Monday, August 4, 2014

Dog Reactivity Win - Positive Pet Training

When I got Phoenix 22 months ago she was extremely reactive and motion sensitive. She would react to one of my cats walking by, she'd react to dogs walking by. She'd flip out if there was a fence between her and another dog and fence fight. She was impulsive and never stopped to think about anything she was doing, including biting another dog if they happened to get in her face. She was extremely frightened of people and would not even allow us to touch her.

When I tell her story people always ask me why the heck I adopted a dog like that. The simple answer was that I felt bad for her. She survived a house fire and was traumatized. When I met her in the shelter she was shivering in the back of her run. When they brought her out to meet Zoe she was scared but they did okay. I had no idea how bad her problems really were until after I got her home and had her for a few weeks.

Phoenix was the dog that taught me everything about working with fearful dogs and about training completely force free and hands off. She challenges me in every way possible and she makes me a better person and trainer. She made me work so hard to gain her trust. The first time I got kisses from her it was like magic.. and I was insanely happy.

We have spent a lot of time counter conditioning and desensitizing her to things that bother her. I have also done a ton of impulse control training with her. Simply making her wait and stop and think about things before she does them has seriously helped her in so many ways.

Almost two years later she is doing a lot better. She is able to interact with other dogs although she still prefers smaller dogs to larger ones. She still doesn't like black dogs or rude dogs that get into her face. We still have occasional reactions on walks in the neighborhood. Dogs barking at her from behind fences still stresses her out.

Here is a short clip of Phoenix playing with a terrier. Unfortunately I only caught the end of it but she was actually listening to him and watching his body language. She played so well with him and there was no nipping.

Here's Phoenix and Zoe playing with our neighbor's large boxer/american bulldog mix.

This past Saturday we we went to the sighthound races in Fairfield, California. I wrote a blog post about it and you can find that here: Races. I originally did not want to take my dogs. I was worried that dogs running by at such high speeds would definitely cause Phoenix to react and get stressed out. I was going to have my in-laws watch the girls but they had plans and couldn't. So with my husband, we packed them up in the car and drove the two hours out to the races.

Usually when we are going to be around a lot of dogs and I'm not sure how things are going to go,  I will walk Phoenix on a gentle leader head collar. (She is completely desensitized to wearing one and it doesn't bother her.) On Saturday, I decided to give her the benefit of the doubt. We took the gentle leader but left it in the car. She was on a no-pull harness the whole time with one end of the leash attached to the front and the other end attached to back clipping part.

Phoenix did absolutely fantastic at the races. She never reacted, not once. She met dogs and puppies. She met people. She even let a few people touch her. It was amazing and wonderful.When the first group of racers ran by it did worry her a bit but she was more interested in the toy that was making noise (they call them squawkers).

You can tell she's a bit nervous here.

Once the girls figured out exactly what was happening, they were totally interested in it and I think they wanted to join in with the other dogs and chase the toy.

 They settled down very quickly.
The Racers
Towards the end of our time at the races, Phoenix was all smiles and I was, too. 

I would definitely call this a reactivity training win. She was such a good girl and I am so glad she is MY girl. She has come such a long ways from when I first got her and I love her so much.


  1. That is an amazing achievement! I can't imagine Ruby at something like sighthound races, I think she would lose her mind. It is important to know your dog's limitations - I'm so happy that Phoenix has come so far with you!

    1. Thank you so much! I wasn't sure at first how things were going to go. Luckily it was a pretty cool day so we had the option to leave her in the car parked in the shade if we had to, but she did great! She continues to amaze me all the time. :D

  2. This is indeed a very exciting win! I get so proud of Brychwyn when he manages events with crowds, noise and other dogs. I feel your joy and congratulations on some obviously well done training. Thanks for joining the hop today!

    1. Thanks so much!! Yeah, it's amazing when they do so good in a place where they wouldn't have before!!

  3. Such amazing progress!!! Congratulations, and well done!

  4. And she looks pretty happy and pleased with herself. I understand now where the Phoenix came from...rising from the ashes. Very cool.

  5. So glad Phoenix has come so far. She is lucky to have you.

  6. Wow, that's so great! Rita has similar issues. She's come a long way, but I don't think she's ready for an event like that! Maybe some day.... This gives me hope! :)

    1. Awe thanks!! Reactivity is such a hard thing. Some days can be so discouraging... I hope Rita will get there, too!

  7. What an amazing story! She does look quite happy. You've done an incredible job, something to be very proud of.

  8. Everyone wins. So glad you adopted Phoenix and gave her the training she needed. My dog Lilah (a Border Collie mix) was reactive as a puppy; I worked with her a long time. When I tell people that now, they don't believe it.

    So happy for you--and Phoenix and Zoe!

    Wags (and purrs) from Life with Dogs and Cats

  9. Yay progress! We also work on a lot of impulse control training. Mr. N is leash reactive to other dogs but I think his stems from frustration and over-excitement.


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