leash reactivity

Well, this whole blog and website are really all about working on leash reactivity. But to make life simpler, I've gathered our techniques together in one place. This is also known as alphabet soup:

1. BAT
2. CC/DS using LAT

Ok, the explanation:
1. BAT: is Behavior Adjustment Training. Essentially, we approach one of Vanya's triggers (one which he is a bit fearful about). We stay under threshold, and when we get close enough for him to notice but not freak out, we stand and wait a bit. As soon as Vanya offers a relaxed or calm signal (ie, sniffing, head turning toward me, relaxing his posture), I mark (YES!) and turn away and toss him a treat as we retreat. He learns that he can see his trigger, and instead of going into full-blown freakout mode, he can instead relax and turn away and good things happen. For a full description, see: http://ahimsadogtraining.com/blog/bat/

The artist Lili Chin has a wonderful blog about her experiences using BAT with Boogie, her Boston Terrier. Her pictures are priceless. My favorite is this one of BAT (posted here with kind permission):

2. CC/DS using LAT means "Counterconditoning and Desensitization, using the Look at That game."

a. I go someplace where I can work with Vanya and know that no dog is going to come near us. 
b. I set things up so I can try to keep Vanya under threshold, give him a place for calming down between trials, and give him something fun to do as a reward for calm glances at other dogs.
c. Then I play Leslie McDevitt's LOOK AT THAT game from Control Unleashed, rewarding Vanya for calm glances at his triggers. I point out the trigger, he glances at it, I click his calm glance, he whips his head back to me for his treat. Soon he begins offering quick glances at his trigger then pointed stares back at me (and the yummy treat in my bag). This teaches him that he doesn't need to freak out when he sees a trigger. If he stays calm and just gives it a quick look, good things happen.

For the relaxing place: I set up the car, with the crate, so that Vanya can retreat behind the car and hop into his crate for calming-down periods. He loves his crate, and a visual barrier works wonders for Vanya.

For the absorbing game as a reward: I either toss bits of stinky treats (salmon chunks or skin are best) into the grass, or else I play "treat in a box". For this game, we put a couple scraps of really stinky treats into a tupperware box, then I toss that into the grass. Vanya gets to hunt it down and open it up, which gets his attention and helps to calm him down.

These both work because they give him a chance to track and hunt, which really help him stop focusing on other dogs, and put his focus back on something he loves to do.

Once he had these games to play, he was able to get a lot closer to the dog park dogs without getting too stressed. Another game that worked: spray cheese on a lid, and then he could use the unsprayed side as a target stick (with the reward a brief lick on the cheesey side). He doesn't love to target my hand, in part because he sometimes got a static shock during the very dry weather. With the target lid, he'll happily dash around after it, do his jumps, and play other games. Obedience games work OK to keep him from focusing on other dogs and freaking out, but chase/hunt/track games are a lot more engaging for him.

What else helped: I used a 16 ft flexi, attached to my waist (with a bungee that was attached to my treat/bag/belt). The flexi gave him a lot more options, and allowed him to chase, do his recalls, and avoid any significant tension on the leash. Only once did he go to the end of the leash. My goal was to keep him from hitting the end of it and feeling restrained--I wanted him to be obeying my recalls and other cues, not getting controlled by the leash.