Do you ever wish that someone would tell you to just take a two-week vacation from all of your stressors? Think about it, how would you feel after those 2 weeks? Would you be refreshed and ready to take on the world? Probably! and that's exactly why we coach all of our reactive dog clients to start their training program with a vacation from stress. We start by identifying a management and prevention strategy. By managing your dog or your dog's access to their environment, we prevent them from practicing their reactive behaviors. Let me explain why this is so critical to your success, there are three key points we'll discuss here.
The first and most obvious reason we want to implement a management and prevention strategy is that we want to put an immediate stop to your dog's reactivity. Think of this as a temporary Band-Aid until we have something more reliable for the long term. We simply want your dog to stop feeling stressed around their triggers and feeling like they have to defend themselves all the time. We can all agree that a vacation from stress puts us in the best frame of mind to take on new things. During your dog's management phase you'll also be working to teach your dog more important skills but that's a topic for another day.
Have you ever used a pull start lawn mower? Well if you haven't, they're kind of difficult to turn on sometimes. You can pull and pull and pull and sometimes it takes a dozen or more attempts to get that engine to turn over and to get the lawn mower going. Once it's ready to go though, if it stalls out or you accidentally turn it off, it will be much easier to turn on the next time. The engine is warmed up and ready to go and is primed to turn over. Every time your dog reacts to their trigger it's just like they are warmed up and ready to go. Their switch is primed to react again. You've probably already noticed this with your sensitive dog that once they react to one trigger they're much more likely to react to others. This creates stress for you and your dog and doesn't put you in the best frame of mind for training or learning better behaviors.
The last piece to focus on is reinforcement. Reinforcement is anything that increases the probability of your dog behaving a certain way in the future. Did you have siblings when you were growing up? Well I had three of them and I could tell you one too many stories of the famous, “I'm not touching you!” game, riding in the backseat of my mom's car. I was pretty tolerant and would try to ignore the obnoxious behavior but eventually I'd snap and yell. The outcome of that was that my sister would stop. It was pretty easy to learn that when I would shout and speak up for myself that I would get what I needed. Let’s say you're walking your dog and they bark and lunge at another person. That person is just walking away, they're doing what their gut tells them to do which is to avoid the barking dog. Even though that person wasn't going to hurt your dog, your dog learns that by barking and lunging they maintain a feeling of safety and self preservation. Simply by rehearsing reactivity your dog may be reinforced for protecting themselves.
So if you have a reactive dog then I have an assignment for you. Get out a piece of paper and list out your dog’s top five triggers. Be specific with what the triggers are and where and when you would normally encounter them. Next I want you to devise a management plan that prevents your dog from being exposed to their triggers in a way that allows them to practice their reactivity. If you've never done this before don't worry I've got you. In my free beginners guide to dog reactivity I go over several ways you can manage your dog’s behavior in a way that prevents them from being reactive. I give you tips and tools suggestions on what you can use to get started training your reactive dog. you can grab your copy by clicking here.
And don't forget that living with a reactive dog can be stressful too. by having your dog take a vacation from their stress you'll also be taking a vacation from your stress, it's a win-win.