What’s the Opposite of Reactive?

When I was looking to adopt a dog, it was really important to me that I not have a reactive dog. Oliver, the last dog I’d trained, was very reactive and had a very difficult time focusing around other dogs. Worse, he’d channel that stress into barking and lunging, and so when I worked with him I spent a lot of time trying to manage his reactivity and his focus to keep his attention on me. I actually don’t think I’ve ever worked with a dog without some level of reactivity to manage.

Tribble is definitely not reactive. Instead, when she’s stressed out or overloaded, she stops. When I was first getting to know her shortly after I adopted her, I noticed she’d often look very tense and upset when initially seeing a new dog larger than she was. She would stand there looking upset and then, if left alone for a few minutes, would relax and often solicit the other dog for play–but she needed that initial moment to think about it before she would approach the other dog. She’s displayed the same behavior since about other scary things–if I give her a moment to stop and think, she’ll willingly approach them, but without that moment she gets very upset. It’s almost the opposite of reactive–instead of reacting very very quickly and fast to a new stimulus, she usually reacts slowly, and her default when encountering something new is to stop and think.

I’ve never had a dog like this before! It’s a lot of fun to work with her, because it’s easy to keep her attention focused on me. It’s also really different from working with Oliver. Instead of spending all my training energy trying to keep my dog relaxed and focused, if anything I need to amp Tribble up and get her excited and happy. It’s a nice change!

The Tribble and I have started a basic obedience course as groundwork for agility (which is the eventual goal). Last week was our first class together, and she did very nicely! It was not hard to catch her attention in class, she caught on to “watch me!” very quickly and was doing it for seven or eight seconds by the end of class. The only thing she wasn’t so great at was “down” from a standing position, which we’ve practiced at home since.

The class is clicker-based, which is difficult for me because I’m used to shaping behavior without the “middleman” of the clicker. Because of that, I tend to fumble and try to get the treat to the dog immediately while also trying to click to mark the behavior immediately and end up not marking the behavior properly with either one. Not good! Tribble is also a little sound-sensitive and has reacted to clickers going off nearby by getting upset and shutting down before, so I get to use a verbal click in class instead. That’s working better for me because I don’t have to juggle a physical object, but it’s still hard to remember to say “Yes!” right before I get the treat. I’m getting better, though! 

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