Graduation from reactivity class

Every relationship takes work. #lovethem
Every relationship takes work.

Last night, Pyrrha had her last session for the reactivity class we’ve been taking. For graduation, we went to practice “in the wild” at a pet supplies store. It was STRESSFUL, but so is real life with a reactive dog, right?

The goal was to have the handlers use the store aisles as buffers–easy obstacles for us to duck behind–and keep working the “Pavlov machine” of treating the dog for every perception of a trigger (e.g., another dog). Pyrrha was already overwhelmed by the new environment that the addition of her big fear (other dogs on leash) brought her to a fairly high level of anxiety.

I anticipated that this might be the case, so I brought her into the store early to let her sniff everything and get the lay of the land, per se. This might have helped her during the actual practicum, but I confess it was hard to tell. There were cats up for adoption in cages on the floor, which got her prey drive kicked into action; there were tons of treats left at dog-level for easy snatching (you sneaky pet store owners! I know what you’re doing, and it’s working…); and there were lots of other reactive dogs milling about AND unsuspecting customers and their dogs and children.

Suffice it to say, last night was a perfect storm of triggers for Pyrrha–but again, that’s the real world, and you can’t contain it or control it.

Deven encouraged us to go outside and take breaks when needed, and we did that a few times. Pyrrha’s mouth was getting really hard, and she was just about taking off my fingertips when I delivered treats. Taking a break to sniff outdoors seemed to help her regain herself.

She had two reactive outbursts last night, and both were my fault. One was at one of her reactive classmates, while I was talking with Deven, and the other was at a customer’s boxer, who came bounding in the front door, and I was talking to a human classmate when it happened. That’s the tricky thing about reactive dogs; to manage them in the wild, you have to be a pretty rude human. If I was paying attention to her and to the environment, I could have prevented both of those outbursts, but a minute-long conversation was enough to divert my focus from her and let her express fight mode.
Mea culpa, Pyrrha.

Concluding thoughts about our reactive dog

We learned a lot in these past six weeks, and I am so glad we took this class at Canine Campus. I wish everyone I knew with a reactive dog could come to town and work with Deven! She’s amazing. I feel so lucky to have a trainer like her in my hometown.

Last night was a sobering reminder that we still have a lot of work to do with Pyrrha and that I can’t let myself get lazy. She’s so calm and easy in our house that I can forget that she still has a lot of anxieties when she confronts the real world.

I got a chance to talk with Deven last night about Pyrrha, and she said that Pyrrha has made a lot of progress in a year. It’s hard for me to see sometimes, being so close to Pyr, but it was nice to have that external confirmation. She also recommended I look into the following things to continue to help Pyrrha with her anxiety:

  • T-touch (Tellington touch)
  • Aromatherapy
  • Nose work classes (which she offers)

I know a little bit about all three, and they sound appealing to me. Have any of you worked with any of these strategies for your fearful dog? Which have you liked or disliked?

13 thoughts on “Graduation from reactivity class

  1. I’m a big fan of Nosework. 🙂 But you probably already knew that, haha. Still, it’s not really made for dog-reactive dogs in the way that, as a sport, it segregates all dogs from each other (dogs train separately, usually, and trial separately), so triggers can’t be pulled/counter conditioned or whatever. Mostly what I see NW being used for is environmentally-reactive dogs, where big garbage cans, boxes, and obstacles are triggers… for which it’s been proven to be very effective as a treatment.

  2. Morgan LOVES doing nosework, and obviously Küster does, too, in his own way, but it is really good for her especially. I think it’s because it engages her brain and body. Hubby plays a game with her where she has to go in the crate and do a down stay. Then he goes and hides treats. He calls her and they “go to work” finding the treats. She will go back to places where she found hidden treats for weeks. It cracks me up! I have a feeling that you’d really like doing nose work with Pyr!

  3. I haven’t done Aromatherapy per se, although I LOVE Silas’s Adaptil collar. I tend to think of the DAP stuff as fancy-pants aromatherapy.

    T-touch didn’t work great for us because Silas doesn’t really love being handled, especially when he’s stressed.

  4. I’ve done TTouch. I can’t really say if it worked or not, although it is a nice bonding exercise with your dog. Thundershirt also… Can’t tell if it works. Is that weird? Maybe they’re calmer because of the shirt, maybe they’re just having a calm day. Leo will still have a reaction while wearing the shirt if a bike or jogger get too close.

  5. YaY Pyrrha!! Congrats on graduating the class! I admit that I would have been stressed to take Avery into a dog store so kudos to you for handling that!

    One of the things that I have been giving Avery to help with his anxieties is L-Theanine, simple herbal supplement to help promote calmness. It has helped a great deal and I especially notice how much when we go out on walks. His reactivity is much more manageable and he’s able to better control himself with triggers.

  6. Congratulations Pyrrha – well don e on the graduation. It’s a never ending education though. I’ve been considering a nose work class for Jack – there is one close enough, just haven’t gotten to it. Good luck fi you do decide to go forward.

  7. Hello, from your fellow crazy dog friend here! You can borrow the T-Touch DVD from me if you’d like. I got it to work with Josie and her handling issues.

    I love Deven so much and wish she had been offering that class when I had my reactive dog.
    I did a Nosework class with her and my reactive dog. All dogs are in a crate while others work. I don’t know if she still does it that way, but it’s both bad and good…..good b/c your dog can feel safe while another dog is working, bad b/c your dog is in a crate for much of the class! With Deven’s new building, it could be a different story.

  8. Congratulations on graduating and continuing to learn with your still new dog; good girl, Pyr!

    I like the idea of Nosework but then I have hounds…almost too easy but keeping them directed to the correct smell will be challenging.

    The Thundershirt worked a miracle on my OCD Beagle who chewed off half her tail. While we put her on meds and I carefully watched her, the first time I put the Thundershirt on in the store, she visibly relaxed. Molly still wears it on occasion in her new home, but she’s doing better in a structured environment. She is a fetching fiend….

  9. I’m sure she’s made tons of improvements!

    I haven’t taken any nosework classes, but I would love to sometime. One thing that helped one of my reactive foster dogs was to take any type of classes I could. In his case we only took obedience classes. A beginner’s class and then one that focused on the CGC test. He also got an intro to agility. Doing all these things helped build his confidence overall. He was reactive out of fear, so building his confidence was important. He would be so proud just for jumping over a small agility jump, or standing on a platform, for example. What a good boy 🙂

  10. Congratulations on graduation!! That’s huge! I love how you put it, that having a reactive dog makes you a rude human. That right there is the thing I struggled with the most with Lucas, I think. I still struggle with it… Last week, for instance, there was a woman out walking a bounding, bouncing, darling puppy! She spotted Lucas and I and made a beeline for us. I’m sure she was thinking, “Oh, great! Another dog for socialization with my super adorbs puppy!” But as soon as I saw her stride toward us, I about-faced and walked the opposite way down the next street. I know it seemed SO rude, and I totally felt bad, but… Lucas comes first. It sounds like you’ve made big progress, and those next classes will be fab! Keep sharing your experiences!

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