Owning a reactive dog can be tough, and finding a constructive outlet that doesn’t increase their arousal levels can be hard. Often dog sports build up frustration and increase the likelihood of the dog having an outburst which can include barking, lunging, mouthing, spinning or even biting through sheer frustration.
Reactive behaviour is usually fuelled by three sources – frustration, fear and confusion.
Frustrated they can’t do what they want to do. Fearful of the thing they are approaching, or dealing with. Confused about what they are supposed to do, as well as how to react.
These things fuel the fire of reactivity and can be hard to extinguish, for some dogs its so burned into them they cannot get rid of the reactivity.
Being the owner of a reactive dog is isolating as you don’t get the social aspect being a dog owners brings. Often you are looked down upon by the “my dogs friendly” brigade for just walking your dog. It can be upsetting and frustrating for you.
Fear not there is a way to help with all of the above…… Mantrailing.
Well mantrailing helps with all of these through the power of scent, routine and the fact it is trained individually.
We start each dog off finding their missing person by tapping into their natural want to hunt prey, and consume food. Some dogs trail for a person with a ball, but mainly they do it for food. The reason food is preferred as it fulfils the natural end of the hunt which would be to eat the prey.
The “misper” or missing person runs off with the food and hides out of sight. How hard it is to start depends on the dog and how they are progressing. The dog sees the person going off with their food and wants to go hunt for it. Once they cannot see them, they will start to use their nose in order to find the person with the food. It gets a bit more complicated that that, but that is the basic gist of it.
The dog is using what they were born with, and gaining a huge reward for doing something natural, not only do they get the food they get the endorphin and serotonin hit in the brain. These chemicals are responsible for many things but happiness is one of the main things they cause.
It is this chemical make up that immediately gets dogs hooked on the game. They always have a win at the end. The method we use at Mantrailing UK is the Kocher Method, which has its own starting ritual and rewarding finish. This start and finish help the dogs have a predictable reward every time. It is the reason that dogs that would normally be scared of people will start to approach them for the food when trailing. They know how the game works, and know they will get a specific reward. The only part that changes is the length, age and person they are trailing for.
When dogs are following scents they are focused on the task, and other normal distractions just aren’t in the forefront of their mind. It’s the same as when they run off after a rabbit, they go deaf as they are so focused on the game at hand. Their sense of smell is taking over the brain and they forget about everything else.
This same focus is used with mantrailing to help dogs overcome their reactivity to different things. Giving them a focus which has a consistent reward at the end can help forget the things that would normally trigger their reactivity.
Behaviour modification always involves creating positive impacts where there was none. Mantrailing allows the dogs to not only overcome their fears, as we add in distractions over time. But it also allows the owners to realise their dogs aren’t the “failures” or “problem dogs” that their labelled with, often by members of the public. Removing that judgement can allow the owners to look at their dogs with a fresh eye.
Giving the hard working owners a place to train with others, and see their dogs succeed makes a big impact on their optimism as well as the dogs. Plus the social aspect of training with others can help fill a void, especially during these crazy times.
Mantrailing helps with building a tolerance to frustration. Part of the starting ritual builds in frustration, and teaches the dogs to deal with the frustration of anticipation of the game. This same frustration can enter every day life with reactivity, and teaching the dogs to deal with it in a non stressful way will have a big impact on the training in the real world.
I highly suggest that if you have a reactive dog that you look into mantrailing. It can help provide a a much needed outlet for your dog, as well as a win for us as owners.