Very little can be accomplished with a reactive dog unless you can transition him from one environment to another while maintaining focus, like when you’re taking him out of a car or walking him through a door.
In this exercise we have the advantage of working in and around the open pole barn, where everyone can see where everyone else is and what they’re doing. The entire exercise is directed by Ali, who is standing inside the pole barn near the entry gate. In the video clip at the end of this blog you can see an example of these dogs reactive tendencies. The picture above is a still from that video.
Ali’s description of the exercise
There are three dogs in this exercise. When you come in this gate there will be a dog sitting in the back corner. When that dog leaves through the back door, you go back there and hang out. After the next dog comes in you’ll exit and come back around to the gate here after the person before you comes in. There’s always one dog coming in and one dog going out, and the third person going around the building.
What you do at the gate is say “sit, wait,” then open the gate. (If the dog gets up close the gate again.) When you have the dog’s attention, go through the gate. Once you’re through the gate, call the dog’s name again, have him sit and keep him focused on you. The :10 second rule applies just like in car work. If you don’t get your dog’s focus in :10 seconds after you ask him to do something, you go back out.
In the first part of the video (below), Kari and Tosh walk to the pole barn. Ali says “Lure her into a sit with a treat if you need to.” Kari lures Tosh into a sit outside the gate to the pole barn. Tosh comes in through the gate and gets 10 seconds to pay focus on Kari. Ali says, “Call her.” Kari quietly says, “Tosh.” Ali, “Wait for her. You’re counting to ten. 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10. Take her back out again. And start over. This is hard to do”
Since she doesn’t pay attention, back out through the gate she goes. On the 2nd try everything goes well, but Kari clicks Tosh for walking without pulling. Ali says, “Keep her focus all the way through, that’s the hard part.”
On the way back to the rear corner of the pole barn Tosh is more interested in other smells than paying attention. Then from outside we hear the next person ask “Is it OK to approach the gate?”
Ali announces to Lori that it’s OK for her to come through the gate. Lori handles her dog properly. What you won’t see in the video is that Lori is asked to stay just inside the gate and has River do a couple of tricks (spin, twist, touch) to keep his focus. Lori walks further into the pole barn with River but Kari and Tosh aren’t focused enough to leave so Laurie goes back to the gate, once again keeping River’s focus by having him do a couple more tricks.
Finally Kari and Tosh exit the pole barn, and Lori, Larry and River walk back to the far corner of the pole barn. It’s Tim and Archer’s turn to enter the pole barn.
When Tim and Archer get to the gate Archer is focused only on the smells at the gate. Ali says, “If you’re having a really hard time consider walking away and re-approaching.” They walk away and come back. Trying a couple times.
Ali continues, “So this is difficult, so we’re going to try this one more time, and if he’s not capable of paying attention to you then he has to go back to the car. The purpose of car work and door work is I come into a more structured environment and you and I are a team. But as far as he’s concerned you don’t even exist.” Ali says, “Click that, click that focus.”
“Ok we’re going to take him back and put him in the car, cause he doesn’t want to pay attention.”
Back at the barn for car work.
Tim gets Archer out of the car, Ali counting under her breath, “1, 2, 3, good boy, and stay right there. He’s not traveling, he wants to, he has to choose to work with you.” Tim, “Archer sit.” Ali, “Focus first. Good boy, now ask him to sit. Good boy. (Tim continues to use a quiet voice to get archer’s attention). He looked at you. I’d take that. Don’t hesitate to use your girlie voice, for praise. 2, 3, Good Boy, OK now go put him back in the car and have a party.”
Ali’s commentary to Tim after this brief session.
When you ask him to do something, only ask him to do one thing. And the only way that can change is with focus. If he’s not looking at you you can’t ask him to sit. I don’t care if he sits if he’s staring at another dog or whatever, I really want my dog’s focus, that’s preferential. So I would choose to park the car near vertical surfaces if he’s going to be distracted, and spend as much time as you can doing that. Not that going in the pole barn is the most important thing in the world. The fact that you could not get his attention outside the pole barn, and to go inside the pole barn where it’s more smelly, I mean. So we don’t have to do that exercise all the time, but if Lori want’s to focus on it in upcoming weeks, he doesn’t have to do it. We can do other stuff. I know Lori wants to do that because we have a trial coming up. But that’s a really hard exercise and he might not be ready for it. But that’s something you can work on. Keep your cues clear, ask for something, and only ask for it once, and count to ten. I don’t care what it is he has 10 seconds to do it. Make sure that when you’re rewarding him you make clear to him that you’re really pleased that he’s doing something that you’re happy with. If there are more tricks that you can teach him, that would be good, because this stuff gets repetitive and boring. So he’s got touch, he’s got sit, he’s got focus, he’s got paw, does he have something like spin or twist or touch my knee, it could be anything so long as it’s something more than he already has, keep adding variety.
Reactivity Video Example
Below is a clip showing how reactive the dogs Tosh and Archer can be.