Friday, September 30, 2016

Teaching My Reactive Dog to Cohabitate

Barley can live with other dogs. She adores my parents' dog. She tolerates my sister's dog and a friend's dog. But she's also very selective about the dogs she shares her space with. I knew that the biggest challenge with bringing Sal into our house would be convincing Barley he was allowed to be here. 

The first two weeks Sal was here, he was in quarantine, so while there were some challenges as far as giving everyone enough time, cohabitating wasn't one of them. I had high hopes that it would go well. Barley actually introduced herself to Sal during the quarantine period--I didn't know that the bedroom door where he was staying didn't actually latch and Barley shoved the door open and let herself in. I didn't even know it had happened until I saw Sal wander by the kitchen where I was working. I marched him back to his room, herded Barley out of it, and set up a barrier to make sure she didn't expose herself to him any longer than necessary. 

After the quarantine ended, we took things really slowly. Sal is still working on building up strength, so I didn't want him to be overwhelmed by Barley's enthusiasm. I started out keeping Barley on leash. When she's on leash, she knows she's working and she stays focused and listens to commands. Sal would come close enough that I could give them both treats, and Barley was interested, but under control.

I'd pay attention to her body language and when her ears started going into weird positions or her eyes started wandering, we'd increase the space between them until she relaxed more. Or, we'd end the session on a positive note and everyone would go back to their separate spaces.

We started using our gate to help with training, too. Barley is fine with Sal when he's on the opposite side of the gate. They can sit just inches apart on opposite sides and I can pet the both at the same time and no problems.

Freedom has been more challenging. Honestly, I didn't really know where to begin. We started off staying leashed inside--I could have them on either side of me while I sat on the couch and as long as the treats were frequent, they were fine, but I didn't know where to go next.

Then one day, I put Barley in the kitchen, shut the gate, and took Sal out for a quick walk. I didn't plan to go any farther than the end of our street and back, or I would have crated Bar, but my best friend called while we were walking, Sal was eager to go farther, and it was nice out, so we kept walking. When we got back, Barley met as at the door. I was sure she'd jumped the gate (she hadn't), and I knew that we had to figure out how we could all be in the same space at the same time.

That night, we started with some mat work (Sal has no idea what a mat is, but somehow he ended up on one, too). We spent a few minutes giving everybody treats for staying down and being calm. Then I put them in separate space and gave them lots of individual love. 

Then we moved to another room and tried again. We kept sessions short and sweet so they always ended positively.

Gradually, we worked up to sitting on (by) the couch with both dogs off leash. I was afraid to breathe in case I broke the spell they were under. (String cheese and hot dogs have strong powers, but I wasn't sure just how long those powers lasted.)

Ignore my messy coffee table.

For days, we practiced in different locations, in sits and downs, with varying distances between them. As long as I had snacks, Barley didn't care that Sal was there. Sal was always unsure about Barley, but he likes snacks.

Sal wasn't worried--he was licking hot dog off the carpet.

Then we took a few steps back. Earlier this week, I thought maybe we could all watch a tv show together. For the first part of the show, everyone was fine. They happily munched on string cheese and hot dogs. As the show went on, though, Barley getting more interested in Sal. I was able to redirect her and was proud of her for leaving him alone. And then all of the sudden, Sal's head was in her mouth--which is how Barley offers corrections to other dogs--she wasn't hurting him and as soon as I touched her, she let go and moved away from him, but Sal was traumatized. Bar took a time out upstairs and I got some of my Burt's Bees for dog wipes and cleaned the slobber off Sal and snuggled him for a bit. 

Now we're back to baby steps. We're back to spending time on opposite sides of the gate where they can see each other. We do a few little sessions in the same room again. I'm paying more attention to Barley's body language so that when she starts getting testy I can separate them again before things escalate. I'm letting Sal decide how much space he needs from her and if that means I have to walk several steps back and forth between them to give them both snacks, that's ok. 

It's a long, slow process and patience has never been one of my strong suits, but I'm hopeful that maybe one day we'll be able to make it through a whole tv show with all three of us relaxing. 


  1. I was holding my was going so well! I was very interested in this, because I worry a lot about what's going to happen with Luke when his sisters are gone. I'm not sure he'll accept another dog.
    I don't have a lot of patience either, but reactive dogs certainly make us practice it, don't they!? The one step forward, two steps back can be so frustrating. We're experiencing the same thing with trying to get our cat Sam back in to the whole household. Just when Luke seems good with her, he'll go after her again. Until I can be sure he just wants to play, we have to keep them separated. :(
    Jan, Wag n Woof Pets

    1. I have a feeling with Barley and Sal this will always be a work in progress! I'm sure Barley is more predictable than she seems, but it's so hard to figure out what's going to set her off--I know she hates when other dogs sneak up behind her (I have a lot of pictures she's looking over her should at me because she doesn't want to turn her back on Sal and he wants to be safely behind those chomping jaws), she hates being sniffed, and she hates being stared at. But Sal doesn't do any of those things--he'll just lay there, so I haven't figured out what's setting her off with him yet.

  2. The hardest part is going slow and not pushing things. My mom isn't real patient with things like that either, but you have to force yourself. Small steps and patience will work much faster in the end instead of bigger steps with setbacks. Sounds like you have a great plan.

    1. Patience is hard! These pups are making me get better at it, though!

  3. It's too bad you had a small setback because it sounds like it was going good to that point.

    1. It was going well, but I think we're slowly but surely getting back on track.

  4. Oh, thank you for this -- we're in a very similar place and it's nice not to feel alone. I dream of being able to lay on the couch and read a book with both dogs in the room (and not worrying about and/or bugging each other!).

    1. I think that's my favorite part about the blog world! Reactive dogs can make you feel very lonely sometimes (especially when everyone in your "real" life has "normal" dogs) and it's nice to know you've got company! I'll keep my fingers crossed that you're able to all relax in the same room soon!