Hello we have a 4 year old fixed 126lb American bulldog, Dylan. He is a love bug, a little unaware of his size and strength but a love bug! We recently tried to rescue a pitbull mix from a shelter and when they met all seems fine, but when they were off leash he was attacked by the little dog :( he is now very dog reactive and wjhen we walk a trainer suggested we use a clicker to keep him in check from pulling towards other dogs. When we return from the walks he drools uncontroably for a few hours! I rushed him to the vet and they did blood tests but all was normal. any suggestions! Is he stressed is it the noise from the clicker?
Thank you in advance )
Thank you for your question.
The excessive drooling you saw is a physiological response to increased stress. There are several things that occur when a dog (or human - really all mammals) is feeling stress, anxiety, fear or panic. First, there's a major shot of adrenalin and cortisol (stress hormone) that gets pumped through the system. It's these hormones that actually cause the visible signs of stress/panic/anxiety. And the body will continue to pump these hormones through the system until such time that the individual feels safe again, then slowly the hormones reduce. Visible signs of stress/anxiety/fear/panic include increased heart rate, increased respiration (breathing faster, often shallower), dilated pupils, decreased appetite (refusal to eat), but sometimes increased drooling which goes with the increased pulse, and frequently you'll see him trembling when he's clearly not cold. Think of a moment when you nearly got in a car accident, or someone snuck up behind you and startled you. You jump and then your hands start to tremble, you can feel your heart beating fast (and sometimes "in your throat")... and it can take minutes before your body finally settles back into calm. The lingering effect of that startle is the result of adrenalin and cortisol racing through your system and it take some time before it decreases again to normal levels.
Did the trainer explain how to use a clicker? How to teach Dylan what it means, when/how to use it? Were you taught that the sound of the click MUST ALWAYS BE FOLLOWED IMMEDIATELY BY FOOD? You didn't indicate in your question if the trainer you spoke to explained any of this, so I'm going to run through it quickly here.
Initially the sound of the click means nothing to a dog. It's just some random noise. But, if each time we click the clicker, it's followed by a tasty bite of food, very quickly Dylan will become "conditioned to the clicker." This means that the sound of the click reliably predicts that food is about to arrive. Once that happens, the clicker will evoke the same response as the food itself.
NOTE: if you stop presenting food after every click, the association between the click and the food will extinguish, meaning the sound will lose its meaning. So we must always follow the click with a food reward in order for this to work.
So, the idea behind using a clicker to help your dog be calm when out on walks is that we click him for NOT reacting to other dogs and then immediately follow that with food. As gets practice seeing another dog and NOT reacting, and you click and give him a tasty tidbit, he will become more and more relaxed at the sight of dogs because now the sight of the dog will reliably predict that a click is coming - and the click reliably predicts food! I hope this is making sense...
But, here's a major component to this type of work. You can't (CANNOT) just take him directly into the heart of the environment, click and assume he'll be OK. If he's reacting to dogs when on leash, you must start out this work at a distance where he NOTICES the other dog, BUT DOES NOT REACT to them. It's crucial that we keep him "under threshold," which means that he is not panicked and reacting. The best learning occurs when he is still under that panic point and can focus on you.
So we begin first by teaching him what the clicker means - in the quiet and distraction free space of your home. We also teach him to focus on us by teaching him the command "focus". We tell him "focus" and then lure him with a treat from his nose to our own - so that his eyes are on our face. Once he looks at us, we click the clicker so he knows that he just did something that earns a treat - and we give the treat. We build up this skill without distractions until we can ask him to to Focus from across the room and he will turn to face us. Then we practice with small distractions, such as when he's engaged with a toy in your house, or when he's sniffing around the back yard, etc.
Now we have some tools to use. First, we need to stay far enough away from other dogs that he notices them, but does not start reacting. Only Dylan can tell you how far that is. It may be a car length or it may be a football field... When he is able to Focus on you on request, you're at a good distance. So, as a dog goes by, make sure he notices the dog, and then tell him Focus and when he does, CLICK and TREAT. When you start to see Dylan notice the dog and look at you BEFORE you can tell him to Focus, you're on the right track. Stay at that distance until he demonstrates that 8 out of 10 times he will look to you without being asked - when he does look at you, CLICK and TREAT!!!!! Once you get a success rate of 8 out of 10 dogs passing by, it's time to move closer. The first time, it may only be a foot or so closer. But as you and Dylan get better at this exercise, you'll be able to close the gap more quickly.
I encourage you to read the book Click To Calm: Healing the Aggressive Dog
, by Emma Parsons (a Karen Pryor book)
It will walk you through step-by-step how to do this process for best success.
You may also find Feisty Fido - Help for the Leash Reactive Dog
, by Patricia McConnell to be quite helpful
One other option is Behavior Adjustment Training: BAT for Fear, Frustration and Aggression in Dogs
, by Grisha Stewart
All of these books will provide in depth explanation of their method of choice, why it works, and step-by-step instructions for doing them. If you feel at all uncomfortable implementing any of these on your own, then find a trainer who is familiar with the techniques (or willing to read the books) and have the professional work with you. Timing is important - especially in the very beginning stages to help Dylan feel secure and that you will protect him and not allow any harm to come to him, and often professionals are able to present better timing to help you through those initial stages.
I hope this proves helpful. Please feel free to followup if I can be of further assistance.
Los Angeles Behaviorist