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Communicating with My Reactive Dog

Rodrigo loves playing with us.

 

Welcome to DAY FIVE of my Woo Woo Week.  On Tuesday I wrote about my experience with animal communicators.  On Wednesday, I wrote about how our emotions impact our dogs.  And Yesterday, I wrote about healing energy.

Today, I want to share how I combined all three to train my reactive dog not to chase bicycles.

Hi, My Name is Kimberly and My Dog is Reactive

Rodrigo is a border collie, blue heeler mix and he loves me, food, chasing bicycles, and destroying toys – in no particular order.  Rodrigo started displaying reactivity when he was around 6 months old.  I took him for a walk on the trail that borders our property and we had a great walk until we were on our way home and he started lunging and barking as a group of 10 or so cyclists went by.

I always blamed myself for Rodrigo’s behavior and was convinced that I was the worst dog owner on the planet.

A few years later, I met a pet blogger who writes regularly about reactivity and I felt relief: Rubicon Days.

Living with a Reactive Dog

I recorded this video last weekend after I ticked off a man and his girlfriend after politely, and repeatedly, telling them that our dogs couldn’t meet.

WARNING – I SWEAR A LOT IN THIS VIDEO

What I didn’t say in this video is how I was able to help Rodrigo with his reactivity.

Training My Reactive Dog Not to React

Thanks to fellow dog lovers (Lara and who are raising reactive dogs, Andre Millan (son of Cesar Millan), and a brief chat with a local dog trainer, I learned several things that helped me train Rodrigo not to react to the passing cyclists on the trail that borders our property.

I'm going to cut to the chase because that's where the important stuff is…

  • I started training in March when cyclists started showing up, but there weren't tons of them to compete with for Rodrigo's attention.
  • I trained with all of our dogs outside because that's our reality and always had plenty of training treats on hand.
  • Whenever I saw a bicycle I would shout “BICYCLE!” and immediately reward Rodrigo.  Rodrigo knows this word and he used to run towards the trail.
  • I did this for 15-20 minutes several days a week on days when we'd see cyclists; always using training treats.
  • Within a week, Rodrigo was getting better at coming to me for his treat when he saw a bicycle (even without me seeing it first).
  • When Rodrigo would slip and race towards the trail, I wouldn't chase after him.  I'd call for him to return and reward him for coming back to me.
  • By the second month, I was only praising Rodrigo (big celebration when he noticed a bicycle and came to me (or simply didn't react).
  • I also started playing more games with him.  We have the Puller rings by COLLAR and the ChuckIt with balls.  He'd rather play with me than chase cyclists.

Today, Rodrigo has gone from being a dog who would race towards the trail 99% of the time to a dog who races towards the trail 1% of the time.

He's not perfect and I won't tempt him by walking him on the trail (there isn't enough space between us and the cyclists whizzing by), but I can take him several places and he did great when I took him to Mill Creek last weekend.

Kimberly Gauthier and her dog Rodrigoi

Maybe Rodrigo and I will become moguls some day too.

How Does Energy Help with Reactivity?

I can't speak for everyone; every reactive dog is different.

In my experience, I learned that I was feeding Rodrigo's reactivity when I would chase after him yelling like a banshee.  From my dog's point of view, I was joining in the fun and he'd run faster.  Rodrigo is a herding dog; he is going to react to bicycles.  Instead of training him to heal, I learned to teach him something else – make a new connection.

He loves getting praise for seeing a bicycle.  It's fun.  He can now walk along the edge of our property (still a good distance from the trail) with bikes riding by and not react.

Of course, I'm still practicing this with him months later.  When he notices a bicycle, I give him a ton of praise.  I throw a damn party and mean it because we've come so far!  And he picks up on that energy and celebrates with me.

Resources that Gave Me Hope

I follow two blogs by women who are raising reactive dogs.  The following two blog posts were very inspiring:

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