Episode #18: Support for Reactive Dog Clients with Rachel Laurie Harris

Marissa MartinoPaws & Reward Podcast

In today’s episode, I have the pleasure of interviewing Rachel Laurie Harris of A Good Feeling Dog Training in Denver CO about leash reactivity. We talk about the many, necessary skills both the pet parent and the dog need in order to be successful in navigating this behavior concern. Some of these skills include training mechanics, reading body language, staying connected during the walk, and teaching the dog to eat in the presence of scary stimuli. And some of these skills (we think the most important ones) include self-love and compassion for both you and your dog, especially during moments of regression. 

How are we defining reactivity? 

When we refer to reactivity in this episode, we are describing a dog that is barking, lunging, pulling at the sight of other people, dogs, bikers, and/or anything that is a perceived threat in the eyes of the dog. 

Most of the things that dogs react to can sometimes seem unreasonable to us. That person is walking away from you! Why are you barking your head off? That trash can didn’t even move! Why are you losing your mind? However, it’s not up to us. The dog is having his or her emotional experience about something in the environment and our job is not to get upset with them at that moment, our job is to help them through that hard time. And Rachel and I get it….this is hard for us too, since we’re having our own emotional reaction at the dog’s behavior. However, if we both get upset, then we both spiral out of control. 

“Your dog is going to go over threshold, you don’t need to go over threshold with them.” – Rachel

Important Skills for the Human

Looking at the situation objectively and reading your dog’s body language: You can do this by filming your training sessions to watch both your behavior and your dog’s behavior objectively. Check out dax_theangrydog on Instagram for videos of reactivity training. She has a chest phone holder that captures great video! 

Environmental awareness: Know your dog’s triggers. 

  • Which fences have dogs behind them that set your dog off? 
  • What areas of your neighborhood are too hard for your dog to walk in?
  • What situations cause you to react poorly to the situation? How can you support yourself on these walks? 
  • Do you have an exit strategy? 
  • Can you create the right amount of distance from the stimulus for training? 

Important Skills for the Dog

Fluently eating outside before we even start training: How can we arrange the environment so that the dog feels safe enough to eat? 

What are some creative solutions to set up a successful training environment? 

If the neighborhood is too hard to train in (your dog is not responding to training, not eating, hyper-vigilant) try doing training setups in these places:

  • On balconies
  • Front of the house, duck into the house for an exit strategy
  • Apartment building hallways, duck into the apartment for an exit strategy
  • Garage
  • Drive to other locations

Attention walking: Marking and reinforcing the dog for checking in with you and walking near your side to stay connected on the walk! Way easier to interrupt the reactivity if you and the dog were already connected before the trigger appears. 

Check out Rachel’s Reactive Redefined Program here! 

Rachel’s website!

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