The first time we met Rolo he was very reactive towards strange dogs. A lot of trainers would have just decided to tackle this head on and set up a training program to deal with the dog reactivity. This is where so so many dogs get misdiagnosed by trainers who look at the dog’s physical behaviour as isolated events, rather than taking the dog’s entire emotional state into consideration. Unfortunately, this means that the dog might be temporarily manageable, but will eventually fall back into old habits. In the worst case, the dog is deemed untrainable, or “too aggressive” and will be in risk of being put to sleep.
During the first session it became clear that Rolo didn’t have a problem with other dogs. He was just incredibly anxious and had no idea how to cope with anything that made him just slightly excited. He was really tensed outside and would trigger on pretty much anything that made him uncomfortable. His tail was tucked, and he was constantly trembling and panting. Inside the house he was pretty out of control, climbing on the walls, jumping up on tables, and mouthing humans.
The first thing we did was to teach him how to relax by preventing arousal, blocking arousal, providing really clear alternative behaviours to the craziness he had be doing before, and by only ever rewarding calm and polite behaviour. We then started looking for things outside that made him uncomfortable (pretty much anything) and helped him to work through each event to that point where his curiosity kicked in and he investigated the object. This helped him build confidence and taught him a new way to take in the world.
We then worked on applying the same things when Rolo was around other dogs. The training thus focused on changing his overall frame of mind and transferring it to different scenarios, rather than working on his “dog problem”. As expected, when he started being more chilled outside, his reactivity disappeared. This is what I refer to when I talk about treating the cause, not just the symptoms. Often, by perfecting all the small moments in your dog’s everyday life, severe behaviour problems are alleviated, or disappear completely. This post is not just about Rolo, but about a much more important thing. When you change your dog’s fundamental state of mind, and teach them how to control their own emotions, most behaviour problems disappear.