Sometimes you know something, but you don’t know you know it! Lucy has always been leash reactive to some dogs. I had not been able to extinguish this behaviour with the e-collar, although I knew it was the right tool for the job. I was sure I was the problem, but I didn’t know what I was doing wrong.
Even though I knew the concept of turning up the e-collar when a lower level wasn’t working, I usually used Lucy’s “working level” for all corrections. This was because it was working perfectly for everything except her leash reactivity. So, because of this, I didn’t use what I already knew from e-collar obedience class… and that is to raise the level on the e-collar! But, one day when I was watching dog training videos on TheGoodDog.net, I had an “Aha” moment. Until that second, I just hadn’t put two and two together! Sean mentioned that, in situations where the distraction is of such a high reward value to the dog (targeting another dog, chasing a squirrel, for example), using a low level or working level is simply nagging the dog; it’s not telling the dog that you really mean business.
So, next time we were on our walk and I saw Lucy flick her ears forward and wrinkle her forehead (a sure sign she was targeting another dog), I moved the level from a 40 on the Dogtra IQ up to 80. The Dogtra IQ is a “soft” e-collar, so, while 40 sounds like a high working level, it’s not. However, 80 was the magic number: Lucy really got the message. She turned sharply away from the other dog and instantly put her ears back into a relaxed position. Now she turns her head away from most dogs (which for her is the right decision!). We have had only three incidents where she snapped at other dogs since then… and they were due to my failure to provide her with enough space or from me not catching her reaction in time. Ya gotta be quick, folks! You have to correct your dog the nanosecond it shows too much interest in the other dog. Lucy will give a dog a quick glance with ears relaxed and I do not correct that. Anything more than that, though, and I’m on that button! I am using a lower level now (60-70), but still one that means business. I know Lucy remembers that level 80 correction!
The interesting this is… Lucy seems to have found more dogs to be friends with! She has had some amazing play sessions with dogs I am pretty sure she would have targeted in the past. The other day she played with a six-month old puppy. Lucy normally does not like puppies. Weird, eh? She is also more obedient overall as we are also working on Sean O’Shea’s Good Dog Foundation Program. I am going to have to start thinking of Lucy in different terms soon. No more, “She doesn’t like puppies.” And so on…
I am so happy to have this issue under control. It might take a few months before the behaviour has completely extinguished, but I’m definitely up for the job! [Update June 2, 2015: It’s now a few weeks later and Lucy’s leash reactivity is a thing of the past!]