survival kiss dog trainingOK this blog is really about reactivity, but it also has to do with all dogs and the topic of over-stimulation… You have most likely read my blog on over stimulation (if not click here) but when a dog gets over stimulated, they really enter the world of Survival Mode! Now I hope the phrase survival mode makes more sense than the idea of over stimulation… Dog Trainers talk about over stimulation all the time but I think people understand the idea of survival mode… You know when all thought stops and reaction takes over… In dogs I tell people to look for two things:

  • A dog that quits listening or following commands you know the dog understands and usually complies with
  • Or a dog that will all of the sudden not take food…. You might eve see the dog take the treat but immediately spit it our due to the over stimulation or distraction of a particular thing…

To me these are the tests to see if your dog is over stimulated or in “Survival Mode”… If you have a dog that is reactive to other dogs on leash and you encounter a dog on a walk… Lets say at 25 feet away and your dog freaks out… Barking, and lunging (you know the scenario) ask your dog for a sit… Does it work? Offer a tasty treat… Will she take it? Probably not and now you know your dog is in Survival Mode! Not listening, not thinking… Just reacting to the other dog.

Now we don’t speak dog and they don’t speak human so the best we can do is guess as to what is going through the dogs mind but most folks (dog trainers) think that reactivity is based in fear and the over stimulation/ survival mode/ reactivity is to convince the other dog and owner to go away…. But it could be that the dog is super excited about seeing the other dog, but due to the leash and their owner, they can not get to the dog! That builds frustration, that leads to over-stimulation, that leads to anger and then that anger is transferred to the nearest thing (the owner or the other dog) either way we have a highly agitated dog that is in Survival Mode…

Now what if we started a little experiment… In this example the dog was at 25 feet away and boom! What is we were at let’s say 150 feet from the dog… Would the situation be any different? You bet it would… Now please understand me the distance is different with every dog, but we can find a distance where your dog will listen to you, comply with the sit command and take the tasty treat!

If you can find that distance you just found step one in helping your reactive dog! But remember if you dog gets over stimulated or goes into survival mode no amount of yelling, pleading, treats or any thing else is going to help, other than rapidly adding distance between you and the distracting item!

As time goes by, and you are successful at 150 feet we will work to 140, then to 130 and so on and months later you will have a dog that can tolerate the distraction of other dogs on leash due to the amount of awesome treats that happen every time we see them and the normalization, and desensitization of being around dogs on a regular basis with only good stuff happening at a distance he/she can handle…

Now I do not recommend trying this on your own, the eyes of an experienced trainer can really help with when dogs are reaching their threshold and help you keep your dog and others safe during these sessions… This blog is really all about having empathy for your dog as they reach that survival mode level and understand it has nothing to do with being stubborn, dominant, or for that matter a choice they make… Instead understand it for what it is a dog that has lost control because he/she or you have gotten into a situation that is beyond what they can handle… We have all been there and we owe it to our dogs to understand what and how to help with Survival Mode…..


PS I would also recommend looking at the following blogs as well…..


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