This page is dedicated to the rehabilitation of my girl Kenzie, and learning as much as possible through the journey. 

 Kenzie's Journey: Working through extreme reactivity to other dogs

What Method to use?

To get a dog from reacting very strongly to a stimulus, no matter what it is, it takes time and patience. You cannot push the dog, or punish the dog, to
"get over it".

Lets see if we can see it from the dog's point of view: If you had a severe fear big, black rats. Every time you saw one, even if it was all the way on the other side of the room, you would scream, your heart would start racing, and you would run out of the room.  Now, lets say that your spouse decided that it was time for you to get over this fear of rats, and so he was going to get you around them so much that you would just have to "get over it", and shout at you at the top of his lungs if you screamed or ran from the room. So he decided to put a rat in your bed every morning when you woke up.  Well, you can probably imagine that you would not only not get better, but you would most likely get worse.

Now can you imagine if every time you went outside of your house, he had random people walk up to you to put a rat on your head? You would freak out! No matter where you went, you would be looking around, trying to figure out who had a rat and how you would get away from them. So now not only do you have an even more severe fear of rats, you also have a nervous complex, because of a damaging method a loved one used to try to help you. Unfortunately, this method is all too common in the dog training world. It is called flooding, and the idea is to get the dog around what it is reacting to so much that it has no choice but to "get over it". It is inhumane, and not only that, but you can end up causing much worse psychological damage than you had before you started this kind of training. This is NOT the industry standard for treating reactive dogs, and anyone who is instructed to use this type of training for anything should be very very careful, and I strongly suggest you get a second opinion from a trainer not associated with the first.

 Now, back to our story.

Thankfully, your spouse hears about desensitization, and counter conditioning, and decides to try it. So he gets a cage and puts a very small baby rat in it, then he puts it outside, about 10ft from your window. Then he puts a bag of your favorite chocolate in the window sill with a letter that says "every time you look at this baby rat, please eat a piece of chocolate. When you walk away, please leave the bag here. I will refill it if it ever gets empty. Oh, and they have no calories".  You can bet that I would be over there looking at that rat! So now you feel safe, and you have a choice whether or not to go look at it. You have not gotten to that place where your heart is beating and you are scared, so you can actually think about what you want to do (this is called being sub-threshold). You are able to get away from it, and you can give yourself more space if you need to.

Your spouse also gives a baby rat to your best friend, and asks that any time she comes over, she bring the baby rat with her, in a cage. Now something great (your best friend) is paired with the feared item (the rat), but the feared item is being controlled to keep you from reacting (using a baby rat and keeping it in a cage). Pretty soon you would get used to the baby rat, the fact that your friend always brings it would not be a big deal, and you would probably even start talking to it through the glass.

All of this time, your spouse has been very careful to make sure that no big black rats come into the house. This gives you a chance to slowly work up to something more similar to the actual trigger event (big black rat who is free in your house). The husband now goes to the store and buys a domesticated gray and white large rat to keep as a pet. He will take care of it, but it will be in the house. Since it is domesticated and really sweet, and you have already gotten on talking terms with the black baby mouse, you come around pretty quickly and soon the rat is actually your pet.

The next time you see a big black rat across the room, you say "oh my gosh! Look at that rat! Ralph, please put him back outside, but don't hurt him!" in a very calm and collected tone.  How did you get here? You had looked at rats with no feelings of fear/anxiety for a months, so when you saw a new one, you did not overreact. You have changed your emotional response to the sight of a rat. This is called working sub-threshold, and it is how we are going to help our dogs be okay about being around other dogs.



To get her past the original reaction to seeing another Dog

  • Taking her to the field beside dog park every day and throwing the ball for her away from the other dogs.
    At first keeping a LOT of space between us and the other dogs. Start where she is not nervous.
  • Slowly moving closer and closer. Keeping an eye on her comfort level/threshold. 
  • If she ever looked close to reacting, we either left or gave more space. 
  • For Kenzie this was usually very vocal dogs, or lots of dogs playing roughly. 
  • What this did was make the ball more exciting than the dogs, and so she practiced ignoring the dogs, rather than focusing on them and stressing about it.
  •  I also made sure you have a squeaker in my pocket, so that I could use it for a last minute hail mary, should she be on the verge of reacting. It usually worked. It would distract her just enough to get her to not react. 
  • As I did this, I had to pull out the squeaker less and less. 
  • I did this everyday for 10 days. At the end of the 10 days, we were able to go into a pet store, see a dog, and her not bark/lunge right away. She still got stiff and nervous, but I was able to redirect her to a toy before she crossed her threshold.
  •  To get her to be able to be around strange dogs and be calm enough able to work (think).


    The next step was to get her around dogs without having to pull out her toy to distract her. This was a new step, in that she had to actually deal with being near the dog, as opposed to just not thinking about it. 


    Getting her around other dogs (with no agenda).

    1. Have really really good treats and lots of them, a few different kinds
    2. Take her as far away as need be to get to eat the treats when you drop them on the ground.
    3. Wave them in front of her nose before you drop them (3-5 treats at a time) to get her attention.
    4. Once she will eat the treats off the ground, let her look up at the dog for a split second, then drop more.
    5. If she seems to be getting over stimulated, walk further away to give some relief after every few treats, then circle back and drop more treats close to where you were before, even if a little further away.
    6. Once she starts looking up at you once she finishes the treats, you can ask for an easy behavior before dropping more treats.
    7. When she looks relaxed, and just wanting to do what you want for more treats, you can take a step or two closer and go back to dropping treats on the ground for just looking at the dog.
    8. Repeat these steps until you get close enough that you feel you are close to her threshold of reactivity. If you go over it and she reacts, just take a few steps backward and make a mental note not to get that close for a while.
    9. Start from step three each time you get around a dog.
    10. Try very hard to keep her under her threshold of reactivity.
    11. Do this at a minimum of once a week, if not 2-3 times.

     Pair this with Desenitization of the Sound of Other Dogs:

    1. Pick out a dvd that has some dog noises in it (not a lot of barking or high pitched excited barking, just regular jingling of collar tags, whining, or the occasional bark).
    2. Have the dog’s best treats out, a clicker or squeaker, and the remote.
    3. Play the dvd and give the dog a treat every time there is a sound of a dog.
    4. Watch your dog for signs of her becoming concerned, and squeak the toy while putting the tv on mute. Once you get the dog to calm down, start it again and reward more frequently. Even if you have to feed constantly, that is okay.
    5. Eventually you will be able to only feed when you hear a dog sound.



    To get her to be able to RELAX in the presence of other dogs:

    Prerequisite to following steps: Karen Overalls Relaxation Protocol

    I had to adjust the protocol a bit because Kenzie was unable to relax at home. I changed it to massaging her in the middle of the night when she was mostly asleep. This taught her how to be relaxed while I was massaging her. I used T-touch mostly. I then moved to massaging her in the morning when she was still pretty sleepy. Slowly doing it more and more times a day until she would relax as soon as I started massaging her. I then moved on to the protocol, doing them while she was relaxed in a lying down position from me massaging her. I used the massage as the reward for staying calm. I made sure to force her body into relaxed poses while doing this, such as gently running my hand down the front of her face, over the eyes and down to the end of the muzzle, pausing over her eyes. (Since dogs do not close their eyes when they are stressed out, it tricks the body into thinking it is calm). I do the same thing with massaging the ears flat against the head in a (for her) happily submissive posture. You need to know your dog, and what positions their body takes when they are happy and relaxed. 

    This is me massaging Kenzie right before we run an agility course at a national level Agility Trial. We are surrounded by hundreds of barking dogs here, but she is in her own little world, being massaged by her Mommy =)

    Now, to take it to the field:

    • Go to your usual place you practice the step above (getting around other dogs with no agenda), but go to the furthest corner. You can bring a blanket if you like, or just sit on the ground, but you are going to just sit there massaging your dog for a while, until she relaxes all of the way. Once she does, go home. Do this a few more times before moving on to the next step using a crate. 
    • Go to your usual place you practice the step above, but in addition to all of the treats you usually bring, also bring: a crate with soft mat inside, a thick blanket, a stuffed, frozen Kong, a large Bully Stick, and/or some other kind of really amazing bone. 
    • Make your space ready before you let the dog out of the car: put the crate at least 50ft from where the other dog will be working. Turn the crate so that you can place the blanket over the side, and your dog will not be able to see the other dog working. Put your mat inside and the bones on top.
    • Now follow your usual reutine of working your way closer to the other dog, staying sub threshold (your dog is not reacting, barking, lunging, staring or whining). While going back and forth between play and settled massage. 

    • Work your way over to your crate, and throw a handfull of treats inside (your dog should already be okay with being inside a crate). Once the dog is in the crate, offer him the bone/bully stick/kong etc. If he takes it and starts chewing, GREAT!!! Just let him be. Pull a chair up and hang out for a while.

    • If you dog does not take the bone, or if he does, but is obviously not relaxed while chewing, you need to go back and do some prep work with Karen Overall's Protocol for Relaxation (See bottom of page, or go to our LINKS page) before proceeding to the next step.


    Click HEREto read more about Dr Karen Overall's Protocol for Relaxation.

     To get the dog to relax in the crate, near another dog.

    1. With the dog in the crate, which has a blanket draped over the side so that the dog is not visible, drop some treats through the top and see if the dog will eat them. If not, than you have gone too fast, and your dog is not ready for this step. Go back to the step "To get her to be able to be around strange dogs and work (think)". That step works the dog up to being able to take food while near another dog. If you have done the Relaxation Protocol with your dog in and out of his crate, than you should have no problem getting your dog to eat food while in the crate, near the other dog.
    2. Once your dog is eating the treats, begin to do your usual Relaxation Protocol work, taking a step back, stepping in, treat. Two steps back, return, treat. Three steps back, return, treat. Four steps back, sit in your chair, stand back up, return, treat. Go Back to your chair, sit down, pause for 3 seconds, return, treat. Go back to your chair for 10 seconds, return, treat, etc. Watch closely for your dog to begin to relax. The goal is for your dog to get board, and decide to start chewing on the bone/kong/bully stick between treats from you.
    3. If while your dog is in the crate a dog barks, treat thiis just as you would if you heard a dog bark on the TV, just briskly walk over to your dog right away and jackpot him with lots of yummy yummy treats. Hopefully by this point you have done enough preliminary work that your dog will see this as the same exercise at home and not react.