Now that you and your dog understand auto watch, the emergency u-turn and stepping down on the leash, how do you put it all together? You must start all of these skills in a controlled setting (at home and in the classroom) and now it’s time to take them out into the real world and apply them in those settings. As you introduce the skills, it is ok to avoid your dog’s triggers outside (people, dogs, rabbits, etc), but now you must begin to expose them to these items. Review our posts on Prevention and Management and Proactive vs Reactive to understand how to best set these up.
Outside on a Walk
Remember to be in the right environment for your dog and use your emergency u-turn if the situation is too much for your dog!
1. Have your dog in a sit and step down on their leash.
2. Practice the auto watch.
3. Remember the 3 steps (yes, if they do not respond, then lure them to you, if they do not respond, then drop the treats). If that does not work, you are too close and need to increase distance!
Practice this as often as possible and in short, positive sessions. Do not always practice just with your dog’s triggers. To make it reliable, practice it with anything that gets your dog’s attention! Remember to also reward all offered attention! Be aware of the leash tension and your voice, breathing and excitement. Stay calm and ensure you have a confident posture! Remember that some sessions will be better than others, so do not get discouraged when your dog has a reaction. Expect them, learn from them and remember all of your other success!
Reacting at Windows or in the Yard
This is normal, and part of your dog’s job for us, however, we want to ensure we can easily interrupt it and that is an alert bark versus a situation where your dog is practicing the behaviour. This is also a self-rewarding behaviour! Your dog barks, and they keep walking, so in your dog’s mind they have just done an excellent job at scaring the intruder away! The key is prevention and management. If your dog is barking at the window, block access or put up window film so they cannot see out (you can get removable window film at most home hardware stores). For dogs that bark outside, you can create a dog run area, put up snow fencing to block access to a fence where they can see traffic going by or ensure it is only used for bathroom breaks; do not leave your dog unsupervised outside for long periods. You cannot allow them to practice the behaviour, so you must disable their ability to react when you are not there or do not have the time to work on it.
1. When your dog does bark, call them to you and give them big rewards when they come! This may take a long time to start, so just continue to cheer them on. Do not go to them!
2. Have them sit and remain with you until you release them (using an ‘all done’ or similar cue).
3. If they get too excited with this exercise, keep your praise calm, but offer multiple small treats to make it rewarding for them.
4. Be consistent and practice, practice, practice!
As you practice this, your dog will begin to let out a small bark but come running to you for rewards. Ensure you keep the rewards big until the dog consistently runs to you versus reacting out a window or in the yard.
Reacting in the Vehicle
If your dog reacts at people or dogs in the vehicle, you can try to confine them to a crate so that they cannot see the outside environment. If that is not possible, limit travel time while you set this up.
1. For people, set up sessions where people approach your vehicle and offer your dog food. To start, have yourself and familiar people do this and reward calm behaviour. When moving to strangers, you may need to deliver the food at first.
2. For dogs, set up sessions with other dogs approaching the vehicle and work on the auto watch with your dog.
3. For when you are driving, do not react to your dog’s reactions. You could try having someone in the back to work on attention with your dog and the auto watch while you go by distractions. Or, have some treats in the front with you and throw them back to your dog to find while you drive by the trigger. This prevents the behaviour from happening, and in turn, creates a positive when these things comes into sight!
As always, prevention and management is the key, setting your dog up for success and set up the training sessions versus waiting for the situation to arise when we are not prepared to do the training!