Thursday, February 9, 2012

Ranger Recommends: Feisty Fido: Help for the Leash-Reactive Dog

Ranger and I are both tired of living with his leash-reactive fearful sister Finna. I want to be able to walk my dogs together again and to actually be able to walk Finna through the neighborhood without having to plan it like a military campaign. I want to not constantly be on the lookout for other dogs walking. I want Finna to be able to make friends with other dogs on leash as a prelude to being able to play with them off leash.

Finna is a leash reactive dog. She sees other  dogs and wants to scare them away from her vicinity. Finna has, frankly, turned into more of a challenge than we were prepared for. She's bright and eager to learn and has a lot of great potential. She's amazingly fast and loves to run. I can see her as a great agility dog but not until this "Feisty Fido" is a civilized member of society both canine and human. She needs to learn some better ways of addressing the things that frighten her.

"Feisty Fido" by Patricia B. McConnell and Karen B. London is a wonderful resource for those of us dealing with leash reactive dogs. In this short easily read booklet there is a wealth of helpful information. I'm especially grateful for the variety of techniques they describe. We haven't figured out all of Finna's issues or what sorts of training is going to work best with her so having a variety of options described in one convenient location is a wonderful. Finna will probably respond best to learning an incompatible behavior such as Watch. But McConnell and London don't subscribe to the one size fits all school and offer other techniques as well. And best of all they describe the type of dog these techniques are most useful in treating. I'm also very grateful for their clear examples of what different levels of distraction would look like. I need that sort of information because I'm very knowledgeable but not very experienced and what I might think is a mild distraction might really be a large distraction.

Another reason to love this book is the section on getting out of trouble now, before Finna has been rehabilitated. I don't live in a perfect neighborhood where I can control the comings and goings of my neighbors and their dogs and there are several leash reactive dogs that live on my street. Having techniques that can help me get Finna out of the situation where she's suddenly confronting dogs that are barking and lunging at her is a huge relief. On our walks we are now practicing our U-Turns. I've been doing something similar to encourage her not to pull or try to drag me by her leash. When she'd start to pull I'd immediately change direction with a handful of tasty treats held conveniently for her to munch. That made a nice foundation for the U-Turn. We've used everything that happens on our walks as a chance to practice; the neighbor taking down Christmas lights as we started home, the woman scraping her car windows, the couple chatting on their porch and even the dog 10 yards away to practice making a U-Turn and moving away. Here's how it works. Walking toward the neighbor we'd stop and "About" quickly retreating back toward home. We did this half a dozen times at varying distances from the neighbor and well under Finna's threshold and then went home and played fetch for awhile. Finna seemed to consider U-Turns a fun game so you can be certain we'll be playing it a lot in all sorts of circumstances gradually increasing the proximity of her triggers. We'll also be working on her emergency Sit/Stays where Finna sits and stays behind me so that I can get between her and the frightening dog she's just spotted. These, of course, we start in the house with almost no distraction and gradually work up to major distractions over the course of months. Knowing I have those techniques for managing her are going to be a huge help in helping me to be calm and relaxed. I know that when I see another dog when I'm out walking her my tendency is to tense up so as to be prepared for her inevitable explosion. This isn't what I want to be doing because every time I do that I'm just confirming her expectations that something bad is about to happen. Knowing I have other options than to brace myself for the Finna Frenzy will help me be more confident and relaxed which should help to reassure her.

I can tell I'm going to be consulting this book again and again in the next few months and I know that I'm already very grateful to McConnell and London for this tremendous resource. Reading this book I feel like I can turn Finna's behavior around and that she can grow into a polite and reliable dog.

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