[00:00:00] Corey McCusker: Hello, dog lovers, and welcome to Muttz with Mannerz™ Canine Academy Podcast, where we’ll share dog training tips and educational information to help you raise your pup, young or old, so they can be a loving part of your family and your community for life. I’m your host, Corey McCusker, Canine Coach, and today I’m thrilled to have with me, Karen Baxter, dog trainer and behavior consultant. I’m welcoming back Karen as she’s done a few podcasts with me in the past. Let me just tell you a bit about her. Karen is the owner and head behaviour consultant at Unified K9 Behaviour Centre, which she founded in 2022. Karen’s training philosophy is, one size does not fit all. And true to the Unified K9 difference, tailors her training protocols and or treatment plans to the needs of the dog and the lifestyle and goals of the dog’s owner. Her positive and fair techniques are designed to bring out enthusiasm in each dog so they learn to love training which results in building stronger relationships with their humans based on trust. She has a diploma in Canine Science Technology and is a licensed Canine Complexity Consultant. As well, she is certified as a dog behavior consultant by the International Association of Behavior Consultants. And she is a certified professional dog trainer. Karen has also studied and completed training on the practical application of behavioral adjustment training for fearful, anxious, and aggressive dogs and aggressive dog conflict resolution with behavioralist and author, Cheryl Smith, and has completed the Master Aggression course with world renowned behavior consultant and expert on dog aggression, Michael Shikashio. Her continuing education and experience has ensured Karen has developed expertise in dog psychological issues manifesting themselves as anxiety or aggression. Karen’s training specialties include Rally Obedience, Agility, working dogs, tracking, scent work, and puppy foundations. She is a member of the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants, the Agility Association of Canada, the Canadian Association for Professional Dog Trainers, and is certified in Pet First Aid and CPR. Karen lives in York Region with her dogs, most of which compete in Obedience, Agility, and Rally Obedience. Her dogs have reached Master Levels in all sports. Welcome back, Karen!
[00:02:30] Karen Baxter: Thanks, Corey.
[00:02:30] Corey McCusker: That’s a lot and I’m so proud of you, I’m so glad you’re here and it’s great that you are one of my colleagues, that you’re always there to support me. So I always love chatting with you about my favourite topic, dogs. So today what I want to discuss is something that I get approached about a lot and I’m sure you do, and it can occur with some dogs while we’re taking them out for a walk on leash. And it can be difficult for owners to deal with. The topic I want to discuss today is reactivity on leash. The goal for most owners is that they get their dog and they can take their dog for a nice leisurely stroll without getting pulled and dragged. Or that their dog reacts negatively if another person or dog comes close. So, Karen, let’s jump right into this topic and let’s start with what is reactivity? For those listeners, what does that exactly mean?
[00:03:27] Karen Baxter: That’s a really good question. It’s actually reactivity is one of those terms that kind of gets tossed around as a general “catch all” phrase. So it’s really important that we define it when you’re working with it. So to me, reactivity is when your dog overreacts emotionally to something in the environment when they’re walking with you, right? So not necessarily on a leash, but usually it occurs on a leash. And it is not always aggressive, but it can easily appear to be and can lead to an aggressive response from a dog because they are having an emotional response to something. That’s about the, that’s about the best way to define it.
[00:04:12] Corey McCusker: Yeah, and, and I think that’s a really good definition. And I like that you, you know, you mentioned emotional, because I think that’s a lot of the times we forget what’s going on and not we, I mean, sometimes you’re not realizing what’s going on and they can’t tell us what’s going on. I had, I mean, I rescue dogs, many of them. I love them. If I can help one out, it’s great. And I remember I had gotten a Great Dane, Kira. And she was lovely. She was a beautiful Black Boston. She was about a year, when I got her and, she would be extremely reactive on leash. And so here’s me, little petite Corey, and here’s me with my big dog. And at that time, I had just gotten into looking into doing the dog training or learning more because of what was happening with her. And she would react, and she was a big dog and she wouldn’t just react to dogs. She reacted to people also. So I when I was walking down the road, not only was I waiting for her emotions to take in and fire off, but it was also affecting my emotions. So, Karen, can you share your expertise on why does it happen? Why is that reactivity happening on the end of the leash?
[00:05:29] Karen Baxter: Oh, yes. The easiest way to define that, like you said, we can’t ask the dogs how they’re feeling. So it’s a little bit of a detective work when you’re working with these dogs. But generally speaking, if you think about how dogs use behavior to navigate the world, there is a function to the behavior. There’s something, they’re doing it for a reason There’s got to be something that they’re trying to accomplish. In many cases They are trying to create distance from something in the environment, or they are frustrated because they are actually aroused and they maybe want to go and investigate something or see something and the leash restriction, right, is holding them back. So because it’s holding them back, they get frustrated, and I don’t know about you, but when I’m frustrated, I know how it makes me feel. I feel angry. So, the appearance of my emotional outburst is that I’m angry, but really what it is is I’m frustrated. So, it’s similar for the dogs. Biologically, their response to that frustration is similar to us when we get frustrated and it affects the same area in the brain. So they get frustrated and that emotion has to come out somewhere. So, you know, it comes out outwardly usually as, you know, lunging, barking, growling, snarling, you know, those types of behaviors. So it can look really aggressive and really it’s that the dog is just frustrated. And then you have the other side where the dog actually is startled or a bit insecure or nervous or afraid of something in the environment. So they will react outwardly displaying and communicating their emotion of, I don’t really want to get any closer to the person, the dog, the item in the environment that is making me feel a bit insecure. So they’ll do that to try and create that distance in space so that they don’t have to confront whatever they’re afraid of.
[00:07:28] Corey McCusker: And is it always afraid of, because you mentioned arousal?
[00:07:34] Karen Baxter: The arousal to me is where the frustration comes into play, right? Because if they’re aroused, and arousal is one of those things, it’s another one of those “catch all” phrases, right? So arousal is their body’s expression of an adrenaline rush in their body, right? So they get adrenaline pumping through their veins, right? And that adrenaline comes out outwardly where they look really excited or they look really frustrated or they look really angry, right? And it’s the adrenaline and their expression of that adrenaline, right, in an outward, in an outward picture. And if they have a leash on them, we’ve really restricted them from expressing it naturally.
[00:08:15] Corey McCusker: Yeah.
[00:08:15] Karen Baxter: Right. So, you know, that’s where the frustration piece can come in and the arousal can go up even higher because they get stressed out being held back on the leash. And the stress response is more adrenaline and more cortisol, right? So there’s more things going on inside their body. Then on top of that, you have the human side of that leash, right? So, as people, the people have a learning history as well. So now they see the thing that the dog often gets afraid of, or overly aroused about, or gets frustrated when they see it, and the people start reacting before the dog does, right? We start tightening up on our leash. We think, oh boy, there comes some . . . Yeah, we outwardly will, you know, sigh or take a breath differently, our muscles will tighten up and that all is information to the dog, right? So as soon as we do that, the dog is going to get the information that, ah, that dog, there must be a dog in the environment or there must be a person or whatever it is that triggers the dog.
[00:09:17] Corey McCusker: Exactly. And that’s again, I think that’s a really good point that you mentioned because sometimes the human can be the one that triggers it, before they even see the dog or whatever it is, and I think that’s, I mean, something we’re probably going to touch on a little bit. But that’s again, it’s, it’s really important that the human, gets a grip or, or talk about, and I love that you, mentioned, you know, and related to us when we get frustrated and I get frustrated a lot. So, and how we react. So again, the dog is definitely going to want to release that frustration and that’s where we can see it with the reactivity on leash, which yeah, definitely.
[00:09:59] Karen Baxter: So I know for us, when we are working with reactivity, right, we work on both sides of the leash, right? We’re not blaming the people, the people are reacting normally and biologically as well, right? They’re, they have a learning history with this dog, right? And so their reaction is completely normal. It’s completely expected and normal. And so, helping people, because people at least we can speak to and we can talk to them about changing their behavior, whereas we can’t really talk to the dog. We have to teach the dog or show, change the management of the situation so that the dog doesn’t react, right? So, but with people we can work on helping them feel empowered, have better skills, so they feel like they have more control, right? And help keep them calm. And that will help keep the dog calm.
[00:10:47] Corey McCusker: Yeah, and at Muttz we’re all about enriching both ends of the leash and that’s why I’m really glad that you mentioned the human and what we can do. So, can we get into some of the management pieces, if somebody does have a dog that is showing leash reactivity. What are some of the tips or where, what should they do?
[00:11:07] Karen Baxter: When we start with reactive dogs, the first thing we do is put in management and you have to think safety as well, right? It has to be safe for the people, safe for the dogs, safe for other dogs and people in the environment, right? So you have to make sure that you’re using properly fitted equipment that the dog can’t get out of, right? Because If the human feels like that dog could possibly get out of it, it’s going to make the human feel really unsure and insecure. So we definitely don’t want the dog to get loose if they’re frustrated because the dog can do something silly simply because they’re expressing an emotion in the moment. They may not do that normally, but if they’ve been really held back by a leash, they can explode, right? And they can do something silly. So we want to make sure they’re not going to break free. The tools should be something that the human feels like they can handle the dog, right? So if the human feels like on a regular collar, Oh boy, I can’t handle that dog because he’s going to pull me off my feet. You know, perhaps they need to invest in a good quality, no pull harness, or, a head halter or whatever tool they feel comfortable with. You know, of course, hopefully they’re working with a professional, so the professional should be able to help them pick the right tools to use. Definitely going to like a reactive dog specialist clinic, a workshop, any of those types of things where you’re going to learn more about how dogs react, why they react and how you can help them is going to help. We always recommend too, if you know there’s a trigger in the environment that your dog is going to explode when they get too close to it, if you see it in the environment, just very calmly and casually create some distance. Go the other direction and, put the, go behind a car or something so that the dog is not feeling confronted by the dog or the person in the environment at that moment. It’s safer, right? Because there’s no chance of the dog actually reaching that dog or person. And, we as humans sometimes, because we get conditioned too, we have patterns just like dogs do. And sometimes if we always walk our dog on the left hand side and something is coming by towards us when the dog is on our left, and the dog is going to be openly exposed to that person or dog, because we’re so conditioned to walk them on the left, we forget that we can actually switch them to the other side. We can put them on the other side and put our bodies between them and whatever it is that they’re trying to create some distance from. So, just little tricks like that, making sure, think about how that dog’s going to feel. Anytime you’re trying to change an emotion in any living organism, in our case, dogs, we’ve got to make sure they’re not practicing and experiencing that negative emotion on a regular basis. Because if they are, we are going to have a lot of difficulty changing it, right? So if you’re trying to change the emotion, then you have to prevent the practicing of the emotion. So I’m not going to continually expose my dog to those situations where they feel completely exposed and have to react, right? I’m going to change my place that I walk or I’m going to walk in a quieter area. I will go do natural walking only. So I’m going to go on a trail somewhere or, someplace quiet, you know, a field of some sort and walk my dog there and not in the city streets where there’s lots of triggers around. I’m going to change the time of day that I’m going to walk my dog. So it’s not as busy out there. So you’re going to avoid right before school and dinnertime, for instance, right? You know, and that is just the management piece. So that’s the pieces that I’m . . . So it’s equipment, it’s training and expertise, get more expertise. And in the meantime, try and keep your dog as calm as possible. So avoid exposing them to the things that are going to get them upset in the first place.
[00:15:03] Corey McCusker: And you mentioned equipment, I will make sure in the show notes here that we put a couple links so that we can see some of the equipment that we would recommend. Because I think too, is the equipment is definitely a helpful management tool. And there’s so much out there in the market that some are good, some aren’t. And I mean, that’s where I mean, properly fit it. If you’re not sure with your dog, go to a professional trainer or somebody that you know to make sure that it is properly fitted. Because that’s again, I think you mentioned, if they get out of that equipment, well, sorry, you’ve just created a situation that you don’t want. So yeah . . . And Karen, I want you just to touch on, because I know you do some clinics, can you touch on some of the ones that you do?
[00:15:48] Karen Baxter: So we actually, yeah, we do one called Rough to Regal, which is a reactive dog clinic. It is done predominantly outdoors because we want to create that distance. We don’t want dogs reacting as soon as they come into the space. So we have a way of managing it so the dogs are not reacting the moment they show up, right? And, it’s four weeks. It’s, all our clinics are a four week, two hours each session clinic, and it focuses strictly on the causes and interventions for leash reactivity. And our interventions are based on, like I said, both the human and the dog. So we get the human strategies. So they can learn how to calm themselves down so that they are not tensing up and reacting themselves. And we give the dogs some coping skills and strategies so that they also can learn how to function around other dogs and other people or whatever their trigger is, without the need to react. We do a lot of trust building exercises between them and their humans, so that the dog learns to rely on their people more than having to take it into their own hands, right?
[00:16:57] Corey McCusker: No, it’s so true. And I think that’s true too. It’s when the dog does learn and you build that trust and bond, they look to you for like, okay, is this okay or whatever? And I think that’s really where it, once you have that, it’s great. Do you have any workshops?
[00:17:13] Karen Baxter: Yes. So we have a Reactive Dog workshop, which is just the information piece, it’s with no dogs, it just is a workshop to teach people about how, why dogs react, what does reactivity look like, and we do give homework in those workshops for people to take home, some strategies and tips so they can begin the foundations, that are going to be needed to continue working on reactivity. It’s like a precursor to doing a clinic, right? You can do the workshop as well.
[00:17:42] Corey McCusker: Excellent. And, and what we can do is provide the link to your website so that they can go and find out more about that information, which is great. And with myself, we do a number of training in that. I mean, it all is based on where it is with the reactivity. If it’s something, you know, that we feel that we could do a bit, but I also know that once the dogs have worked on it a bit and they do want some safe space to go walking, we’ve got our community walks, which I actually will attend to make sure that the dogs are all, you know, in the safe space and not too close and spaced out. So that’s another thing that, you know, if that is an option for anyone in our area too.
[00:18:22] Karen Baxter: It’s a good opportunity to practice, I’d say.
[00:18:24] Corey McCusker: It is a good opportunity. And again, it’s a really good exercise in socialization, I say, and one of the things I want to also make sure that I’m doing, similar to you is, I’m creating safe space, not only for the dogs, but safe space for when the owners come and they have a dog like that may be reactive or that may just be a little bit barky on a walk, that they can come and they feel that they’re supported by other dog owners and they’re not isolated. Because that’s what can happen is if you do have a reactive dog, you do feel isolated on your walk. It’s not like you can go and talk to people or that you’re kind of picking those right times that it’s not busy. And, and so it’s great if they can work with a professional, get to a point where they are feeling safe, the dog and the owner walking in the community because walking your dog is great exercise for them, for us. So yeah, it’s definitely something that, we want to get people to be able to do. So, Karen, what are some final tips or words of advice for owners that we can leave them with today?
[00:19:26] Karen Baxter: Well, I like what you were saying about providing the safe space. I want people to realize that the professionals who work on reactivity, most of us realize how embarrassing it can be and how frustrating it can be for the humans, right, when they have a dog that’s reactive. That’s really important for people to hear that message because a lot of times when you feel embarrassed and you have a dog like that, and like you said, it’s very isolating and often people will just, they’ll just keep the dog in or they’ll just manage it as best they can and they’ll be too embarrassed to seek out help, right? So know that we don’t blame you. It’s not your fault and there’s definitely help out there so you can get some help from qualified people that will be able to give you strategies and tools and help, help you get your dog through this emotional upheaval they have every time they walk out the door. So, and yeah, and then literally just do what you feel you need to do to keep yourself and your dog safe, right?That, that’s the number one thing you have to do, keep yourself and your dog safe, and therefore everybody and everything in the community as well, right?
[00:20:42] Corey McCusker: Exactly.
[00:20:43] Karen Baxter: Yeah, yeah.
[00:20:44] Corey McCusker: Definitely. That’s great. Thank you so much. I know how busy you are. I know you’re working on a lot of interesting things and maybe I’ll have you back on another podcast and we’ll share some of those, but thanks so much because I mean, you are one of the experts in the field that I love going to, to get advice from, and I love all the clinics and workshops that you do. So we really appreciate it. If you are interested in learning more about Karen or information about Karen, you can go to her website, Unified K9 Behaviour Centre’s website is www. unifiedk9.ca. And we’ll make sure we provide it in the show notes along with some other resources on equipment. And if you’re looking for more information on Muttz with Mannerz™, you can go to our website, www.muttzwithmannerz.com. If you are interested in hearing future podcasts on specific topics, you can email us at info @muttzwithmannerz.com. Karen, thank you so much today for your valuable information and it is always a pleasure talking to you, and thank you for those listening today. We hope we’ve provided you with some tips on how you can help your dog if they’re reactive on leash or just learn more about dogs.