Monday, June 5, 2017

Summer Safety for the Reactive Dog

The calendar might say we have a couple more weeks until summer is officially here--and Mother Nature definitely can't decide if summer is here--but I've been on Summer Vacation for two weeks now, so that means lots of extra time with Barley and Rye. 

For the most part, that means a lot of time in the backyard grilling and playing. 

Rye hopes there's a hot dog on this grill for her.


It also means that our schedule revolves around the Pirates schedule. We plan our evening walks around the time of the first pitch (and sometimes take extra evening walks when things are not going well). 


Summer also means that there's plenty of time for walking. Sometimes walking the two girls goes really well.

Look at those loose leashes!

But summer brings on a whole new load of issues for reactive dogs, especially when it comes to kids and bikes. When we chose Summer Safety as our topic for the Positive Pet Training blog hop, it was the perfect opportunity to reflect on how we'll get through the next few months.

We live in a touristy area, so in addition to having neighbors enjoying their own summer vacation, we also have to navigate a world full of people enjoying our beaches and wineries while they vacation. In order to survive summer, we have to remember to keep three key factors in mind before we leave the house for walks.

Treat Often
Barley's been training for a long time, so we've cut back on the amount of treats she gets significantly, but when extra triggers are around as more kids are out of school and more people are enjoying the longer days, the treat pouch stays filled when we head out the door.  I watch her for signs of stress or excitement--like perked ears and a stiff tail--and we play different focus games when she starts to quit focusing on me and I don't hesitate to dish out the treats. Keeping Barley's attention on me to keep her and the neighborhood dogs, kids, joggers, and bikers safe is far more important to me than whether she gets a few extra calories or not.

Did you say treat?

Have a Plan and Stand Up for Your Dog
I've written before about how important it is to have a plan when you have a reactive dog. This becomes even more important in the summer, especially since we live in a small town where kids still run between each other's houses and yards all day long without parents out in the yard at all times. Rye is very shy with people, but when kids ask to pet her, I usually say "Let me have her sit first" and give her lots of treats to help her learn kids are good. At times, though, the same kids want to pet Rye when I'm out with both dogs. Recently, a little boy who likes to give Rye sticks when he sees her was on the next street over with a friend and he said, "Hey! I know that dog!" and started to walk over to us, but Barley started tensing up the closer he got and I had to explain that my big dog was scared of kids, so Rye would have to say hi to him later. He ran back over to his friend and we waved goodbye. In Rye's obedience class, our trainer had us rehearse responses to "Can I pet your dog?" so between that and having lots of practice warding off people with Barley, I'm well versed in saying no. We've had similar conversations with people who have asked if their dogs could say hi (always followed by a "Thank you for asking!"--bless those people who don't just let their dogs come up to mine). Knowing how to handle being approached by friendly strangers before we even head out the door helps me keep both girls safe, happy, and confident on walks.

Barley likes to go to the woods so we can live deliberately--without kids.

Know Your Limits.
A few years ago, I came across a quotation from Suzanne Clothier: "Being realistic about what a dog can and cannot do is an act of love." Being realistic about what I can and cannot do is equally important. I've recently accepted that on weekday evenings our neighbors will be out walking their dogs after work and taking advantage of the fact that it stays light until almost 9 p.m. and I cannot safely walk both dogs with that level of distraction. We do a walk with all three of us in the morning when I know the other dog walkers who are out--and I know they will respect our decision to cross the street or to sit and wait for them to pass if one or (most likely) all three of us are having a meltdown. They'll smile, they'll wave and say hi, and they'll keep moving while I try to keep the girls under control. I've also accepted that there are certain trails we will not be able to visit all together this summer--with two excitable herding dogs, I just can't keep them both from trying to visit bikes, joggers, and squirrels and keep all of my limbs in tact, so we'll have to have plenty of solo adventures. I'm actually looking forward to that--Barley has picked up on some of Rye's naughtier walking behaviors, like lunging at squirrels, so having one-on-one time to reinforce her good dog behavior is important as is having time to help Rye learn that squirrels really aren't all that exciting. Rye and I have already had several successful solo evening walks in our neighborhood where we've started building more value for our "what's that" command and Barley's had a few adventures to remind her that she's always my best girl. The mental training for myself in realizing that there are things I just can't do has probably been the biggest key in our summer safety training.


Summer can be a daunting training task for a reactive dog, but we're choosing to embrace the challenge and really reinforce the reaction to distraction practice we work on all year round. The girls had a chance to really test their training during our recent road trip to Vermont, so be sure to check back later this week to see just how well these three elements have helped us navigate the world! 

We're linking up with our co-hosts Wag 'n Woof Pets and Tenacious Little Terrier for the Positive Pet Training blog hop, which begins on the first Monday of the month and lasts all week. This month our theme is Summer Safety, but we encourage any positive training posts. Be sure to check in and see all of the other great blogs joining us this month.


16 comments:

  1. We always dislike the beginning of spring and the first week or two when school is out. People are always out in droves both those times, but then they go back in their homes and we don't see them again until next year! Remember, tiny treats are still treats. We don't really judge a good treat by the size!

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    1. We only buy treats that can be broken up into smaller pieces. We've had lots of practice in getting them to just the right size so Barley doesn't choke on them when they get too small.

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  2. Great post! And a good demonstration of how having a reactive dog can build this amazing bond in the course of working to make your pup more comfortable. I know when kids are zooming by on skate boards and fire crackers are going off it may not feel like it, but there are blessings to living with a reactive dog.

    For me, one of them has been to learn how to behave with my current, non-reactive dog. I feel like we're helping to build positive experiences for reactive dogs when we move off to a safe distance and stay quiet and calm when reactive dogs walk by.

    I would not have known how to do that if not for the reactive dogs I've loved in the past.

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    1. I totally agree that reactive dogs teach you things that other dog owners have never thought of before! Thankfully, our morning neighborhood walkers have seen Barley and I training for so long and have taken the time to ask what we're working on that they are super respectful of her space--which is even more important now that I have my tiny terror who is very excitable when we're out of the house; even a leaf blowing by is a reason to get excited in Rye's mind :)

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  3. Great post. Having a leash-reactive dog puts us in the minority of being limited in nicer weather. More time in the backyard for us, but less time on the streets.

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    1. Thankfully, as long as other dogs don't approach her, Barley is 100% fine walking near other dogs now and when I can focus just on her, she's fine with bikes, joggers, and kids, too--but when we have Rye with us, Rye gets so bouncy that I can't give Barley the attention she needs to stay calm and keep Rye from getting away :)

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  4. I'm threatening to write a reactive dog owner's lament (maybe a haiku) about how the streets are all packed now. Where are these dogs nine months out of the year lol?

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    1. Our neighbors actually walk their dogs year-round--but when I'm working, I usually am home early enough to walk before everyone else gets home from work during the week. In the summer, we usually walk early morning and late evening because of the heat, so we see more people out and about :) A lot of dogs in our area are tourists, too.

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  5. Summer brings so much fun, but it also brings so many more challenges for those of us with reactive dogs! You have some really good points here, and I especially love the one about knowing ALL of your limits. There are times I feel like I should always take both dogs on a walk, especially when I leave a sad face behind. But knowing my own limitations is so important too, and if we want to work on things then that means only having one dog at a time.
    Jan, Wag 'n Woof Pets

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    1. That's the hardest one for me to remember! But I know that in the evenings when everyone is out walking I just can't keep both dogs calm and controlled if we have dogs coming at us from multiple directions, so I'm having to work on remembering my limitations :)

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  6. These are great tips, and good behaviors to practice. I'm not fond of the warmer weather in general, but in my neighborhood, nice weather also brings the fair weather walkers. Which can become very challenging for us. I walk my guys separately because I learned a while back trying to manager to lunging dogs, was just too much for me.

    I'm glad you have a plan in place that works for you and the girls.

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    1. I'm glad I'm not the only one who has to accept that walking the dogs separate is the way to go. I don't know how people manage to walk multiple dogs and do it gracefully. Even on our best days, I still feel like we're part of some circus act as we're going down the sidewalk :)

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  7. This is an awesome post! Summer and better weather can definitely create a lot of challenges for reactive dogs. So many people and dogs are out and about!

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    1. Thank you! It's the one thing I miss about my work schedule--usually I'm home in the middle of the day or early afternoon and the weather is cool enough that we can walk before everyone else is home, but when it's hot, we're more limited to the times everyone else is out and about even though we have all day together :)

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  8. Good for you for knowing where the challenges are and making a plan!

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    1. Having a plan is one of the most important things we've learned over the years :)

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