Reactive Rover: Coop’s first class

When we arrived at the training facility, Cooper barked his face off at a woman and her dog who were the first to arrive – the trainer and her assistants lead the dogs from the parking lot inside so that they don’t encounter one another – and that was the only time he reacted the whole class.

Ah, controlled settings. If only the world worked that way…

Cooper’s issues are different from Lucas’ leash-aggressive situation. Cooper is fine meeting other dogs on leash IF they are introduced properly in a controlled manner. He’s fine with meeting most people, on leash or not. The exceptions, which is where the whole “world” thing comes in, are surprises. Cooper can.not.handle. surprises. If someone comes around a corner, gets out of a car, exits a house, sounds funny, walks differently, makes a loud noise, drops something, and on and on… he loses it. On occasion, when we have a can of cheese and he’s somewhere comfortable, he can regain control. Otherwise he goes into, what we call, “black-out mode” barking and squealing, wild-eyed, lips flapping, and often straining on his hind legs.


He’s super smart. He’s a fast learner, and he loves a challenge. He just has zero emotional maturity or impulse control.

So, we’re taking Reactive Rover. The sole reason I signed up for this class was because Cooper LOVED agility. He was scared of the facility. So, we switched to a new place, and the trainer terrified him (I have several theories why, all of which were/are avoidable for the future…), and then we moved. So I let it go. But he needs that stimulation, that challenge. I know it’ll help build his confidence.

But we need to first get to a place where we can start (if that makes any sense at all).

The first class was a piece of cake for him. All the dogs are in cubbies that block their line of sight from one another. The exercises are performed in the center of the room. The first day was an about-face, which we’ve done a ton, and “leave it,” which he’s pretty good at unless it’s, say, a squirrel running at his face. Even though he knew the drills and didn’t react, he was stressed the entire time, which manifested as a constant, raspy stress-pant.

Reactive Rover

Also, we’re combining this with the mat work, and we realized pretty quickly that, instead of reclining on his mat, he wanted to squish himself up against the wall (another sign of stress). So, we adapted and shifted his mat to right up against the wall so he could have the benefit of both. Clearly the mat itself isn’t doing it for him yet, so we’ll keep working on RP at home.

This coming Saturday, class will include a neutral dog and a different set of exercises. I’m going to a writing conference all day, so John will be taking Coop solo. He reacts very differently with each of us, so it’ll be interesting to see how the increasing level of challenge goes, especially without me there!

And on the way home, he struggled to even hold his ears up, then he put himself to bed in our room to avoid foster pup Molly. He was just too tired to play!

Reactive Rover is tiring!

I know many of you are currently in the midst of training. How are your classes going? Any Reactive Rover-type classes underway?


  1. says

    Sweet Cooper! Good for you for seeking out more specialized training. We did a reactivity class with Pyrrha, and it was so helpful to us. Like you said, being in a controlled environment can sometimes feel misleading, or like you’re not making “real-world” progress, but for us, it was a huge weekly reminder that this is a behavior pattern that we have to be constantly working on. The main thing I’ve had to remind myself about reactivity is that progress is SLOW. Sometimes imperceptible. But I believe in you and Cooper! You can do it! Looking forward to hearing more about what you both learn.

    • Maggie says

      That’s a really good point. I keep thinking… I hope this translates to our actual walks. But you’re absolutely right. Progress is progress, even if it’s slow!! Thank you!

  2. says

    We just finished a Behavior Solutions class for reactive dogs. Spartacus was very leash reactive to other dogs, and now we have learned to manage it. It’s interesting hearing the different approaches used by different trainers. Now we’re working with a different trainer trying out a totally different approach to see if we can get just that much further along with his progress.
    Good luck with Cooper. He sounds like he’s well on his way to success!

    • Maggie says

      I’m SO glad you had such success in your class! Keep us posted on your progress with the new trainer. I’m with you: I like getting different perspectives because training can’t be a one-size-fits-all thing. (Gosh, wouldn’t that be nice!)

  3. Erik N. says

    Graham’s issues with new people (snapping and nipping) seems to be solely if they’re brand new. We encountered someone Graham had issues with the last we were at the dog park and Graham barked at him a bit then ignored him! Hershey’s broom issues are almost nonexistent unless I surprise her with the Awful Thing.

    • Maggie says

      I’m so proud of all the progress you’ve made on both fronts! I hope you’re celebrating all your (and Hershey’s and Graham’s) successes!

  4. says

    Actually, all training classes should probably be taught is if the dogs are reactive. I find that having visual separation in a training room works well for lots of dogs, even if their people haven’t identified them as reactive.

    It will be interesting to see how Cooper does without you at the next class. I hope the class helps.

    • Maggie says

      That’s such a great point. Training situations can be stressful… new place, new smells, unfamiliar people and dogs, etc. that having visual separation would probably help many dogs feel more confident.

      I’m sure John will let us all know how he does! I’ll be holding my breath and crossing my fingers all day! :)

  5. says

    Very belatedly, because vacation turned my blog reader into a many headed hydra–this is exactly why I took Silas to the behaviorist. Because I just couldn’t figure out how to counter-condition “Surprise!” I think this is the reason Silas is so scared of cars–they come up and go away without warning. It’s also why we can’t have people in the house. (Well, we could, but it isn’t worth it.) He just can’t get over the initial shock of someone coming to the door. Alas, while she was very helpful with a few things and I really appreciate his medication, I feel like we didn’t get down to the big picture issues.

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