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Is your dog reactive to the sound of the leash? Do they start to get anxious when you put your shoes on or grab your keys? Many dogs have learned that these cues mean something! Whether good or bad, dogs often learn to react accordingly to the stimulus itself. So how do you change that reaction? By desensitizing them to whatever the stimulus is.

Lets use the example of grabbing the leash. Start by picking the leash up and putting it back down repeatedly. Do this often and randomly. The more often this act is not associated with the dog actually going outside, the less likely they are to react as if it is. Practice doing this over and over when you have no intention of going outside.

When it is time to go outside, pick the leash up and start to move towards the dog. If there is any reaction whatsoever, put the leash back down and walk away. Continue this pattern of picking the leash up and putting the leash on the dog and heading outside. If there is any excited response at any time, move back, put the leash down and walk away. You want the dog to realize that the only thing that will get them on the leash and out the door is calmness!

This technique works for excitement or fear. Make sure you are careful not to move to quickly with a fearful or insecure dog. If your dog tends to have separation anxiety and the act of you grabbing the keys causes a response, use this technique of picking up keys repeatedly and also use a distraction (such as a kong filled with peanut butter) when you are about to leave.

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Girona, Spain

At least 30% of dogs have a phobia of loud noises. This time of year is particularly hard for our furry friends, and making sure they are comfortable and safe can help us avoid intense anxiety in our dogs and destruction in our homes. The best training technique is to work on some noise desensitization far ahead of time. Buying soundtracks with noises and playing them very softly at first while giving your dog lots of treats and love. Slowly increase the volume and continue to do so, never getting loud enough that your dog starts to get anxious. Practicing with noises such as thunder and fireworks in this manner will help your dog learn that there is nothing to fear with these noises, but rather loud noises = treats and love! If you’re left with two little time to do such training (like most are at the moment), try managing the environment to set your dog up for success. Keep a close eye on them today! If you have to leave them anywhere, give them lots of positive things to do such as a treat dispenser, peanut butter filled kong, new toys or chews, etc. Turn on some loud music to drown out the sound of fireworks or thunder. If thunder is the main issue, keep an eye on the weather and try to be home when there are suspected thunderstorms or hire a pet sitter to come by. Remember that anxiety is serious and avoiding it is very important for your dogs health. Happy 4th of July to everyone and their dogs, may you all have a rewarding holiday!

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FullSizeRender

One of the absolute best training tools is the ‘Look at That’ method (or LAT as it’s known in the world of dog trainers) and it has many implications. What better way to get your dog used to a calm reaction to a stimulus than to give them a reward as they calmly watch the stimulus go by? This technique is extremely helpful in reactive and fearful dogs. You can stage a training session with a friend if your dog is reactive to people, or another pet that is under a friend’s control if your dog is reactive towards other pets. You can even practice this with wildlife if you are able to stay outside the threshold and move away if the stimulus moves in your direction. If by yourself, a park is a good place to start, just choose where you post up wisely. For this example, I will explain for a dog that is reactive towards other dogs. To start, simply ask your dog to sit (or lay down, although not all dogs like to stay in a down position when there are things happening around them) in an area where there are no current distractions with high quality treats to reward them. Choose a spot that is far enough away from any stimulus that might elicit a response, a spot that it is just barely outside the threshold of your dog’s likeliness of reacting. Make sure this spot will remain just outside that threshold so for the duration of the training. If your dog reacts at any point, move farther away, you are too close! Once you have your dog in a sit or down, wait for any dog nearby that you are looking to practice with. As a dog approaches, have your body in between your dog and the dog nearby and slowly allow your dog to look at this other dog. As your dog sees the other dog, say ‘good’ and reward with a treat. The idea is that your dog won’t have time to react to this other dog and will instead focus on a yummy treat that it has been rewarded for not reacting and staying calm. If your dog seems to be too fixated and starts to elicit a reaction, move in front of his/her view and continue to talk calmly and reward as long as no reaction occurs. Once you are able to repeat this exercise for a few sessions with at least a handful of stimuli walking by each time, you can practice a little bit closer to the stimulus. Eventually, the threshold for your dog’s reactivity will be closer and closer until you can practice walking by other dogs (or people or wildlife). Such a simple yet effective technique!

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