weeks in class, we’ve just worked on clicking and treating (that’s where the operant conditioning mix comes in) the dogs for perceiving the trigger of another dog in the room.

Week 2, we worked with Deven’s shy, reactive dog Surprise, who remained still and didn’t want to make eye contact with any of the class dogs. (We’re all separated out in different rooms, and Surprise is walked around the center of the room.) This week, Deven brought in her bouncy, friendly mini Australian shepherd Rumba. Rumba was more of a challenge for the class dogs, because she was more active and clearly wanted to engage. (Rumba particularly seemed to want to meet Pyrrha!)

We practiced Patricia McConnell’s “emergency u-turn” several times each, in the class ring, and then we worked for the rest of the class on just clicking and treating for perception of Rumba, over and over and over again.

This class was a good reminder of two things:

  1. This is slow and steady work, and hundreds of repetitions are needed.
  2. Practicing this behavior “in the wild” is much harder, which is also why it takes so long to recreate these pathways.

But we’re in it for the long haul!

Getting to know Brynn
Pyrrha and Trina.


In other news:

We have been doing more evaluations of Brynn/Trina, and I think we’re not going to keep her, for a number of reasons. I know, after all of that fanfare!

Essentially, she is a lot more naturally shy than we thought. She’d been getting so confident and comfortable in our home that we were pretty fooled by her behavior, and kind of shocked during our outings to realize that she is naturally pretty fearful of new people, children, and other dogs on walks. She’s also afraid of getting in the car and strangers. (I think her super-relaxed behavior on the Downtown Mall that first night may have been influenced by drugs?? Ha. She had just been spayed a day-and-a-half ago at that time, and I think she was still pretty out of it, which led to her reallllly chill demeanor, despite the craziness of the environment.)

Again, these are not black marks on her personality, and we will continue to work with her and socialize her, but we are looking for a genuinely confident, “bombproof” puppy. Trina is not that, but she will still be a wonderful puppy for the right home.

As much as I want to keep her, I also know that I don’t want two leash-reactive, shy dogs. So. A hard decision. More on this later. It’s been a bad week, whew.

Getting to know Brynn

21 thoughts on “The slow and steady work of making associations (Week 3, Reactivity Class)

  1. I have all the feels, as they say on the internet, after reading this.

    I feel a lot of conflict about our very hypothetical “next” dog, myself–do I use all these skills I’ve learned to really help a new, scared dog? Or do I take a break and go for exactly what you say here–a happy, bombproof puppy. (So easy! We could go for walks!) Honestly, right now I think it would be cruel to Silas AND to a new fearful dog to put them together, where they could feed off each other.

    I think you’re making a good decision, if that makes you feel any better. Once you have a scared, reactive dog, that dog’s welfare HAS to be your priority, even in the abstract sense of “my mental state will deteriorate if I have two dogs like this, and then we’ll ALL be crazy.”

    The emergency U-turn is great, btw. The behaviorist has us doing it, too.

    1. Thanks so much, Jessica. 🙂 Your comment means a lot to me. I’ve been feeling like a general failure all week, and the whole deciding-not-to-keep-the-puppy has only amplified that feeling. Being in this reactivity class makes me realize that Pyrrha still needs a lot of our attention, and I just could not manage 2 reactive dogs right now. Emergency u-turns are the best!

  2. You’re definitely making the right decision on Trina, take it from someone who has two reactive GSDs!! Though I love both of my dogs dearly and would never give them up for the world, they are very difficult to manage at times, and I do find myself missing my bombproof boy Smokey (who was dog reactive in the beginning, I keep reminding myself, we’ll get there, we’ll get there). Next dog for us though, for sure, will be absolutely bomb proof, and not for a VERY long time!

    1. Thanks so much for your input; means a lot coming from you, with your experience of GSD rescues! Again, so tempted by this really darling little thing, but I have to be rational and strong :-p and admit that she’s not what we are looking for. The right puppy will turn up eventually…

      1. The right puppy will show up eventually, lol! And the right foster will show up for me eventually too (I think) Hope you have a better rest of your week!

  3. I’m coming from a completely different world here. Elli’s not reactive at all – if she is, it’s to weird statues (she recently saw a bear statue and just about lost it completely – wonder where that came from? Hah) and halloween decorations. But I think you’re making the right decision in not keeping Brynn/Trina. I’ve thought long and hard about adopting a second puppy… maybe even a well-bred puppy. But I have realized how much Elli needs to be a single-dog right now… not for the same reasons as Pyrhha, but because she’s so quick to jealousy. Maybe one day that will change. Maybe one day I’ll change my mind about her. But for now, it works.

    I hope your week gets better. I’m really happy to hear about this class you’re taking – sounds like it’ll be a great investment for you!

    1. Thanks, Ximena. 🙂 You’ve done such great work with Elli; I admire you a lot! I agree with you: sometimes, the better we get to know our special dogs, the more we understand their needs… even when those needs don’t coincide with our desires (e.g., in our case, another puppy). One day, I think we’ll find the right second dog. Pyrrha loves canine company. Just needs to be that right one. 🙂

  4. Congratulations on being more level headed than your readers. We’re all, “yay! A puppy! So cute! Keep her forever.” The beauty of fostering these dogs is you get to share an important part of their lives with them, and they can stay in your heart, and you in theirs.

    1. Ha! I certainly tried to “sell” her in my post, because I was convinced at the time that she was perfect for us! But I’m glad we took a few more days. She is still an awesome girl, and we’ll enjoy fostering her, but she just won’t be one of our forever dogs. Thanks for your comment and for reading (and loving on those beautiful GSDs of yours!)!

  5. Abby I’m right there with you! We definitely would like a second dog but we need an “easy” dog for sure. Avery is totally special needs (in a good way of course!) and there’s just no way we would be able to handle two of those. I can understand your choice and I definitely think you are making the right one! 🙂

  6. Yep, I’m in the same boat. I can’t wait to adopt our second dog, and I have set some pretty strict standards. For one, I want a LAZY dog. My current dog is so lazy, and I love that about him. Even though I’m a runner and I have a flexible work schedule, I still want a very low maintenance dog. That will mean passing up lots and lots of cute, tempting, high-energy dogs 🙂

  7. It so important to find the right fit when bringing another dog into your home permanently. There’s a lid for every pot, as my mom says, and Trina will find the perfect forever home.
    Did you have trouble getting Trina and Pyrrha acclimated to each other? Did you have to take any special steps when introducing them?

  8. The thing about German Shepherd puppies is that they do go through fear stages. It’s just something you have to work through. I hope that things work out well for Brynn and she finds the perfect home!

  9. Aaand now I’m caught up and my last comment was way off! 🙂 So the u-turn is my favorite move. Ever. It’s saved us with Lucas more times than I can count. I will say that, as someone else commented, it could just be a fear stage. We went through MANY with Cooper, but only you will know what’s write for your family!!

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