Again, my apologies for being totally out of order, but I just realized it may have been helpful to talk about the tools I suggest for working through reactivity. I do think there are some training tools out there that are actually quite counterproductive when working with reactive dogs. It’s mostly anecdotal, but it’s something I have seen with enough frequency to find it worth mentioning.
Front Hook Harness
I am a huge fan of using front hook harnesses for reactivity. They really are more than just a no-pull tool. I have found that when reactive dogs wear front hook harnesses, many do not have the same level of reactions. I think it has a lot to do with removing the pressure from around the neck. A dog who is increasing in their anxiety finally hits the end of the leash and that pressure around the neck kick starts the full-blown reactions. If a dog hits the end of the leash on a front-hook there isn’t that pressure around the neck, instead they feel a squeeze on their body which may actually help prevent the reaction (again purely anecdotal). Plenty of research has been done about the soothing/calming response to body pressure–Thundershirts work on this principle. Since front hook harnesses are sort of snug around the chest, it may have a similar effect (before getting a Thundershirt, I would put a t-shirt on Bandit under a tight fitting harness with some good results). Some front hook harnesses that I suggest are the Sense-ation/Sensible Harness by Softouch Concepts, Freedom No-Pull Harness by Wiggles, Wags & Wiskers, and lastly is the Easy Walk Harness by Premier–I put the Easy-Walk last because I think it is hard to fit on a variety of dogs (especially broad chested dogs, they tend to get rubbed raw under the arm pits), the chest band is easily stretched out, and the I have some concerns about the martingale feature on the front pulling shoulders out of alignment on dogs who pull frequently. That being said, former foster dog Dexter fit in the easy-walk beautifully and it was great for him.
I think food tubes are the bees knees when working reactivity. Often times dogs will get very hard mouths when stressed out and food tubes can save hands from taking abuse. I also really love the continual reinforcement option… dogs can lick the food out of the tube the entire time a trigger is in sight (counter conditioning), there is no pause between treats that can give them enough time to react. It’s easy to administer and there is no need for carrying around a container of something like peanut butter. I used to use peanut butter on a spoon (and I still do at times) but the food tube is really far superior. It’s clean, quick to offer rewards, easy to use, and offers a very wide variety of possible rewards–plus it keeps your fingers safe from dogs who get hard mouths.
Shocking right? I don’t generally push clickers on people whose main goals are a dog who doesn’t pull like a maniac and who doesn’t jump… you can get both behaviors easily enough without needing a clicker (and many of these people aren’t interested in training enough to spend the time working with the clicker, which is perfectly fine). I do think using a clicker can be very helpful when working reactivity. Timing is so very important that using the clicker can help achieve the precision timing needed. When working with Look-At-That, it’s important to click looking at the dog not turning back to the handler… a slow click won’t hurt anything, but you won’t get the behavior you wanted. The other benefit is that the click is a unique noise that has become a secondary reinforcer–simply hearing the click is reinforcing, so when a clicker savvy dog gets clicked they are actually being reinforced twice… once by the click itself and once with the primary reinforcer (food).
High Value Rewards
When I talk about high value rewards for reactivity it really is food rewards almost exclusively (with few exceptions). Using food to treat reactivity is giving the handler an added bonus, when dogs chew/lick they are reducing stress/anxiety and are producing “happy” brain chemicals that can have a positive effect on the dog’s reactivity level. Types of high value treats that I frequently use–canned premium dog food in a food tube (fish, rabbit, and venison varieties are a big hit), broiled hot dog bits, string cheese, peanut butter, boiled chicken, fishy-fudge (tuna based homemade treat), homemade meatballs (ground meat, bread crumbs [I frequently use oatmeal], egg, garlic), roast beef or deli meat, etc. I once had someone using whipped cream in a can and another who used ez-cheez (cheez whiz). There are some instances where I will use tug as a reward for dogs so they can get out some of the stress/anxiety in a more positive manner (this is not something I’d use with dogs who already have an arousal problem).
Head collars, or more specifically the Gentle Leader and Halti are tools that I rarely ever suggest. However, if you have an extremely large dog or a dog who will bite if reacting, then I think head collars can be important safety tools. It’s important to properly desensitize the dog to the head collar before attempting to use it–if you just put it on and hope for the best, you could very well ruin any chance of successfully using the tool. There are dogs who, even with the most careful desensitization, will never accept a head collar and others who are not forgiving if you rush the process of desensitization.
I feel as though I have forgotten something but, as implied, I cannot figure out what… so I may end up adding some extras if I remember whatever it is I have forgotten!