Shayne has worked through some reactivity and space issues around other dogs for some time. I’ve posted a few times about how far she has progressed… I swear every week she’s becoming more and more appropriate. It’s been amazing and a real tear-jerker. I’m searching out CGC testing for her and that will be such a HUGE achievement for us (and if TDI ever changes their view of raw feeding, she will get a TDI). One of the things that, I think, helped her turn a corner came from a completely unexpected source.
When I adopted Rio, Shayne’s leash manners went out the window–I wasn’t concerned but I had hired a dog walker to give Rio a mid-day potty break and she was not the strongest person in the world. It was a little concerning for me to have her walking Shayne unassisted. So, to help her, I bought a Sense-ation front-clip harness for Shayne to reduce her pulling power. What I didnt’ realize, at the time, was how beneficial this tool would be to helping with her reactivity issues.
Tools like prong collars are pretty widely known to actually increase reactivity in dogs. I think it has a lot to do with the added extra-pointy pressure right behind the head (where prongs are supposed to be worn). That part of the neck is particularly sensitive, which is why the collar is supposed to be worn there. It’s my thought that adding pressure there to a dog that is already edgy can actually be the jump start to a reactive moment–it’s the force that changes potential energy into kinetic energy.
Flat collars, worn at the base of the neck (as they normally are), may act on the same principle because the neck in general is so sensitive. I don’t think they are as reaction inducing, but my anecdotal evidence with Shayne, implies that there may be some truth to this thought. When Shayne was wearing a 1″ martingale collar, she was not reactive in the typical sense but she would get caught staring and could not look away. If I added any pressure to the collar (to change directions or otherwise maneuver around) there was a good chance that she’d start reacting. The same would go if we were rushed by a dog–if I tried to move her to get her out of the way or get her out of the situation, it would cause a reaction. Any pressure on the leash would initiate a reactive display before she naturally would have reacted. This was somewhat problematic, while she had nice leash manners, there were times when I needed to put a little pressure on the leash just to maneuver her through crowded streets or to position her so I was between her and an oncoming dog. It really just made her more hyper-vigilant than she already was and that wasn’t good for her.
Cue the front clip harness. It wasn’t a miracle anti-reactivity tool, but it seemed to give me the ability to put pressure on the leash with out setting her off into a reaction. She still had the occasional reaction but it was never triggered by pressure on the leash. This allowed me to move her around with out causing unneeded anxiety or edginess. I could push the envelope with her interacting with other dogs because I could physically move her if I needed to with out risk of initiating a reaction. When she was in a situation where she may have reacted (too long nose sniffing or getting barreled into by an unknown dog) and I couldn’t get her to look away or offer a hand-target, I had the option to move her to prevent a reaction. Another very noticeable change in her was this slightly less edgy attitude while on walks. Before introducing the front-clip harness, Shayne would immediately tense up and look for a dog if I shortened up the leash. After the front-clip harness was introduced, shortening the leash didn’t cause her to be extra anxious or edgy. It really made a huge difference for her and the least of it was loose leash walking.
The difference I’ve seen with Shayne has certainly prompted me to consider front-clip harnesses a worthwhile tool to try when working with reactivity. It may just be anecdotal and it’s certainly not a panacea, but if using a front-clip harness can help another dog with even a fraction of the success I’ve had with Shayne, it’s certainly worth the try.