Ok, so it’s confession time.  Idgie has some fear-based dog reactivity issues.  So far I had been utilizing the Control Unleashed “Look at that!” game (I say “wheresapuppy?”) with Idgie and it was going pretty well, so that she actually didn’t bark and lunge, but is was still showing fearful body language, and would get defensive if the dog got too close.  Then, a few months ago, I began implementing Grisha Stewart’s BAT protocol for fear/aggression.  I really like it because it utilizes functional as well as “bonus” rewards, and works to both classically counter condition the situation (every time dogs come, the opportunity for reinforcement arrises, therefore making the arrival of dogs into a pleasant occurance) and to operantly condition a replacement behavior (calming signals and neutral/deferring body postures to replace fearful/aggressive behaviors).

Since I believe the root of this issue is my very own backyard setup, I have worked on BAT there with the neighbors’ dogs.  Idgie used to play in daycare once a week and had extensive dog socialization during her critical periods, but her negative experiences regarding my neighbors’ dogs is what I believe created this problem (these are her only bad experiences, and they happened during critical developmental times, and her first fearful reactions to dogs started here as well).  But it doesn’t really matter why the behavior is occuring, it is clearly present and requiring a plan of action.  She is now friendly to one backyard neighbor that she used to consistently bark at, wary of but not having huge reactions toward another neighbor dog (who is often accompanied by a really rambunctious little boy that Idgie is afraid of–good grief!) and I haven’t even worked on the next-door-neighbor’s GSD who is the root of the problem.  I simply can’t get far enough from him in our backyard setup to even try.  So for now I do click for looking from the sliding glass door if he is in his yard.  We are moving at the end of July anyway, and I have informally decided to not work on her specific issue with that dog since he will be out of our lives soon, and her new yard has five foot priavacy fencing with no shared fences.  No neighbor dogs=happy dog trainer.  

BAT has been a sort of miracle for us since  beginning.  When we are out on walks she will notice a dog, I will pause and wait for her to offer a calming signal (right now I am getting mostly head turns, some tongue flicks, and the occasional sit), at which point I mark (usually a verbal yes! but I do use a clicker at times) and we run away from the dog, sometimes then having a bonus reward, sometimes not.  We have been working like this for months with mostly impromptu situations out in the real world.  She can now stay relatively calm while we pass other dogs if I give her plenty of space (which seems to be at least 30 feet at this point), and can get pretty close to them if I work up by volleying the reward distance.  

Our progress has gone up and down due to uncontrolled intances (a dog rushed us from his open garage a few weeks ago which has really set us back–thank you irresponsible dog owners of suburbia!), but over all I really respect the process and she is doing well.  The progress of my clients that are doing BAT is monumental.  People who make time to train their dogs because they don’t train other people’s dogs all day are having enormous success with BAT.  I love that it is a really simple protocol, which is why I believe there is so much success on the clients’ end.

One recent dog I worked with went from whining, barking, and lunging at other dogs as soon as they were in sight to walking straight up to some dogs behind a fence, getting within inches of them, offering a head turn/tongue flick combo, and walking away in one session.  Less than an hour out on the walk with his owner handling him for more than half the time and me only taking him to demonstrate, and this boy was showing clear coping skills and a considerably relaxed demeanor around other dogs.  Impressive, to say the very least.  I think Grisha is really onto something special with functional rewards (which is not a new concept, but I haven’t seen is so eloquently applied to fear/aggression/reacitivity before). 

I’ll post the specifics of a BAT session in another post, and keep the blog updated about Idgie’s journey with BAT.

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