How to Train Your Leash Reactive Dog with the LAT method
Mr. N walks nicely on a leash, 99.9 percent of the time. Children can walk him and they have under supervision and in quiet areas. That 0.1 percent is what gets him in trouble. Mr. N is what is known as a “frustrated greeter.” He gets super excited to see other dogs and he will pull and bark and lunge on leash. These are classic symptoms of a leash reactive dog.
He is a lot better than he used to be. The very sight of a dog would send him into a barking, lunging frenzy. Now, he can walk and ignore other dogs across the street. We’re still working on passing dogs on the same sidewalk. He can sometimes walk past very calm dogs who are lying down and not looking at him.
We’ve been making this progress mostly with the LAT (Look at That) method from Leslie McDevitt’s book, Control Unleashed. The premise is pretty simple. When your dog looks at a trigger (dogs, scary strangers, bikes, squirrels, skateboards etc), you reward them for looking at the trigger. It sounds counter-intuitive but it works! They learn to neutralize the trigger and focus back on you. Eventually, the dog will look at the trigger then automatically look back at you. This works both for dogs who are over-excited like Mr. N and dogs who are anxious or fearful.
You should start by practicing the cue with neutral objects that your dog won’t react to then gradually add in lower-level distractions then work your way up to higher-level ones. For the neutral object, you could use a bottle or other household item and point at it and when your dog looks at the bottle, use a marker word like “yes” or click with a clicker and reward. If your dog is dog reactive, Melissa & Doug makes quite realistic stuffed dogs you can use to practice with.
|Mr. N knows he did a good job by looking at the other dog and not reacting. Reward please.|
For the reward, you must use something the dog finds immensely rewarding. Reactivity work is very difficult for the dog and the reward must match. No kibble or dry treats! Unless your dog is willing to jump off a cliff for those. Mr. N is picky about his rewards so I can pretty much only use and cheese. Right now, we’re using jerky treats because Mr. N deems them worthy, they take a second or two to chew (less time to think about barking), and they’re healthy and made with good ingredients so if he sometimes gets a ton of treats for not barking, so be it.
It’s important to make sure your dog is not past threshold (calm and not over-aroused) when you do this. It has to be at a distance your dog can handle. So if you have to start at a football field’s distance, that’s what you do. Other things will affect your dog’s threshold. With Mr. N and dogs, the following can impact his threshold: motion, speed, multiple dogs at once, dogs paired with a skateboard/bike, dogs giving him a hard stare, off-leash dogs, the other dog barking.
|Mr. N practicing LAT by the dog park|
Trigger stacking is also important to keep in mind. Multiple triggers will affect your dog’s ability to keep it together. I always think of it as akin to dieting. If you’re presented with multiple temptations throughout the day, (doughnuts at breakfast, co-worker’s birthday cake at work, lunch invitation and offers of pizza for dinner) it’s a lot easier to give in. You only have so much impulse control. You may be good all day and then something sends you over the edge and you gorge on ice cream. Same goes for your dog. They may ignore the first five dogs and then after the sixth one will turn into a screaming maniac.
Mr. N has conquered bikes and joggers and squirrels and cats for the most part using this method. We’re continuing to work on his hardest challenge: dogs. He tries very hard and sometimes he backslides but we’re getting there.
No dogs were barked at during the making of this post.
|It is very difficult to capture a squirrel and dog in the same frame.|
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