The second Topic of my LET YOUR DOG series of blog posts,is …..
Let Your Dog LOOK at a trigger. A Trigger is anything that causes a dog to react in a way we would rather they didn’t. It is whatever triggers the dog to lunge ,bark or otherwise react badly,wether through fear or excitement.
A common solution to handling a reacting dog is to teach it to focus intensely on the handler and ignore the trigger as it passes or as the handler and dog pass it. The problem with this solution is that it merely manages the situation,but doesn’t help fix the problem entirely. The dog still has a problem with that trigger item. This solution is akin to telling a person with a fear of spiders ,”Don’t look at that spider,look at me! look here! Don’t look at it! Don’t worry about where that spider is,just focus on me!”.
Will that help the Spider fearful person be less fearful of the spider? Not Likely. In fact it may cause a more intense but hidden fear,because now they can’t see what’s going on,so they may be getting more nervous while they concentrate very hard on looking at you instead.
A better solution is to help these dogs learn to look calmly at their triggers. Starting at safe distances we can reward the dog for noticing the trigger before they make that decision to bark at it. Through repetition the dog learns that the triggers equal opportunities to receive rewards. They begin to look at the triggers then at you expectantly for their reward. Now we begin to see a change in their emotion regarding those triggers. Instead of the trigger creating an anxiety that causes them to feel the need to bark or lunge at the trigger,they are happy to see that trigger because it’s been proven to result in goodies and praise.
From that stage we can build upon that new response,by allowing the dog to gaze longer at the trigger so long as they are maintaining calm. And we can begin to work closer to that trigger if need be,so long as we keep working at that level at which the dog is still comfortable and successful. The dog needs to trust that they are safe to look at the trigger as well,and we are key to building that safety for them.
Eventually the previous triggers become a non issue in a lot of cases,if the steps were taken at the right speed and with consistency and lots of repetition of successes.
The dog can see the trigger and effectively be nonplussed by it,if even still a bit happy to see it instead of its previous reaction. Letting your dog look at triggers and learn how to handle that leads to a much calmer, solid dog over all. The dog who is never allowed to look at the excitement causing things,never learns how to cope with them,rather it’s stuck with a life time of avoiding them.