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Five steps forward......

Do you feel like sometimes you manage to make progress with your reactive dog, you have a really good week where he seems to be showing positive signs in the right direction, and then BANG! You have the day from hell. As humans, we are very good at concentrating on the negative, so this one bad day out of five is all we can focus on thereafter. The fact that our dog managed well during the week when faced with several challenging situations, which on their own would have normally been hard for your dog to cope with, he managed to go four days without a bad episode. So why oh why has he spoilt it and had a really terrible day on the fifth?

There could be lots of reasons, but I bet the main one is the build-up of stress. You see every time your dog managed to stay calmer or behave less reactive around the trigger, he has to try extremely hard to suppress those emotions and urges to defend and protect. Over the four days, he had built up stress as a result. If given no outlet for this then we will end up with an explosion.

Imagine adding fuel to a fuel can and having a match ready to light it. If the fuel can is only a quarter full when the match hits it the explosion will be pretty low level. HOWEVER, if the can is full and the match hits it. GAME OVER!

So what can you do?

Give your dog a break. Yes he may have done a great job when faced with a trigger today or placed into an environment he usually struggles with, but do not see that as a sign that you can then push him forward. see it as an amazing win, acknowledge that it took your dog all of his willpower and strength to NOT react or react less severely, and then expect nothing more from him.

Give him an outlet. Having managed to suppress his reactive behavior he will need to release his stress. give him fun activities to do that help release happy hormones, like accomplishing a new obedience cue or trick.

Sniff and lick your way to a stress-free dog. It is proven that sniffing and licking for our dogs is the best calming therapy we can provide. give him a frozen Licki mat, or hide treats around the garden to help him decompress.

Before you attempt to expose your dog to the trigger again have a few days away from it. Small, positive, regular (but short) exposure at a distance where your dog is under threshold is key to success.

Also, to help you with your mindset, make a diary or a chart regarding how your dog coped on each day. This will help you to focus on the four good days, not the one bad day.

Take the pressure off of you and your dog also by realizing and accepting you will both have off days.

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