Everyone wants to succeed with their reactive or aggressive dog and I often hear, “I just want a normal dog!” said with lots of emotion and a hopeful pause. Everyone’s definition of that success is different. For some prevention and management will be the best cure, for others obedience skills to mask the behavior might be the answer and for others full behavior modification is the only answer. Whatever your definition, you can depend on a proven formula for progressing with your dog in the eleven steps below. It is important not to proceed to the next step until the previous one is completed. Many involve making the commitment from the human end of the leash.
The first step toward success is to become totally fed up at not having achieved your goal. Get impatient that the goal hasn’t been reached and then set up a step-by-step plan. Behavior modification is, after all, action-oriented.
Decide on exactly what you want to accomplish with the dog in this planning stage. Details folks, not generalities. For example, a general statement would be: I want a reliable companion. Instead be specific and state: by August 31st, 2008, I will have done 100 meet and greets (successfully) with women of all types and stature. This type of detail is critical to changing behaviors. The plan will accurately define the dog’s triggers.
If success is action-oriented – you have to provide the vehicle – details are the vehicle to getting the ACTION!!!!!! Where do you yearn for your dog to be in “real life situations?” “in CONTROLLED trainings sessions?” Action comes with the requirement that YOU HAVE TO MAKE IT HAPPEN and yet, you have to realistic! However, it also comes with the commitment that the plan is completed at your dog’s pace and that is why details are needed!!!!!
What will success with your dog look like? sound like? smell like? feel like? and taste like? when you finally achieve it?
We all want to achieve success. When we hit a brick wall, have a reaction or regress, have depleted our knowledge of what to do and when to do it, then that is when frustration or being overwhelmed sets in. Making and having a plan eliminates frustration and the fear of moving forward.
Break the plan into priorities. Three priorities provide a doable base from which other steps can be added. Work on the top priority first breaking it into doable pieces.
Map out a written plan for success. Develop a road map for how to get to goals. What will you do? By when? With whom? What resources, training techniques will be used?
With my human reactive dog, Chancellor, a training plan is laid out on Sunday night for the following week. I might on Monday, do 3 stranger meet and greets (so that might mean for me, one with a client and 2 on the street – no I’m not shy about asking people to help train my dog and being VERY specific as to WHAT I want them to do). Chancellor would not be who he is today if I was…..because like you I didn’t have a lot of people stage things for me. Chancellor’s training is completely real life. On Tuesday I might set up a RallyO course and work on details of performance, and so on. I don’t overwhelm myself, I do quality training, but I also don’t just flow along hoping my dog will be trained. It takes action and thought and a road map.
What is your plan for today? Write out and finish the sentence daily:
Today I will ________. The key is to always keep it positive and keep it successful.
Simply TAKE ACTION. In-action or the wrong type of action is counter-productive and the largest source of no success, regress and not making any progress. The other road to failure is not sticking to the plan or veering off the positive reward-based road. There is a saying ‘you miss 100% of the training you don’t do’. So take action!
Once you’ve mapped out your plan for success frin step three above and decided on exactly what it is you want to accomplish with your dog from step two then DO IT. Follow through with passion. Stay physically focused and present and build energy and enthusiasm for the process. This simple focus will rid you of fear, frustration and becoming overwhelmed. TAKE ACTION! Who is sitting around?
Also, make sure the “right” action takes place, because the wrong techniques, the wrong way of going about it, missing a step will all be counter-productive. Make sure you have a plan. It is highly suggested to find a positive reward-based behavior trainer or behaviorist to guide the process. A professional often picks up on behaviors from an objective viewpoint and can help shape next steps. Keep in mind each dog is a unique individual with a unique history and set of circumstances.
Once the plan is implemented and there is comfort in taking daily action, don’t forget to thank those who help you succeed. Those real life people you meet on the street who help you train your dog, the trainers who allow you to bring your dogs to classes, those classmates who set up contexts and on and on. This is where your base for real life success will come from, those who help you achieve that “action item” in your plan!!!! Very important to build a base of supporters!
Spend five minutes each day improving the quality of your communication with your dog. This could be reading about calming signals, body language, practicing active communication with your dog without talking all the time, building an awareness walk where you observe your dog being a dog, or writing down how your dog communicates with you through body language.
Communication is my college major and truly important in working with people and their animals. The simplest or subtlest signals can mean a lot (i.e. an eyebrow lift from an aggressive dog can alert you to a bolt about to happen which you can avert with a verbal cue). Most of us are not in sync or engaged with our dogs, yet we expect them to be engaged with us, or listen to us all the time. Spend five minutes a day improving the quality of communication with your dog.
Do you believe in yourself? in your dog? If so you will be consistent, persistent, patient and committed to success. That’s it, even when you have a regress, you must believe in the process. It is easy to do so when everything is going great, but have a regress and all of a sudden doubt creeps in – should I get rid of the dog, maybe the dog will never improve, and on and on – the success of all the other steps depends on belief in the process no matter the regress.
Regress is a part of progress, it opens the pathway and teaches. It also shows you what it is you need to work on or it shows you went too fast or too slow or something is wrong in handling techniques.
Do you believe in yourself? in your dog? Are you persistent? patient? consistent? and committed to success?
This step requires being responsive to the dog. At this point the training process should be in first stages. This means you are weeks into working to change the dog’s behavior. What feedback are you getting from your training sessions? Where is your plan leading you? Did you have a set back? If so, why?
It is important to be responsive to the feedback you are getting as you implement your plan for successfully rehabilitating your dog. Learn from what happens at each stage, then adjust and succeed.
Let’s say you just had a regress – a reaction? Why? Did you analyze the feedback? What could you have done better? What upset your dog and why did you put them in a position to BE upset? Did you go back to kindergarten? Did you re-evaluate triggers? Did you re-evaluate the plan and add to or delete from the plan? Did you PULL your dog from what is upsetting them so you can respond properly to adjust your training strategy?
This stage, number 8 is critical to any type of future success with your dog. It should be revisited again and again.
Get support from people who have needed to accomplish goals with their dogs, like you are doing. Do what they do; say what they say; think what they think. You are not alone, and while each dog IS unique, there are many similarities and you can each learn from one another. Forget about listening to people who do not have a clue, those who want to just give you advice, or those who think they “know” dogs because they’ve had a lot of them, or those who have NEVER in their life worked with a reactive or aggressive animal, and those well-meaning friends, relatives and social crowd who say all dogs like them. Get support from the people who have accomplished goals similar to yours. You just may learn a thing or two.
Master your fears. Don’t be afraid to fail AND don’t be afraid to succeed. Your dog looks to you for guidance and because of this is very in tune to your emotions. Have a purpose and don’t move too fast or too slow. If you have mapped out a plan and have a purpose, this will tame your fears.
Bottom line, it is all about us isn’t it? The dogs can and will progress unless they have neurological problems that prevent them from doing so or other health issues. Achieving success is an ACTION PLAN and doing nothing, gets nothing.
Teamwork. Do you boss your dog around? This is not a working team. A team is in sync. The dog is attentive to cues and the human is listening and interacting with the dog, watching body signals, not allowing reactivity because there confident involvement with the dog. Teamwork means knowing the dog’s triggers and either not exposing the dog to them or working at proper distance and duration to desensitize the dog properly. Work together, not against each other. Engage the dog fully and discover the final steps to building trust by keeping the work positive and rewarding.
How do you know if you are working as a team?
1) Your dog no longer reacts.
2) You are smiling and engaged with your dog.
3) You trust your dog around almost everyone and everything.
4) Your dog is watching you attentively waiting for their next cue.
5) You are more interesting than sniffing, peeing, or squirrels.
6) Your dog is eager to do whatever is asked of him or her.
7) Your dog is mirroring your actions.
8) Your dog sees a trigger and looks to you as the ANCHOR in a scary environment for your next cue.
9) You notice your dog’s attentiveness and in a split second make decisions and/or give jackpots.
10) You look like a fine-tuned dance team.
There are many decisions to make when a dog is reactive or aggressive. Deciding to work with them and change their behavior requires commitment and action. It requires making sure health issues are not the cause of the behavior and getting a full medical exam before proceeding. Getting to the core reason of the behavior means the prognosis of changing the behavior is more obtainable. The key elements are taking action and making the commitment.