Reactive Rover Graduate

Well, we did it.  We completed our Reactive Rover course.  3 more credits added to Leroy’s training transcript.  Despite all his douchebaggery “reactive-ness” (more on that later), it was a wonderful class and we both learned a lot!  None of the dogs in the class were “cured”, but they all made great progress and worked very hard!  The owners learned about management, disengagement cues, calming signals, threshold, body language, and coping mechanisms. Reactive dogs come with a lifetime of training, management, positive social interactions  and boundaries.  It is an ongoing process.

Now where to start?!  Let’s get some of Leroy’s low points out of the way.

I keep telling myself that Leroy made progress and improved throughout the course. I know he did.  However, it’s very easy to fixate on the negative, embarrassing, overwhelming moments that we went through every single week.  Boy does this dog know how to look like an arse!  So here are some of our low points:

1.  Leroy tried to eat the stuffed demo dog.  Twice.

Photo by Opportunity Barks Behavior & Training

Photo by Opportunity Barks

Poor, innocent, stuffed Fluffy.  You fooled my dog- yes.  But you did not fool me!  While most dogs gave a realistic depiction of how they would react to seeing a real dog,  Leroy went above and beyond. 🙂  He of course threw his typical “reactive dog” fit, which includes a ton of  lunging, whining,  stress panting, and barking.  He finished up by charging Fluffy, aggressively smelling his butt (albeit this part is technically ‘good manners’, though not in the rude way he approached), and forcefully knocking him over, leaving him flopped and dead.  Rest In Peace Fluffy.

Oh wait, he was stuffed.  PHEEWWW!  Oh yes, and this happened twice (the only two times we approached Fluffy).  Talk about embarrassing- Keep it together, Leroy!

2.  Leroy went over threshold at least once every week (OK, probably more than once).  Every week during our first exercise, Leroy would “loose it” and go over threshold.  My 55 pound train-wreck of a pit bull would do his “over-the-threshold” things- screaming, barking, lunging, whining, more lunging.  I’ll say it again, embarrassing!

3. Leroy was vocal, vocal, vocal.  I am that parent in the grocery store with a child that is just screaming, and screaming, and crying, and screaming.  And I’m just looking at the fruit in the produce section.  I’m that girl.  (Note to self- abstinence is key).  Leroy really felt the need to vocalize about everything.  People are moving?  We’re in a new place?  We heard a dog?  We are bored? VOCALIZE, about everything!

4. Leroy tried to eat a few of our fellow classmates.  Mainly, the mini doxie, Theo.  I will give him a tiny, tiny pass.  Leroy never denies having a super high prey drive.  He likes birds, OK?  The Doxie probably just looked squirrel-like for a second there 😉  (Note- there were no dog-dog interactions in this class.  Mr. Doxie was at a safe distance at all times, usually across the room and behind five barriers)  We also had a moment with Serious the Husky mix, but that was a very challenging activity involving proximity and movement for both dogs.  Too much, too soon boys.  All considered, these were only mildly embarrassing.

So the Worst Puppy is at it again! However, I did say that we improved and learned a lot.  And we did!  Let’s move on from all those negative points and talk about the good.  *shakes off* <- I learned that move from Leroy.  After we do a stressful activity, he has to shake it off.  This helps to calm him.  Hooray for calming signals!  Let’s take a quick time-out for a cute diagram of dog body language that I found!

tano1

So since we are calm and ready, let’s move on to the high points!:

1. Leroy has three “go to” calming signals.  And as a high anxiety dog, he does these a lot.  He wants to be calm!  So for the whole Reactive Rover class, I watched him (and rewarded) his Head Turn.  This was especially important because after Leroy reacted at another dog, he would eventually give a very clear Hear Turn.  This was his signal that he was trying to calm himself and wanted to leave the situation!  After all that hoopla, he was ready to leave- Excellent!  Typically after we backed away from the situation, he would Shake Off.  Sadly this is not on the adorable diagram.  But it is a calming signal nonetheless. (Or it is a calming signal to my knowledge- I am not a professional!)  His third calming signal is slightly debatable.  It would be the I’ll Be No Threat, where the dog has his back to the stressor.  Leroy is food motivated.  Like, motivated!  So it’s possible that he was doing a combination of “I’ll Be No Threat” and “Mom, give me food”.  Either way, he got to practice looking at the food treat pouch me instead of the other dogs.  We learned things!!

Photo by Opportunity Barks

Photo by Opportunity Barks

2. Leroy started to “come down” faster, after going over threshold.  During the weeks at the beginning of Reactive Rover, Leroy would go over threshold and stay there for a bit (so to speak).  We often had to leave the room (on top of already being behind barriers) to help him relax and focus again.  He was pink as a Piglet from stress, panting, vocalizing ect.  But every week it seemed to take him a little less time to “get his shit together”.  Don’t get me wrong, he wasn’t laying quietly on his side for our relaxation exercises or prancing next to Mr. Doxie.  It was mild, but there was improvement.

3.  Leroy was less pink!  Leroy is a white pooch, and he basically turns pink when he’s stressed.  Pink eyes, ears, tongue, and skin- but there was a little less of that every week.  Possibly the earliest sign of Prozac starting to work, or a combination of going to the same place for the 5th+ time, or picking up on the routine and training- Leroy was not quite the Pink Piglet that he normally is in a stressful environment.  Whoop whoop!

4.  Leroy is a smart, focused, food motivated pup.  Gosh, when he is looking at a treat, he is a focused dog.  Sometimes when we’re in a new place, he gets so stressed that he doesn’t eat.  But I bring the good stuff to class, and he has always been happy to eat and focus to the best of his ability in the class setting.  When he is focused, he can do anything!  Sit, down, watch me, clumsily walk over agility markers, look at that, say hi, leave it (mostly), find it, walk nicely.  When there are excessive food rewards and we’re under threshold, Leroy is focused and can work very nicely!  Even with some minor distractions.  🙂  Good boy Leroy.

Photo by Opportunity Barks

Photo by Opportunity Barks

Stay tuned for more updates about what we learned and practiced in the class and what our next training activity will be.  Plus, a birthday this month!

If you have any questions about Tofu, becoming a foster parent, or the adoption process- you can email me (Leroy’s mom) at Casey@caseyheyen.com

Sponsor me here- Donate

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8 thoughts on “Reactive Rover Graduate

  1. Good job, both of you! Love your writing style and your commitment to Leroy. I have a foster girl similar to Leroy. I am searching for similar classes for her, but so far am coming up empty handed. My goal is to get her good citizens certificate. I know alot of rescues don’t put this much work into these reactive dogs, but I’m wanting her to have a fabulous home and life and NOT be returned to our High Kill County Shelter. Would you consider Leroy adoptable now to the “right” home, or do you have certain criteria you feel is important to meet before you will consider putting him up for adoption? I’m trying to figure out the answer to that one myself.

  2. This is great news! Our reactive dog Mushroom improved a lot during each of the two classes we took her to. We’ve kept her cooped up inside a lot because of the snowy winter, but now that it’s spring, it’s time to work on her reactivity again.

  3. I’m so glad I found your blog. I have an adopted cane corso/pit bull mix, Lewis, who is 3 and about 90 pounds. Lewis is a very reactive dog, much like Leroy. Your stories remind me of Lewis every time I read them. Lewis is white with brindle patches and turns pink when he’s stressed, too. We always thought we looks like a pig :o)) Anyway, I have gone through many struggles with Lewis and I know exactly what you mean when you say that ANY improvement is an improvement, I have to remind myself of this ALL THE TIME!!! Lots of consistently hard work, and we are improving every day! Far from perfect, but better than we once were, and I love him no matter what! 🙂
    ~Lewis also “killed” the stuffed dog when he met it~

  4. Kudos to You for your dedication and hard work! I can relate to all of this, so I know first-hand how hard it can be. While you can’t beat the opportunity to work with a great trainer in a class setting, I want to highly recommend “Feisty Fido – Help for the Leash-Reactive Dog” by Patricia B. McConnell, Ph.D. and Karen B. London, Ph.D. This booklet provides great advise for learning how to walk a leash-reactive dog politely past another dog. Thanks for a great article that shows what can be accomplished with love, patience and a sense of humor 🙂

  5. Pingback: The Good Stuff | leroy and company

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