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In real life, you don’t have staged helpers–other dogs, animals, people or objects in the environment are what we call “triggers” for your reactions. However, after each successful BAT set-up, your dog has a better chance of staying relaxed in these new situations; it just takes practice. Until the BAT set-ups have a chance to take effect, it is critical that you put in extra effort to set your dog up for success. Only let your dog be around triggers in scenarios that he can handle.
You can’t control what your dog’s triggers might do on walks, but you can control where you go and what you do to keep your dog “on the beach.” If you see the trigger before your dog does, proactively arrange your distance to the trigger so that your dog will stay relaxed when he sees it. For example, cross the street or move behind a car until the trigger passes, so that when your dog sees the trigger, he can make his own choices without needing more help. Take walks in places where there are no off-leash dogs, change the time of day that you walk, etc. to set your dog up for success. If your dog is ever “in over his head” (or soon will be), call your dog and move away.
Unfortunately, sometimes you can’t move far enough away. In that case, you are in survival mode and have to distract your dog from the trigger. This can happen a lot during urban training. In the ocean beach analogy, if you can’t bring your dog back to shore right away, you need to toss out a flotation device.
There are many ways to get through this sort of situation.
Some room to move:
- Mark & Move
- Touch (nose to hand) as you walk away
- Find It (toss treats on the ground) as you move away
- Toss treats at a loose dog and move away (keep your dog’s focus if you do that)
- Click every time he looks at the trigger, then treat
- Click whenever he looks away from the trigger, then treat
- Do tricks like Touch, chin targeting, etc
- Find It in place (don’t do this with loose dogs!)
- Standing between your dog and the trigger and ask for a Watch Me
- Constantly feed your dog until the trigger goes away.
Note that when you use distraction to get through this kind of situation, stress may still build up. Distraction doesn’t necessarily give your dog any active coping skills or teach the dog that the situation is safe. However, it’s not nearly as bad as having your dog freak out. It’s safer and a lot less embarrassing!
If distracting doesn’t work, do whatever you can to hold on and keep everyone safe. Do not make things worse by trying to punish your dog. Once the trigger is gone, assess your dog’s stress level. You may need to do some Find It to help your dog relax (toss treats for him to find on the ground) or even head home. Find the safest path home to avoid any additional stress.
When you get home, brainstorm to see if you can avoid getting trapped again in the future. For example, do you have to walk that particular route? Can you drive somewhere else to walk?
Keep working at ways to set your dog up to stay calm during walks, so the training you are doing in BAT set-ups can take effect. If you do set-ups that allow your dog to experience the trigger in a stress-free way, you will see dramatic improvement. Good luck!
What other ideas have worked for you? Post below!
 It’s tempting to just stay in the city and be continuously in survival mode for your training. But if you want to stop micromanaging your dog forever, it’s really important to set up scenarios where the dog can be relaxed, even if it means driving to a location being really creative about your training locations, implementing visual barriers, considering medications, using relaxation techniques, etc.