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Wednesday
Feb142018

Reactive Greyhounds

Harry is our reactive boy who is pretty much cured although it took a few years. He was reactive to all breeds. This is my personal experience with regards to dogs reactive to other dogs
Please note, this is personal experience only and I'm not a professional behaviourist. 
WHAT IS A DOG REACTIVE GREYHOUND?
A reactive greyhound that reacts to other dogs is often a dog that is only used to other greyhound breeds and so badly socialised with other animals and other breeds.  It can be a case of reaction by barking, yapping, whining, stamping and spinning when seeing small breeds, all other breeds of dogs or like our Harry it can be to anything that is living and breathing and non human. He was OK with humans unless he heard babies crying or young kids shouting. And he was even reactive to some greyhounds too. If allowed to,  reactive dogs can attack and bite either the trigger animal or in their frustration might take it out on the nearest person/animal next to them.
Harry was adopted on a Sunday morning and brought back Sunday afternoon by the family of adopters saying he was too uncontrollable and dangerous. He was spinning snarling and snapping at a spaniel on their first walk. . We love a dog challenge and as we've had many problem dogs rehomed with us, we fostered Harry to see if we could make a difference over 10 days. That was 5 yrs ago now!  We fell in love with his sweet nature at home cured him of that apparent "aggression" outside.
This is our approach which was also validated by several qualified dog behaviourists.
Firstly its important that however loud and aggressive the behaviour is, it's frequently not true dog aggression as you'd imagine it and rather than from a position of strength and dominance it's often coming from a place of fear. But fearful dogs can bite and snap. It's important that reactive dogs wear muzzles so you can be confident that nothing can go hideously wrong if the trigger animal gets too close. Poorly socialised dogs will look at another breed of dog and start alerting their human as well as warning off another dog. The frantic barking often means "What the f*** is that thing Mummy?!?" or "Can't you see it? I'm trying to tell you there's a threatening looking shape up there and it's got fur and teeth!" and even a warning to the thing "Stay away from me, I don't know what you are, but you're not coming near me.  I'm big and I'm scary and attached to my human!". Ex racing greyhounds aren't usually fearful as a result of a previous fight or encounter with another breed like some dogs who acquire aggression through experience. The racing life usually means that greyhounds spend time only with greyhounds and walk in paddocks or fields with little upfront contact with other breeds of dogs. Once you can understand why your dog would be fearful of another breed then you are truly listening to what they are trying to tell you, and it's then not as scary or daunting to tackle the problem.
The training for a dog who has behavioural problems when encountering specific triggers is to find a way to desensitise the dog. They need to become familiar enough with a trigger that their experience of it brings no bad results. However whilst introducing them to their trigger its important that they are not so overwhelmed by it that they learn to be more wound up. At a certain level of excitement, a dog reaches a point where they are consumed by the experience and won't learn anything. Introduction of a trigger needs to be gradual and your behaviour has to be consistent, calm and steady as a rock. It might not look like it but your dog,  as he bonds with you, will look to you to find out how to react. If you appear unflustered with a situation, then so will he eventually.
HOW CAN YOU TRAIN A REACTIVE DOG
POSITIVE REINFORCEMENT
Greyhounds respond well to positive reinforcement of good behaviour and do not react well to negative training. Therefore shouting at your dog, shouting No!!  or Leave!! and trying to pull him away in an angry way  is only going to teach him that you're wound up by the trigger too. Whilst training, don't tell him what he shouldn't be doing. It's best to say nothing until your dog is behaving well then heap praise and encouragement onto him. Greyhounds love to please and get it right. Then it becomes a habit. 
FEELING DISHEARTENED
Training like this does take time and there's no overnight fix. Often it feels disheartening and I've heard people say "But I've tried everything for a couple of months now and he's still not improving!"
The important thing is to believe it will and is getting better and trust that even if you can't see the tiny improvements on a daily basis, it is only when a significant amount of time has passed that with the benefit of hindsight, you'll realise training has paid off. Dogs aren't machines and can have bad days where they "plateau" which means their learning appears to hit a point of no improvement and an impasse. That's usually temporary but just think, it's a lot better than when they arrived. They might have a bad day and regress or they might test you, which is where you don't give up but just remain consistent and they'll soon fall back in line. As d ety dog despite being the same breed has a very distinct personality just like kids in school the majority will progress with generalised training but each will be at a different speed or have parts of it that just don't stick. Once again, this is where your positive thinking should be telling you "any improvement from the dog I took in, is a bonus"
DON'T SEVERELY  RESTRICT YOURS OR YOUR DOG'S LIFE
The worst thing you can do with behavioural problems that are trigger based and the triggers are common is to build a whole regime around your dog's phobias that attempts to avoid all contact with that trigger. A lady who lived in our next road had a very reactive greyhound who would kick off on the sight of every living thing and spent nearly a decade having to run out of a road where a dog or cat was walking, couldn't walk her dog unless it was dark or 5 am, and would often have to let her dog pull her around a winding route so that the 5 mins journey to the park would take anything up to an hour or more. The lady could have beeen walking with me and letting me help but she wouldn't let me. She also became sick and wasnt up to walking but nobody else could handle her crazy dog. I could have been walking the dog but I couldn't even get close enough to help out. Then I heard that she had taken her dog to a rescue service, but nobody really knew what happened. I did knock on her door but she said "I've tried everything dear, nothing works, she's always been like this, there's no point trying to change her" The lady had constructed a whole life based on her decision that a problem couldn't be solved so was best avoided. If you're OK with that and your dog is happy, continue, but ostly it makes for a miserable walk full of appreensionn and defeat. And this was one of those cases where you feel its the human who needed that training and not the dog! 
SUPPORT
If you need extra support and introductions to other breeds in a controlled manner find a local dog group that can help or contact a behaviourist. Our local dog group had an outdoor class and dog shows and we took him to a few dog shows and walked around the edge of it in a very wide berth. If he reacted, we would face him outwards and walk away a bit then when he stopped his aggressive barking we gave him huge praise. Eventually, he'd let us get closer and closer, but if he reacted again we'd take him out a bit until he was OK again. 
What we found useful was not getting wound up or anxious ourselves. You don't want to ruin walks by thinking Oh my God, there's another dog coming!!. What you need to think is, every time your dog gets to be exposed to a trigger, it's an opportunity to learn. Bring it on we'd say, because the more practise Harry had,  the faster he'd form good habits. Eventually, when he saw a dog that he knew he might react to, he was jumping to face away from it, correcting himself and containing his own energy. That surprised us but like I said, they will try to please you and they just need to know exactly what it is you want but so often a dog handler fails to communicate clearly what they're  after. 
DAILY EXERCISES
Every day my partner took Harry to the park and did not alter or avoid his triggers. If he saw a dog ahead and Harry started to react, he would say nothing, act like there wasn't a problem, keep a short lead and walk around the other dog and onwards, giving praise if he wasn't reacting. If we were not moving fast we found turning to face the other way and stopping Harry see the dog really worked. So we would step off a path and away and that might mean keeping the head steady, facing your dog into a bush or tree if the path is too narrow to take a circle around a person.  They are so often triggered by sight and removing the view can work.  But, we didn't push it and overexpose him or overwhelm him. If a dog approached us off lead, we would shout a warning to the owner if they were in earshot and walk briskly on as if we hadn't noticed the dog, all the time encouraging Harry on. We would keep a short lead and full control of head and body. We would praise him all the time he was not reacting. If he reacted, we would cease any praise and just continue moving not looking at or facing the trigger. If we were at a dog show, and he reacted to one dog then obviously we'd turn him away calmly to face a dog that he wasn't reacting to. 
EQUIPMENT
There are a few pieces of gear that help with a reactive dog. Often it's the other dog who causes a problem by coming too close and you need to be able to move along quickly and feel safe. Any anxiety about your dog managing to bite another dog will travel down the lead and make your dog defensive. 
MUZZLE: I'd advise using a muzzle but because a reactive dog can get into a frenzy the muzzle can easily be pushed off. Strap the muzzle through part of the collar and it won't fall off easily if you make sure it's snug. Be aware that even with a muzzle on a greyhound can stamp on a small dog. If one approaches and you're dog is not taking it well, do shout a clear warning to other dog owners. You can also get vests or scarves with In Training on them that sometimes makes it obvious. Usually if you have a muzzle owners are slightly better at understanding your dog might be reactive. 
COLLAR: However tightly you strap a normal hound collar or fish shaped collar on,  a greyhound's neck is wider than their head and a collar can easily slip off. It's a lot safer if you use a wide martingale (looped) collar which tightens if there is any pulling. 
HARNESS : One of the problems of having a lead attached to the dogs head is that they have the strength to keep pulling and spinning. You'll want to face your dog  away from the trigger but he will just keep trying to spin around again and it's a struggle to even get him to walk away from his trigger. However, if you use a harness you can use two leads. One attached to the dogs collar and controlling the head, and another attached to mid-back and harness. So not only can you stop him spinning but you won't worry about choking him by pulling hard and like a Puppet Master you'll be able to walk him along and away. A harness is easier to grab than a silky furry body should you need to. 
LEADS: Leads that are rope and nylon slip through your hands and can really hurt if you have a reactive dog. The nylon flat ones also hurt and aren't secure. A 1¼ inch double sided leather lead won't slip through your hands even if wet. They're not cheap but have lasted over a decade on 4 dogs with us. To ensure they are strong, it's best to purchase from a saddlery used to making horse reins and the stitching won't come undone easily. I like to have leads that have a buckle at each end. At the collar end a buckle is better than a clip. Often, even chunky clips can come undone with a dog wriggling their head. It used to happen once in a while with my collie but as he had perfect recall it didn't matter. I like to have a buckle at the other end of a 6ft lead because I can attach that end to a harness which gives me in effect, two leads. Or I just use two leads. When holding a lead I put the handle over my right arm up to the elbow then with the strap crossing my body I walk my dog on the left side of my body. Two leads, or one extra long lead doubled up and attached to two points on the dogs body means even with my disabled and weakened arms/hands  can still control my dog. 

 

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