HELP! My dog chases (insert thing here) and reacts to (insert noise here)…
If you are reading this, you either have, or want to learn more about a dog that struggles with movement and or noise. And OMG do I feel you!
Maybe it started to happen all of a sudden, or maybe they always have. Whatever the case may be, there is a solution, and it starts with management.
Now for a start, I have a Border Collie. I do realise that this is bred into them. Their awareness of movement is actually a very beautiful instinct. This is years of breeding specifically for them to do a job. Herd sheep. Something moves, notice it. Intervene. They also are extremely aware of novelty. Imagine one sheep in a thousand is sick and not moving very well. That dog needs to know.
So it’s no surprise then that Collie’s struggle with movement more than a lot of breeds, but don’t be fooled into thinking it’s breed specific. LOTS of dogs I come across struggle with movement, novelty and noise. And if your dog DOESN’T struggle when a bike or jogger or car goes past, then you need to reward that and keep rewarding that as we just don’t do it enough!
Now there were a lot of ‘tell tell’ signs when Buddy was a puppy that movement was a struggle. For a start Buddy was very aware of traffic, when he was in my arms he was scared to the extent he would scratch and try and get away. That was alarm bell number one.
He then started to stop and stare each time a car went past. That was alarm bell number two. He then started to pull slightly towards the cars.
This then eventually evolved into real pulling, barking, lunging and spinning. He was also very aware of movement at home and it gradually got worse and worse. Mopping, wiping crumbs of the sofa, entering the room, just general day to day life was really really hard!
The EXACT same thing happened with noises. It was so gradual that I kept hoping that training good focus on me would be enough. But it doesn’t work like that.
So. What are we doing RIGHT NOW to combat this.
We need to get him to feel good, safe and calm when movement or noise happens.
Taking him next to the road and watching cars go by with lots of smelly sausage isn’t going to cut it.
That’s training in the situation and not something that we do. Management is training so managing and limiting the rehearsal is key.
When we do go out we avoid the road and we try and work at a good threshold to limit any rehearsal at all.
In the meantime we do something called DMT. This stands for distract, mark, treat.
You see or hear a distraction, you mark with a calm word. We used nice said in a nice calm way eg niiiiiiiice. We then calmly produce a treat, or a piece of his daily food. Buddy never eats food from a bowl EVER. I think he did for the first couple of weeks that I had him! His food is used in training things like DMT or other useful skills he needs to work on.
Now the trick with DMT is that you start by just associating your marker word with the treat without any distractons happening.
Once they know your marker word means a treat is coming, you then use it for distractions they can cope with. Eg put a mug down, niiiiiice, treat. Walking past them, niiiice, treat. A car door closing outside, niiiiice, treat. You DMT all the things they CAN cope with. You do this for quite a while.
You can then work on the things they find harder.
The trick is, to DMT BEFORE they bark and lunge. When they are barking and lunging they can‘t learn so you can scatter feed, or move them away from the noise and try again.
You also have to look at your dogs struggles as a bit like making a cake. DMT is just one of the main ingredients. You still need to combat the other ingredients, like making sure you dog is as calm as possible throughout the rest of the day, gets plenty of sleep, doesn’t rehearse those behaviours that you don’t want, relationship building, focus, and exercise/fitness training…! (Note: if walking is soooo stressful that your dog spends more time reacting then they do walking – stop the walks!)
But DMT goes a long LONG way to starting to change that emotional response that your dog chooses to deal with sound and movement.
Buddy no longer lunges at anyone coming in and out of the room, we can watch TV with very little reaction, and he’s getting much better with noises in general. We still have a LONG way to go outside of the house, but we are now working on noises and movement in the garden. I put every single piece of his daily food into DMT. Every single piece. And I’m starting to see some real results.
If you need help putting a plan together and want to learn more about concept training then I highly recommend our dog trainer Nikki Thurston at On the Ball Dog Care and Training.
You can also join our facebook group ‘Emotional Support for Owners with Anxious/Nervous ‘Reactive’ Dogs For a great community of like minded people who totally understand where you are right now.