Tuesday, November 23, 2010

BAT for dogs who just want to get closer...

Vanya, like many reactive dogs, often wants to get closer to the other dog. The problem is: when he greets, he often tips over into reactivity. He hasn't had much chance to greet new dogs since we adopted him 3 years ago, in part because we live in a remote place, in part because my fears of his reactivity, and in part because I haven't found good play partners. He plays far too roughly, except with his familiar dogs.

I didn't try BAT for a long time because it seemed as if it couldn't possibly work, since proximity rather than distance is Vanya's functional reward, and nearly all our practice dog partners are also reactive, so we need to keep distance.

But then I realized that I have 2 slightly different goals: 1) find an appropriate play partner for Vanya; and 2) help him learn to be calmer near dogs when he can't go up and interact with them. BAT, mixed with other techniques, is useful for helping him with 2), because it teaches him a learned response to the sight of other dogs: look at them, then relax and look away and wonderful things will happen.

Our functional reward for a calm behavior can be a variety of things. Often it's a playful run sideways for a sniff in the grass, a tossed treat, or a peanut-butter smear on a bone. (We zigzag, in other words, diagonally closer to the other dog, but we always have to stay outside that other dog's threshold distance as well). We also use a variety of other techniques:

From Sophia Yin and Sarah Kalnajs: we work on focus and obedience while in the presence of other dogs, starting first at a great distance, where Vanya can still offer his targeting, sits, jumps, heels, weaves, and other nifty tricks.

From Control Unleashed: we do a zillion LAT around other dogs--I say "Look at that" and point toward the trigger. He glances, I click the glance, he whips his head back to me for his cheese. We get a little closer.

Mat work: we practice the relaxation protocol around other dogs, far away. And we do LAT on the mat as well, and simple obedience exercises.

Parallel leashed walks: we've been working on parallel leashed walks with Cynthia and her two dogs. Some weeks it goes quite well, and we can walk with only the width of the street between us. Today Vanya needed more distance from Gustaf.

Pass-bys: with Jake, the large calm intact very mellow yellow lab who lives in an outdoor kennel by the bike trail. We walk back and forth, passing Jake, who stands and wags his tail and play bows a lot. Vanya sometimes whines a bit at Jake, but not much more. We'll approach Jake and say hi as long as Vanya is calm. Sometimes they sniff noses through the kennel fence, then Vanya turns to me for his cheese. Mostly, these days, Vanya just wants to walk by Jake.

Cynthia and I skipped last week, but I did practice pass-bys with Jake twice. This week, it was very cold and windy, and Vanya whined much of the time. His functional reward was hopping back in the warm car. An unleashed terrier appeared outside a house a few doors away, and Vanya didn't shriek or lunge, but he didn't want to follow me when I retreated. At times, he play bowed and bounced to get closer to Gustaf, which is a lovely sign, even though he's not allowed closer. As always, he was delighted when Cynthia put her dog away and came up to pet him.

Now that winter has begun, we need a warmer place to practice!