Wednesday, June 30, 2010

What is Dog Reactivity Part 2- Maizey's Reactivity Defined

Maizey is daily teaching me about reactivity. An interesting part of Maizey's reactivity has required me to learn to distinguish between true reactivity and a very interesting behavior chain of "pretend reactivity".

The first thing I noticed her reacting to was other dogs. This started in her puppy class. She reacts instantly to a strange dog, but once they meet she calms noticably and over time will become comfortable.

Maizey's true reactivity has now transferred to many animals from cows to horses and even a moose! The most obvious sign of true reactivity in Maizey is what earned her the title "princess-of--the-shrill-bark". It is a bark that is higher pitched and more intense than her normal bark.

Body posture is also a very evident signal in that she leans into the stimuli, stretching her body forward to the point where from nose to tail you could almost draw horizontal line down the length of her body. This was an important sign for me to pick up on as when I see that posture start I am learning how to help her stop the reacting before it escalates.

The reactive posture looks like this:
photo taken 9/2009 at 9 months old
You can see how she is hunched back on her haunches yet at the same time stretching toward the trigger. Her tail is a key signal here because it is stiff at the base and standing straight out from her body.

This is the face of one stressed out Maizey
photo taken 9/2009 @ 9 months old
Signs of stress can be seen in the tenseness of her jaw and what we call "whale eye" or "pop eye".

Another less obvious sign shows up in a general jumpiness. This can show up even in completely calm situations, like when she is laying on the bed, hears a strange noise and visibly jumps as if startled. But it also manifests itself in true reactivity around other dogs. Mainly this shows up as her running and playing with all appearance of calm, but she startles easily at the other dogs movement and responds with a twitch, or jump. Then I know that she is still feeling stressed but on a much smaller scale and she is managing it herself.

For my own record keeping purposes I measure what I observe in her on a 0-10 scale. Its technically called the "Maymay can't think anymore, help me Crazymomlady my brain is exploding" reactive scale. As is sits better on the tongue and the typing fingers, we'll just call it the "reactive maymay scale" The stretched out princess-of-the-shrill-bark gets a 9-10/10 on the reactive maymay scale. Depending on other signs the jumpiness may get as low as a 2/10.

Knowing these signs, and many others, has an interesting place in our calming process because Maizey has learned a fascinating behavior chain that starts with barking. It looks like this: see something, bark, look at crazymomlady in an imitation 'watch', get a treat, immediately go back to barking and start the whole thing over again.

This is "pretend reactivity". She is not really anxious over anything. She has simply learned, because I unwittingly taught her this and she is simply brilliant, that "watching" mom after barking gets rewarded. Thus you can see how discerning between real, ("help crazymomlady lady I'm flipping out and can't calm down") and pretend, ("oh good crazymomlady wants to play that game where I make an unholy racket over nothing and she gives me treats") reactivity has become very important in our life.

So what does you 4legged friend look like when reacting to something? What are the signs you see  in them when they see something they aren't happy with?

You will see just how vital it is to accurately read your reactive 4legged friend when you check back tomorrow for "What is Dog Reactivity Part 3- Anecdotal Evidence Illustrates Maizey's Reactivity."


BZ Training said...

I've found I can usually tell the real from the trained "worry" by how the boys behave once I've told them to Sit or Down while I go get the cookies.

If they are REALLY concerned they'll continue to look in the direction of the Worrisome Thing even when I show up with cookies, and you might even get a low "boof" (yes, with a 'b') out of one or the other.

If they are just making a racket because I've trained them to (and I happen to like them making a SHORT racket when someone knocks on the door so I do reward it) then they'll be staring right at me the whole time and won't make another peep.

So princess goes more shrill as she gets worried? My boys do "how low can you go"... and Beau can get REALLY low. What does Meeka do?

Great Post!

katie said...

Hi Kathleen, interesting what you mention about where your boys focus when worried. It's another thing I use to measure Maizey's stress-when she's over the top she won't even touch treats and can't look away from the trigger.

Meeka? I can't remember ever seeing her what I would consider worried. She rarely barks at all except at airplanes of course!LOL She does have what we call her "big dog bark" when she alerts to something and really wants to let whatever it is know she sees it. It's a BIG deep loud bark that you certainly can't miss! But she does it so rarely that usually when I hear that bark I jump ten feet in the air!LOL She is just such a stable girl.

thanks for reading and commenting I'm really interested to know how others read their pups.:)

Crystal said...

I have tried all day to leave a comment! And I keep getting errors!!

I love that picture- it really shows the conflicted nature of reactivity.

I am also so glad to hear I'm not alone in teaching the lunge-n-snark for cookies. Maisy can actually snark and play bow at the same time. *sigh* What are you doing to fix that?

Crystal said...

Yay! It posted!!

katie said...

hi crystal! I would love to have you expand on the idea of "conflicted nature of reactivity." To me that really captures the essence of the picture of her face.

As for how to fix the snark for cookies I will be covering that in a future post, but in short I no longer reinforce for offers, such as the watch. Instead when she reorients after barking I ask for several other behaviors that are very easy for her even in a reactive state. That way I can reward what I ask for and keep her attention longer. More on this to come.

Thanks for commenting! Sorry you had some problems.

Love My Cavaliers said...

This is such interesting material. I've never thought of rewarding the dogs for barking. I'm always trying to stop them from barking because I worry it's annoying the neighbours. They have this thing they do lately and it's only started this past two months where when I get home from being out (and I know they've been sleeping by the back fence waiting for me to return), they will run inside to say hello, check every room to see who else is home and then run straight back outside and go and bark at the neighbours dogs under the side fence. This will go on until I call them inside and lock them in for at least 15 minutes or until they've forgotten about it and will then calmly go outside again. I really need to try this treating thing that you do. Not sure if I really understand all your terminology or how you do it. Will have to reread it all again from Step 1. But thank you, you've given me an idea.

Crystal said...

Re: the "conflicted nature of reactivity"...

Since reactivity is a stress-based response, most reactive dogs want the thing that is stressing them out to go away. A lot of dogs will simply leave on their own, but if they are on leash, or otherwise prohibited from leaving, they can't get out of the stressful situation. In that case, they make a big display (barking, lunging, growling, etc.) in hopes that the stressful thing will choose to leave instead. And, this usually works. I mean, who is going to stick around a growling dog? Not many people...

So, while they really don't want to interact with the other dog (or whatever), they are willing to fake it and look scarier, if that makes sense... I think that comes through really clearly in your picture. Maizey is leaning forward (being offensive/saying "go away") but still behind the vertical/leaning back (essentially saying, I'd like to leave this situation now).

Now, I'm not sure about this next part, just throwing it out there because I think it's interesting: My Maisy was very friendly as a puppy- outgoing and wanted to meet EVERYBODY- which is why I think that PART of her reactivity is frustration/barrier based. Since she couldn't get to her desired object (other dog, chasing fast moving objects, etc.), I think her frustration came out as lunging/barking/growling because that was a successful behavior in the past. In her case, SOME of her reactivity is conflicted in the sense that she wants to go say hi, but can't, so it comes out sideways and backwards as reactivity.

That isn't Maisy's whole deal, of course: my trainer believes she's genetically fearful (I agree), and she didn't get socialized well (I got her at 14 weeks- as the socialization window was closing- and she was born in a puppy mill). But I do think that lack of impulse control/barrier frustration has contributed to her reactive behavior. In fact, a lot of what I'm seeing now- after building her confidence and doing lots of CC/DS- is more of the frustrated reactivity than truly stressed reactivity.

katie said...

For Jasper and Marley's Mum, glad you are enjoying the posts! Just a note-Maizey was not getting rewarded for barking, but for offering a "watch" AFTER reactively barking. And now she is not getting rewarded for any offers after reacting.

You may already know, but in clicker training an "offer" is when the dog offers a behavior you haven't asked for. This is a very good thing for shaping and clicker training, but in the case of maizey's pretend reactivity she was taking control by barking and then giving the behavior she thought I would pay her for. She no longer gets that freedom to choose. She still gets rewarded but only for doing what I ask her to do after she stops barking. Sorry if this wasn't clear.

Keep reading and hopefully this will all become more clear. One of my next posts will be on the skills we are learning and using to calm reactive and pretend reactive barking. Thanks for commenting!

katie said...

crystal-wonderful comment thanks for the further explanation, much better than I put it in the first place! I will be commenting more on this when not in such a crazy weekend as this. Thanks for your thoughts. Your blog is great!

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Lessons From and For 4 Legs has moved to a new address: Where we will continue to learn life's lessons from my little Cavalier King Charles Spaniel's, Maizey and Magnus. Don't miss Meeka's lessons too, by checking the archives of my big girl rescue Rottie. They all teach me so much!