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blackshep 01-29-2014 02:33 PM

Low threshold
Can anything be done to help a dog with a low threshold? I know this is a genetic thing, but I'm hoping I can help my dog with this.

I'm a novice handler who's been to countless obedience classes and a behaviourist and seem to be getting nowhere. I'm not the best handler, but I'm not the worst either, this just seems to be a bigger issue than I have experience to deal with.

My dog is a really good girl on her own, great off switch inside, but she tends to get pretty aroused around other dogs. I took her to puppy class, immediately into grade 1, grade 2 (disaster with all the dogs doing off leash recalls). These classes were well controlled. I took her to a behaviourist, I currently have he back in obedience classes. For the most part we manage ok, when the other dogs are on leash and quiet, but the moment any kind of activity happens my dog FREAKS OUT. It happens really fast.

For example, she is the star student at my obedience class, sometimes people ask me why we're there - until we do recalls. The other dogs running back to their owner causes a big scene, my dog is screaming and lunging and it takes her a minute or two to get calmed down again after the action has stopped. She is not unfriendly with other dogs once they have been properly introduced, but she is noisy about it at first, then she gets pretty excited trying to initiate play and whatnot (in other words, she's obnoxious about it).

I think she's a frustrated greeter, but also at the first sign of any kind of action, she loses it.

This makes the problem a bit difficult for me to correct, because I can't always anticipate when something like this is going to happen out in the real world.

Is there anything I can do? I've worked on this with her since she was a wee pup, but it has not gotten better, so obviously what I'm doing isn't working.

We tried at first feeding her high value treats to keep her attention on me, but that didn't work. We tried correcting with a pop on the prong and walking her quickly the other way, but that doesn't really work either.

She is otherwise a really wonderful dog, and I love her dearly, I'm just not sure how I can help her with this, or IF I can help her with it. It makes me sad, because it makes it difficult for her to participate in some activities that she otherwise loves to do. I'd love to get a second dog one day, but not until this is under control. Pack walks are a nightmare with her screaming the entire time and it's really difficult to find anyone who is willing to take the time to help out and go really slowly with her, because they really just want to walk their dogs, not wait around until she calms down, only to take two steps and have to stop again to wait her out.


robk 01-29-2014 02:46 PM

How old is she?

blackshep 01-29-2014 02:51 PM

Oh sorry, she's a little over a year and a half

robk 01-29-2014 03:17 PM

Ok. She is old enough to have some reasonable expectations for improvement. Have you figured out where her distance threshold is? If she is reactive to other dogs, I would find out how close she has to be to trigger her reactivity. Stay just outside that distance, while maintaining engagement then slowly creep closer as you train.

jafo220 01-29-2014 03:42 PM

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I'm working through with Cruz who also has a pretty low threshold. The advice above is good, but also watch your body language and voice control. Don't react to suddenly, keep a calm commanding voice. It helps with not escalating her reaction higher. I have to be careful during training with the voice more than anything. Also contact could also escalate her reaction. I would find a good confident trainer that can deal with a low threshold dog. I'm on my second trainer. Not all trainers share or teach the same technique, though they may be teaching the same command. So if your not progressing with your current trainer, don't be affraid to look around. Thats what I did. I was lucky enough to come across a trainer who knows GSD's. He has two working shepherds and has helped me alot.

Merciel 01-29-2014 04:06 PM

Yes, there are lots of things you can do. You probably already know what many of them are, at least in theory.

I would guess that where you're running into problems is in (1) translating theory to practice; and (2) being consistent about that practice, and moving upward in sufficiently gradual increments that your dog can be successful at each step.

If you're practicing some version of "give the dog a cookie for not reacting," and then switching to prong pops when you're not seeing results from the first method, and not seeing results with that either, then my blind guess is that you're not effectively utilizing either method, let alone both in combination.

It sounds from this post like you probably aren't working your dog under threshold long enough before exposing her to situations that are above what she can successfully handle. Why are you doing "pack walks" with a dog who spends the entire time screaming at the other dogs? What is the goal there?

I realize this isn't a very helpful post and I'm vacillating on whether to even hit "submit" on it or not, but... anyway, yes, there are things you can do, and it is possible to achieve a certain amount of improvement with a dog who's easily over-aroused and/or has little impulse control. How far you can take it depends on you and the dog.

But yes, I know people who have taken their reactive dogs to highly successful careers in various sports. It isn't easy (in fact it's really hard and takes a bunch of work and leads to almost as much whining and frustration as I heap upon my fearful dog) but it's certainly possible.

Blanketback 01-29-2014 04:17 PM

Have you ever tried bringing a tug with you on the pack walks? This worked perfectly for my little screamer. He also does so much better after he's been running around and burns off some of that energy.

onyx'girl 01-29-2014 07:33 PM

Control Unleashed exercises help dogs with reactivity.

blackshep 01-30-2014 07:39 AM

Thanks guys.

Merciel, you're right in that I have been given advice on different ways of handling it, so I'm probably not being consistent. I guess the theory was, to try and distract her with food to avoid the outburst, but then correct her when the outburst comes.

When I say pack walks, I mean a couple of times I've tried it and it's been a leashed walk. She's a bit better if she's out in front. I can't even go on a hike with just one other dog without her screaming. I have never tried bringing a tug, that is a good idea, it might be worth a try.

It's difficult to find where her distance is, I think it's quite far, and not sure if it's possible to get further away in a training hall. I will speak to my new instructor and see if they can perhaps warn me before starting recalls with the other dogs in my class (there are only 2 or 3 others) and move them to the far end and see if it helps.

Should I try tugging with her when they are going to do a recall with the other dogs? I have a feeling she'll just spit the tug and still react, but I can try it if you think it's a good idea.

onxy, I'll check out that link, thanks :)

Merciel 01-30-2014 12:46 PM


Originally Posted by blackshep (Post 4932314)
I guess the theory was, to try and distract her with food to avoid the outburst, but then correct her when the outburst comes.

It's hard to say without actually seeing a session in action, but I suspect that's very likely to be setting your dog up for failure and worsening your problem, not improving anything.

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