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A new and innovative approach to addressing reactive behavior that is humane, force-free., based in positive reinforcement techniques and effective!

Self-study materials allow you to get started right away and work at your pace!

Get the support you need from anywhere with private online coaching through a variety of flexible options.

Online Course

Reactivity on Walks - A Learner Centered Approach

Base Level

$350

(or $35 per month for 12 months)

Includes:

  • Access to Self-Study Course Materials to Complete at Your Pace for 1 Year

  • 20 Video Submissions to for Coaching 

Premium Level

$500

(or $49 per month for 12 months)

Includes:

  • Access to Self-Study Course Materials to Complete at Your Pace for 1 Year

  • 10 (30 min.) Private Lessons Live Over Zoom

Best Value
 

What is Reactivity?

Reactivity is a term that we use informally to describe a variety of intense, out of proportion, over-reaction behaviors a dog may perform in response to a particular trigger such as other dogs, people, etc. This can look like whining, growling, barking, lunging, jumping, snapping, biting etc. However, labeling a behavior as reactive does not tell us WHY that dog is performing that behavior.

There are mixed opinions on separating the term "reactivity" from aggression, some people use it to describe dogs that overreact but have not bitten, however dogs that have bitten can also be labeled reactive further muddying the waters on this term. Instead I think it is important to recognize that reactive behaviors can result in a bite in some cases but not all, and the label is a big umbrella that can encompass many experiences and variations in the intensity, and presentation of these behaviors. Within that umbrella, each of the dogs is a unique individual, the treatment plan should be personalized to reflect that.

Why Do Dog's React?

Traditionally the dog world has organized this behavior into two main categories:

  1. Fear-based, these dogs may be using their behavior to stop, avoid, or escape interaction with a trigger.

  2. Frustration-based, these dogs may be overly-interested in moving toward the trigger and react when prevented from accessing the trigger such as by a leash, window, fence, etc. 

I no longer agree with this assessment, frustration is not a function of behavior, it is the product of dysfunction. Dictionary.com defines frustration as:

 

(a) “The feeling of being upset or annoyed, especially because of inability to change or achieve something.”

or

(b) “the prevention of the progress, success, or fulfillment of something.”

In most circumstances, the dogs we live with have the potential to experience frustration given the limited amount of control they can exert over their day to day lives. How do these categories serve the dogs caught in the middle? What about the dogs that are observably stressed, that are swimming at the end of the leash toward the trigger dragging the handler as close as they can only to sniff , stiffen and pounce? Or maybe instead they approach sniff, and dismiss walking away? They don't initiate play, they may not even seem to want to interact when they reach the trigger, but they surely didn’t run away. Or are these outliers, these dogs that seem to not know what it is that they want or need, an example of our unintended influence on their behavior? 

 

A Mixed Bag of Emotions

I believe that dogs are complex, capable of experiencing a mix of strong emotions, that can change depending on the day, circumstance, environment etc. When we focus on addressing only fearfulness we ignore the frustration a dog may be experiencing, and vice versa. While we can make progress in modifying these behaviors, we will only get so far unless we look at the entire picture. To peel back the layers of these emotions, we have to first acknowledge the possibility that other emotions may exist and take steps to address those possibilities.

Rather than viewing reactivity as categorical, I find it helpful to think of their emotional experience like a pie chart that is fluid, some emotions can be stronger than others in different situations, times of day, etc.

Dog Mix of Emotions Visual.png

What is a Learner-Centered Approach?

The learner-centered approach has been around for a long time and is primarily emphasized in child education. Caroline Lawless summarized it best in her learnupon.com blog post stating,

"A learner-centered approach views learners as active agents. They bring their own knowledge, past experiences, education, and ideas – and this impacts how they take on board new information and learn.

It differs significantly from a traditional instructor-centered approach. Traditional learning approaches were informed by behaviorism, which sees learners as ‘blank slates’ and instructors as experts who must impart all the relevant information."

How We will Apply The Cornerstones of the Learner Centered Approach in this Course:

Personalization & Collaboration

The learner-centered approach thrives on input from the student, in this case both from the dog and their humans, using that input we construct strategies that are mutually beneficial to foster ongoing communication and collaboration. 

Communication

We have all experienced emotions that are not immediately obvious to those around us. I believe that when body language reflects the internal emotions, the level of the emotion is already too high. On the other hand, the absence of observable stress signals does not mean that stress does not exist within the animal. To be most effective in changing emotions, we need to establish a system that enables the dog to communicate and does not rely on body language alone.


Agency
The goal of behavior modification is to teach our dogs how to process and cope with the world around them. Rather than relying on prompts, cues and commands, we want to mold dogs that are capable of making desirable decisions on their own. To do this, we have to foster agency, providing a safe space to allow access to appropriate choices. Developing awareness of how we inhibit options both intentionally and unintentionally, and how we introduce and foster the availability of appropriate choices, we can develop a deeper understanding of our pets through their preferences and motivations. 

 

Offering greater agency does not mean abandoning safety restrictions that protect your pet or others, but it requires taking an honest look at what we can compromise on, to help our pets to function better within their environment. In return, we receive high levels of engagement, predictability, relaxation, and cooperation during the times when choice must be restricted.

Inquiry & Modeling

Having a safe space to explore, acquire and practice new information and skills is a foundation of this approach. We use dress rehearsals, in which we set up real-life scenarios with approximations of the trigger such as a fake dog, or helper dressed as a stranger. In the real world, situations come and go quickly, they don't allow us to pace ourselves, gather information, experiment, or gather repetitive practice that can develop muscle memory or predictable outcomes. In dress-rehearsal, you and your pet get to explore your new skills, develop muscle memory, trust, and predictability that will help you to succeed in the real world. 

 

In many cases, dogs are responding in the only way they no how to these situations, telling them "no" or using punishment only creates a void. Structured dress rehearsals allow us to teach your pet exactly what we would like them to do instead, step by step, so that they have an alternative to their first instinct when the situation arises in real life. Dress rehearsals allow you to control and expect the variables, through repetition, you can gain trust in your pet's ability to behave predictably, and confidence in your intervention skills if they are needed.

 

Flexibility and Revision

It is vital to constantly re-evaluate our approach, to be flexible, revise and adjust when something is not working as expected. The process of learning is not uniform, feedback and collaboration is not only welcomed it is encouraged!

I Set Out to Develop a System That:

  • Addresses the complex emotional experience of dogs.

  • Does not require handlers to become experts in canine body language, to safely predict and manage their pet’s behavior.

  • Is easy to implement, creating a space for both dog and handler to acquire the information, skills and muscle memory to successfully navigate real-life scenarios successfully.

  • Provides the dog with a greater level of agency, ability to consent, and make choices that could be easily expressed, to guide the process and give us greater insight into their behavior.

  • Develops predictability, consistency, confidence and trust from both ends of the leash.

  • Focuses on exercises and concepts that serve the dogs as well as the handlers, toward mutually beneficial goals.

  • Respects the dogs as sentient complex individual beings, with emotions, preferences, and needs that may change from context to context, day to day, etc.

5 phases reactive dog class.jpeg

Self-Study Format:

The course itself is provided in a self study format that will guide you step by step through reading materials, video lectures, demonstrations and examples. Work through materials at your pace, and review past materials at any time. The free smartphone app enables you to keep your resources with you so you can access instructions or review information on the go. You can message me directly from within your client portal and the app if you have any questions, keeping all of your resources in one place.

Personalized Coaching:

Working through the course with personalized coaching is encouraged to achieve the best results. There are two ways to receive personalized coaching: 

1. Video Submission

Record video of your practice and training sessions by propping up your device, using a tripod, having a helper film you, using a chest mounted phone holder, etc. We are not looking for professional quality footage, simply capture what you can, then submit by booking a video review appointment. When booking you will be linked to a form to upload the video. At the date and time you book, I will review the video and record a voiceover with feedback and personalized advice based on what I see. The voice-over video will be uploaded to your video library in the portal for you to review at any time. 

1. Zoom Private Lessons

Receive live coaching over Zoom! Using your device and wireless headphones, I will be able to provide instructions, feedback and advice in real time. These sessions are recorded, and uploaded to your video library in the portal for you to review at any time. 

Supplies:

Some supplies are needed to complete this course, for example, if your pet is triggered by other dogs, a fake dog will be necessary for dress rehearsals. All of the required and optional supplies suggestions can be found at in the Google Doc linked below, including additional tips, various item suggestions and links for purchase.