12 Amazing (Insider) ways of Handling Reactive Dogs
Week One: Clicker Training 101
Criterion:Click once when you see a behavior you like, then treat.
For many of the students in your reactive dog class, this will be the first time in their dog training careers that they have ever held a clicker. The challenge for instructors is to teach the students to work with the clicker correctly and efficiently in a single session, which allows the class to proceed smoothly and with little confusion. I call this the “Down and Dirty” clicker training class.
Keep instructions as simple as possible. Tell students to click once as they observe the target behavior occurring. Citing the analogy of using a camera to take a snapshot of good behavior can be a helpful visual for your students, all of whom have probably used cameras to capture images of moving targets. Once students understand the importance of the clicker and can time their clicks well, they need to practice reinforcement skills, waiting until after each click to reach into their treat bag, and then delivering reinforcement effectively to the dog. I always take a moment to explain that the click and treat delivery are two separate movements, so the movement of the hand toward the treat bag does not distract or otherwise block the dog from receiving the valuable information that each click communicates. The students should be able to complete these tasks quickly and comfortably. Delays between the click and delivery of the reinforcement slow learning as well.
We only use the clicker to teach new skills. As the behavior becomes fluent in a number of new environments, the student can replace the click with a verbal marker and can implement a variable reinforcement schedule.
How to Get Desirable Behaviors
I explain the different ways we can manufacture desirable behaviors when clicker training—through capturing, shaping, and luring. Our class primarily focuses on shaping, but we frequently use capturing as well and will occasionally resort to luring to get desirable behaviors.
Capturing a behavior means we do just that—wait for the dog to offer the desirable behavior, click the behavior as it occurs, and follow it with reinforcement. Capturing works well for all behaviors that occur naturally in the dog’s existing behavioral repertoire. Barring physical abnormalities, all dogs already know how to offer their owners eye contact (even if it is sparingly at first!), sit, and lie down. Capturing simply capitalizes on “clickable moments,” naturally occurring moments of good behavior that the dog initiates. For example, if another dog stares at your reactive dog and he responds to this threatening glance by turning his head away, or better yet, by checking in with you, it is critical that you be ready to mark and reward this fantastic decision!
Shaping refers to the process of building behavior by clicking and reinforcing smaller versions (approximations) of the desired behavior. If you are attempting to shape a dog to interact with a cone, your first clicks may be reinforcing the dog for just glancing in the direction of the cone. Once the dog is readily offering glances in the direction of the cone, you can raise your criteria so that the dog needs to actually look at the cone before he gets clicked. Subsequent criteria may include taking one step toward the cone, two steps toward the cone, sniffing the cone, and, eventually, touching the cone with his nose. You can further refine this behavior by selecting for touches that are closer to the top of the cone and eventually build a behavior like “Bottoms up!” where the dog rushes up to the cone to knock it over with his nose. You should reinforce each of these smaller pieces of the behavior until the dog is offering the behavior reliably (at least 80 percent of the time) before you add a new element or criterion to the behavior. When necessary, you can break down criteria even further. For instance, if after many clicks for looking at the cone, the dog does not take a step toward it, you can click for a shift forward in weight until the dog’s paws begin moving in the direction of the cone. Breaking behaviors into small steps through shaping is perhaps the most critical skill students learn, since it is the technique we use when we begin to teach dogs to look at one another without reacting inappropriately.
Luring requires using a reinforcer to manipulate a behavior. It is the technique we use least frequently in class, but occasionally it is helpful. This technique may be fairly familiar to a number of your students, who likely taught their dogs to sit by placing a treat above the dog’s nose and then pulled it back over his head until the dog’s rear legs bent into a sitting position. Luring can be helpful for dogs that struggle to concentrate in the initial stages of reactive dog class. Students can use treats in this way while they are acclimating to the class environment and building the foundations of focus and confidence—with the eventual goal of moving on to shaping and capturing behaviors as their classmates are doing.
Benefits of Using the Clicker
The clicker is beneficial in the rehabilitation of reactive dogs for a number of reasons.
1.It is a powerful and precise communicator, creating a common language between the student and dog that both easily understand. Cutting out the “chatter” that we humans are so prone to makes it much easier for the dog to learn. Clicker training is an efficient way to convey meaningful information to a dog. Lindsay Wood, MA, CTC, showed that dogs learned a new behavior in a third less time when trained using a clicker instead of a verbal marker (like “Good!”), in part because the clicker is a more precise marker (see “Clicker Bridging Stimulus Efficacy.” Lindsay Wood. 2007. Master’s thesis, Hunter College, New York).
2.In one instant, the clicker communicates two valuable lessons: “Whatever you were doing when you heard that sound, I like it. Do it more often,” and “Something really great is on the way!” That message has a primal emotional impact. Research has proven that the sound of the click itself activates a sense of joy and anticipation in the amygdala (primitive “reptile” part) of the brain. In her book, For The Love Of A Dog: Understanding Emotion in You and Your Best Friend, Patricia B. McConnell, PhD, recounts how researcher Wolfram Schultz trained some monkeys to press a lever for food. Right before the food came down the chute, a light (which functioned as a marker, exactly like a clicker) blinked on. Schultz was examining levels of dopamine (indicating levels of excitement) in the monkeys’ brains during this process. “Schultz found that the monkeys’ brains had the highest levels of dopamine right after the light came on, but before the food was released,” she writes. “That means that the monkeys were more excited when they were anticipating the food than they were when they actually got it. (page 221)”
3.For reactive dogs, however, something even more powerful is happening each time you click. This is illustrated by some of the dogs that initially seem to have so much trouble in reactive dog class.
Occasionally, a student who has a dog that is so stressed that he won’t eat in class for weeks reports to me, “but he loves coming to class.” That’s because, as Karen Pryor explained to me, these dogs are learning a profoundly life-altering lesson. “The experience is reinforcing,” Karen said. “These dogs may not eat the food, but they know it was offered. Because the food and the click have become paired, the click now reinforces anything they were doing when they heard it. The key insight for the dog is the realization ‘I made the click happen.’ That power over the universe, that ability to control the environment, is extremely important in all organisms, and it has to be very exciting for the dogs. Here they’ve been living in a world where the only tool they have to affect events around them is aggression [reacting inappropriately]; now they have a completely different tool kit, and nice things are happening, and they are learning to make more of them happen, and their person is reinforcing them with approval instead of always being upset and angry, and SO… class is great! The food is a nice symbol, and good information, but these dogs are not there for treats. They are there for the feeling of being successful (and without all the adrenaline) for the first time in their lives.”
Each click, then, marks a way for the dog to begin to cope with a world that seems overwhelming and where, before, he felt helpless and vulnerable or, at minimum, marginally effective in keeping perceived dangers at bay. That is incredibly empowering for reactive and aggressive dogs, many that operate from a place of fear but all that live with an abundance of stress and a lack of already-trained, socially appropriate coping mechanisms. The dog starts to feel safe. While in the past, positive trainers might have given up hope on dogs with a stress level at the beginning of a rehabilitation program that prevented them from eating, these new findings show that, with commitment and patience, there is hope for these dogs.
My own reactive dog, Ben, was unable to eat food in the presence of a trigger for the first six weeks of his rehabilitation program. Once he started eating, however, his confidence grew by leaps and bounds—sure proof that he was feeling safer and more relaxed.
4.The clicker communicates success. With success comes confidence. With confidence comes the ability to make better decisions about how to be and feel safe. A dog that feels safe is a dog that feels safe to explore. Curiosity in a previously reactive dog is a wonderful thing, and the repercussions of these learning experiences often create a domino effect in which the student sees improvements around triggers we’d never even addressed in class.
For example, Bruno was reactive to humans and dogs, but he also was afraid of water. We certainly don’t take the dogs in reactive dog class swimming, so they don’t get exposed to that trigger, if water is a trigger. Imagine Bruno’s owner’s surprise when he started exploring the creek in her backyard. Over time, Bruno developed into a dog that genuinely enjoyed the water because he began to generalize coping skills and an understanding of safety in new environments and around new triggers.
5.The click is consistently positive: “Whatever you were doing when you heard that sound, thumbs up! Do it again.” No matter who holds the clicker, even if that handler is scared and shaky, the dog gets the message that he doesn’t have to worry about the situation; he’s doing fine.
If you’ve ever owned and handled a reactive dog, you know that you may not always feel confident and that your dog tunes into these feelings of insecurity. I remember how I felt taking Ben out and about for his initial sessions to expose him to triggers. My belly rumbled and quivered, and my hands were clammy and shaky as we worked through the sessions. But every time I clicked and treated, the clicker conveyed to Ben the confidence that my voice surely could not have had at that point in our training journey. As Ben continued to get clicks, he grew more confident. It was only through watching him develop new coping skills that I felt the tension recede from my gut and my hands enough so that I could begin to relax as well. At that point when we’d prepare to embark on exposure journeys together, anticipation began to replace dread.
6.Occasionally, the click also can function as an interrupter. There are situations where a dog, stimulated by a challenging environment, is about to erupt, but the sound of the click helps him return to his “thinking brain” so that he can approach the situation in a different manner. This is not a recommended practice but more an observation of the incidental power of a click.
7.In the midst of the sometimes chaotic experiences reactive dogs and their owners may encounter, the click is a moment of clarity and sanity. It allows us to pinpoint the tiniest instant of desirable behavior, a breath between the barks, the clickable moments each dog offers at some point, even if initially rarely and briefly. Bob Bailey says it best: “The clicker is the scalpel which gives the handler the ability to carve out behavior.”
Clicker Training Games
There are two clicker-training games that—if you have the time—I recommend you have your students play before learning mechanical skills with the dogs. “The Training Game” enables players to assume the role of either the trainer or the trainee, offering valuable insights into both roles. The “Feed the Cup” game hones the mechanical skill of delivering reinforcement.
The Training Game
In The Training Game, one person assumes the role of the trainer while the other assumes the role of the learner. The trainer picks a particular behavior she plans to shape the learner to perform without using words. Instead, the learner depends on well-timed clicks to move her in the direction of completing the target behavior. Just as with training dogs, the trainer follows each click with a treat. For this game, human treats can be anything from pennies to hard candy, kidney beans, and so on. For most of your human learners, imaginary treats will work just fine.
To begin The Training Game, ask who would like to be the trainer and who would like to be the learner. Ideally, each student in the class will have the opportunity to perform both roles. Once the trainer is chosen, the learner exits the room out of earshot, and the trainer selects a behavior to train (if necessary, you may assist the student by providing a number of options). Be sure that the chosen task is a single, physically easy, and socially acceptable behavior, such as clapping hands, marching in place, or touching a clock.
Welcome the learner back into the classroom and encourage him to start “offering behavior.” The trainer then starts clicking and reinforcing the learner for those pieces of behavior that she feels are a step in the direction of the goal behavior. Try not to intervene unless it is necessary. Occasionally, learners will get frustrated and confused with the trainer’s selection of criteria. Conversely, you may see trainers getting frustrated because their learners do not appear to be offering approximations of the goal behavior. In these circumstances, the class instructor can offer assistance to the trainer and/or the learner to make better choices about which behaviors s/he might click or offer, respectively. This is a good opportunity to draw parallels to similar situations students may encounter throughout their training journey and to offer problem-solving suggestions and techniques.
Once the learner achieves the goal behavior, the game ends. I like to tell the trainer to continue the session after the learner does the target task the first time. Aim to have the learner perform the task successfully a few times before ending the session. We really want the learner to have a clear idea of what, exactly, the target behavior is and what he is getting clicked for. It might sound obvious, but I have had students who performed the desired behavior perfectly but when asked, “What were you getting clicked for?” had a totally different perception of the goal behavior than the trainer intended!
The beauty of having your students play The Training Game is that it instills empathy and a newfound respect for their reactive dogs and enables students to witness firsthand how challenging it can be to communicate with another species without the aid of language. At the conclusion of the game, ask your students:
•How did it feel to be the dog?
•What did you find most reinforcing: the click or the treat?
•How would you have felt if the trainer punished you when you made a “wrong” move?
The “Feed the Cup” Game
I like this game because it teaches students how to click and feed the dog in the proper position.
For this game, you will need a plastic cup, a clicker, and “treats” such as kidney beans, kibble, or some other object approximately the size of a treat. Ask each student to place a plastic cup on a surface that is the approximate height of her dog. A person with a Great Dane might place the cup on a table about waist height, while the owner of a Pomeranian might set the cup on the floor or on a small stool or box.
The goal of this exercise is for the student to click and feed the cup (the dog’s “mouth”) using a high rate of reinforcement. The emphasis is on quick clicks and clean delivery.
Set a timer. Ask the students to start clicking and feeding the cup at a high rate of reinforcement for 10 seconds, making sure that their clicks and treat retrieval/delivery are two distinct motions. At the end of 10 seconds, evaluate their performance. Were the students dropping treats all over the floor? Could they click first and then deliver the treat cleanly to the cup? Were their “treat hands” still while they clicked? How many treats did each student place in his or her cup? After discussing these performance metrics, you can practice again in a session of a longer length, perhaps 30 seconds.
Once the students are able to deliver treats cleanly and successfully at a high rate of reinforcement, consider adding a clickable criterion. For example, I may tell my students to look at my hand and click when I open my hand fully, extending all four fingers and my thumb, and then deliver treats to their cups. Now we are adding the critical skill of observation to the mechanical skills of clicking and delivering reinforcement efficiently and effectively.
As with all training, adjust your criteria according to the performance of your students. If everything is going well, make it harder by increasing the speed at which you are offering the clickable behavior or have your students switch hands to click and deliver treats. If your students are struggling, do not hesitate to make the task easier to set your human learners up for success, as you will with their dogs throughout the course.
Practicing Clicker Training with Real Dogs
The first night of class your new students will feel most confident and will learn the mechanical skills they need to be successful in training if they leave their reactive dogs at home. During this orientation without the students’ dogs, I like to have four or five assistants bring in their own clicker-savvy, well-trained dogs for the students to work with instead. I set up individual stations where I ask each student to teach each assistant’s dog the default sit exercise explained in the first lesson (the sit). This activity is extremely valuable for a number of reasons: first, the students are able to practice clicker mechanics with the help of the assistants so they are clear on how to proceed when they begin working with their own dogs. By training a number of different dogs, chances are each student will encounter a dog with behavioral characteristics similar to those of her own dog. If the students’ first experience in the classroom is a positive one of fun, success, and safety, you have established the tone for the remaining weeks of class, and the students will feel confident that they are being set up for learning success. Finally, and perhaps most important, the students are able to bond with each other, the assistants, and the instructor.
At the end of class, I remind students that next week they should bring more delicious treats than they think their dog could possibly eat along with their gear (two-leash system), their secondary handler, and a sense of humor. I understand that each student’s first journey into the classroom with her dog will be unique, but for all of them it will be a stressful experience. After this week’s class, however, they know the basics of using a clicker. We’ll be with them every step of the way.
Week One Mechanics
Help! I Need Four Hands!
For class (and for many of your homework exercises) you are required to have two leashes on two separate collars/harnesses/headgear. You will also have a clicker in one hand and treats to dish out and deliver to your dog. Seem overwhelming? Here is how I recommend handling the equipment:
•Hang the treat pouch on your left side, preferably near your hip or on the backside of your pants. We want you to have ready access to the treats, but we don’t want the treat pouch hanging in your dog’s face. That’s too distracting!
•Hold both leashes in your right hand, so that they hang in front of you, with the clicker, also in your right hand, pressed against the flat side of the leashes. This arrangement allows you to click with one hand and then reach easily into the pouch with your other hand and dispense treats to your dog in heel position while you’re holding on to both leashes.
Although this is the way that I recommend juggling leashes, clicker, and treats, many times students come up with a more comfortable way for themselves. Whatever works for you is fine. You will test this system in Week Two when you put it into practice.
Week One Home Management
Getting Your Dog to Say “Please”
Teaching your dog that he can earn good things for himself by offering good behaviors, rather than “punishing him into submission,” is the key to showing your dog that you are able to provide leadership within a compassionate framework. You become the leader because you control the resources. This lesson also creates a dog that is willing to work for a variety of rewards and is an enthusiastic participant in the learning process.
You should be far more concerned about reinforcing desirable behaviors and preventing rehearsal of unwanted behaviors than about establishing “dominance” over your dog. The first training technique is based on mutual respect, trust, and support; the second technique is based on a framework that is oppositional in nature. No longer do most modern trainers resort to techniques like shaking, alpha-rolling, or hanging a dog from a choke or prong collar to “show him who is boss.”
Through methods based on positive reinforcement, the dog learns that he can earn the things that he likes by offering behaviors that you like. Many reactive, impulsive dogs are used to getting their demands met by offering some version of screaming “NOW!” at their owners through barking, jumping, mouthing, and so on. It is far better to have a dog that says “Please” by offering a nice, quiet sit when he encounters something he wants. Over time, you can train your dog to offer such “default behaviors” as the Default Sit, this week’s Foundation Behavior. (A default behavior is one that has been so heavily reinforced that the dog will offer it on his own, unbidden, in situations where he is uncertain, excited, frustrated, or wanting something.)
Start at home. By asking your dog to perform easy and well-trained behaviors before giving him things he wants, he is learning that behaving well is fun! Sit, down, or hand targeting are examples of easy behaviors you may request of your dog. Keep it simple but variable. Dogs love surprises!
Beware of the Demand Disguised as a Default Behavior
If in the course of this management program, your dog that normally barks, paws, or otherwise demands attention in obnoxious ways at home switches, for instance, to sitting, that’s progress. But recognize it for what it is. Your dog is saying, “Look I am sitting. Put your book down and take me out to play!” Instead of acceding to his demand, ask him for another behavior that he can add to his repertoire of behaviors that say “Please.” In that way, the dog’s list of “Please” behaviors keeps growing while you are still the one making all of the training decisions. Of course, if you and your dog are out in the real world when he sees another dog, and he offers you a default sit, then rejoice and shower him with praise and treats!
While asking dogs to sit for their meals is a common practice in many households, you can take this practice to the next level by asking your dog to sit before getting scratches, going for a car ride, getting leashed up for a walk, or being released from his crate. For many dogs, petting and praising are extremely valuable opportunities for interaction with their guardians, so use these, too, to your advantage.
You may find it helpful to make a chart. On one side of the chart, you can list anything and everything your dog likes, that he is willing to work for—from treats to toys to praise to the opportunity to be released from his crate. On the other side of the chart, you can list all the behaviors your dog knows. Before offering your dog something from the “my dog likes” column, ask him for one or more behaviors from the “my dog knows” category. The more your dog likes a specific reinforcement, the more likely he is to work for it, so if your dog loves the chance to play with his best doggy pal, you may ask for a few easy behaviors before delivering such a high-value reward!
This week, pay special attention to all the reinforcement your dog is getting “for free.” While you may give your dog some things for “free” (never for bad behavior!), you should also start asking your dog to perform behaviors you like before granting him some of these privileges.
Week One Foundation Behavior
The Default Sit
Many reactive dogs also struggle with impulse control. These are the types of dogs that typically respond with the canine equivalent of screaming, “NOW!” when confronted with something they want; jumping, lunging, barking, or mouthing. Teaching these dogs the canine equivalent of asking “Please?” politely when confronted with something desirable can result in a huge improvement in quality of life and reduction in stress for these dogs and the people that love them. Imagine how nice it would be if, whenever your dog wanted something—a toy, being leashed for a walk, being released from the car or to his dinner bowl or to a bully stick—he sat politely and waited. Are you ready for the best part? You can teach your dog to offer a sit on his own, without being asked or cued, whenever he wants something! It’s called a default behavior.
The purpose of teaching a strong default behavior (in our class, “Sit”), is because we want the dog to be able to make good decisions for himself in the absence of instruction from you, the handler. If you happen to be out walking your dog and a neighbor stops to ask you a question, it would be nice if your dog chose to sit and wait politely as opposed to an inappropriate behavior he might have selected before class, like barking and lunging.
In her book Control Unleashed, Leslie McDevitt says “Truly conditioned default, or automatic, behaviors can override instinctive behaviors. A default behavior is one that the dog can fall back on when he is upset, frustrated, excited, or just plain wants something he’s not getting.” This behavior needs to be practiced to the point where it becomes automatic in nearly any environment.
You should begin practicing these exercises with the training equipment your dog uses in class and in a distraction-free environment. This allows both you and your dog to grow further acclimated to the tools you need to manage his behavior effectively.
You may prefer your dog’s default behavior to be a down as opposed to a sit. Both are equally effective, so use whichever is more comfortable and reliable for you and your dog. We often recommend sit simply because it is a behavior that most dogs already know somewhat well when they start attending reactive dog class. If you choose a default down as opposed to a sit, remember that lying down places dogs in a substantially more vulnerable position than sitting, so when introducing distractions, you may have to split your criteria even further than students who choose a sit.
Training the Default Position
1.Teach your dog to sit, using shaping, capturing, or targeting.
2.Ask your dog to sit.
3.As your dog sits, click, and toss a treat so he has to get up and retrieve the treat.
4.When he has finished eating the treat, if you need to, say his name to get his attention. Watch carefully as he eats his treat, because as he finishes it, he will make a decision, either to look back at you or look back at the environment. If he chooses to look at you, capture his attention with a click and a treat! If you notice his attention is wandering back into the environment, quickly say his name and be ready to click and treat when he turns in your direction to respond.
5.Repeat steps 2–4.
6.Practice this behavior 5 times.
7.Move to another location. Repeat steps 1–6.
8.Practice for two sessions, of five sits each, per day. Bonus points for keeping some treats in your pocket as you go about your day and capturing offered sits outside of regular training sessions!
9.Practice in a variety of environments to “proof” the behavior.
Note: “Proofing” is the process of teaching your dog to respond to your cues in any situation. The process involves breaking the goal behavior down into tiny component pieces, gradually increasing the difficulty level at a speed dictated by your dog’s enthusiasm and understanding (as reflected by the rate of reinforcement you are able to achieve in a given session).
Week One Emergency Behavior
Escape Plan: Getting Out of Dodge with U-Turns
Imagine you and your dog are enjoying a stroll on a country road. It is a gorgeous, sunny morning. In the distance, you note a woman who appears to be walking four dogs. At this distance, you cannot determine if these dogs are leashed or not; they are just furry dots moving quickly along the horizon.
Having lived with a reactive dog for some time, you can’t help but expect the worst. You feel the panic bubbling up inside of you. Before the reactive dog class, your dog would have honed in on the dangerous distractions ahead and would have attempted to pull you in that direction.
This week you are going to practice a new approach. Rather than moving forward, you are going to train your dog to turn 180 degrees and walk the other way. Your turning and moving in the opposite direction will cue your dog to turn and move with you, regardless of which direction you take.
If you practice this behavior to the point of fluency, you will be able to choose to avoid situations like this one and be proactive about preventing problems rather than placing yourself and your dog in a crisis situation. As a result of your efforts, your dog will see a clear path to safety: following your cue to turn and leave. You will give him the training and leadership necessary to keep him safe in what once might have been a dangerous situation.
Avoiding a reactive event successfully will feel great for you and your dog; it is empowering. Rather than letting the environment dictate the outcome of the situation, you can take the initiative to prevent stressing yourself and your dog. Click, treat for you!
One of my first reactive dog class assistants coined the term “wheeling” for the emergency behavior of turning 180 degrees and heading in the opposite direction—away from a potentially dangerous or stressful situation. She commented on how cool it was to see the dogs “wheeling around” with their handlers when they happily ran away from some of the difficult distractions we presented in class.
Initially practice these exercises in distraction-free environments so your dog can learn this behavior while remaining under his reactivity threshold. You can introduce distractions as your rate of reinforcement increases. Your initial goal should be working toward a high rate of reinforcement, where your dog is getting many clicks and treats per minute and is working with you enthusiastically. Only at that point should you begin introducing low-level distractions. Do practice with your dog wearing the equipment you are using in the classroom.
As with any well-practiced behavior, the dog should perform it with joy! To achieve this result, you will need to train the behavior in many environments and situations. Your goal behavior may have many different components: you want your dog to turn in any direction, at any speed, in any environment. With practice, your dog should be able to perform this behavior at a variety of paces, from a quick sprint to a walk even a tortoise might find too slow.
While you are training this behavior in public, do not be surprised if your neighbors think you are insane. I know mine did when I was training this exercise with Ben! We calmly walked together until, suddenly, I pretended to see another dog, abruptly wheeled around, and ran away with Ben in the opposite direction. I always completed the sequence with a rousing round of play. Don’t be surprised if other park-goers do a double take when they see you pull this maneuver, continuing on with their walks looking more than a little confused.
Training the U-turn
1.Walk forward at a brisk pace with your dog on your left.
2.Stop your forward movement.
3.Click as you stop, offering your dog a treat while he is positioned at your side.
4.Start to turn to your right. As you do so, click, giving your dog a treat as you get to the 90-degree position.
Treating at the 90-degree position is especially important to do. Typically your dog will walk with you in a straight line but may fly to the end of the leash as you begin the process of turning, which offers him an opportunity to vocalize, lunge, or otherwise fixate on the trigger. You will want to control your dog’s movement throughout the turning process, encouraging your dog to hug your side throughout the turn.
Later, when you are proofing this behavior, repeat the exercises while turning to the left.
5.Once the 180-degree turn is complete, click the dog and deliver reinforcement at your side.
6.Practice, practice, practice!
7.As the behavior becomes more reliable, you can begin to fade using treats in the beginning and middle of the turn, starting to click and treat the dog only as he completes the 180-degree turn.
8.Think about what you will use as a verbal cue. Turning of your body is a cue itself, but an additional verbal cue may provide your dog with helpful information and will likely come naturally to you, a notoriously verbal human!
Consider using whatever words come naturally to you at a moment when you are nervous or panicked. Because this is a group class situation, I ask my students to “keep it clean,” but using a cue that is both practical and comes naturally will help establish consistency.
When you first start practicing the U-turn, reinforce your dog when you stop your forward motion (left), reward again when he turns to the right with you instead of lunging forward to the end of the leash (center), and again when he completes the turn (right).