Open Bar / Closed Bar Desensitizing
way to desensitize a reactive/aggressive dog to other dog when out on walks is
to use a desensitizing method known as "OPEN BAR/CLOSED BAR". Jean Donaldson is the author of two great books,
"The Culture Clash" and "Dogs are From Neptune" (available at www.dogwise.com)
have great information on how implement "Bar is Open." This retraining may take
a number of weeks, preferably with daily work, but you'll be rewarded with a
lifetime of happy walks with your non-lunging, non-whining
The key is in careful
management and in keeping encounters with other dogs below your dog's reaction
threshold. Find the distance where you dog first sees another dog but hasn't
started to react in any physical way. It's important to carefully manage these
situations and keep all encounters with other dogs *below* your dog's reaction
threshold. If they are lunging, barking, pulling hard,etc. then you've let things go to far.
You must prevent this from
happening by intervening the second you see that your dog has noticed the other
dog and is getting tense. Don't give them the opportunity to practice behaviors
you don't want. It will be your responsibility to keep your dog at bay from the
things that they react strongly too until they learn new and better
So . . . the first thing
you want to do is find your dog's threshold level.
Determine at what distance
you can be before he reacts. It could be anywhere from 50 feet, or 25 feet, or 5
feet. It doesn't matter what your starting point is you just need to find
Your goal is to stay below
this threshold. In order to do this well it may involve having to change the
places you normally walk you dog. You need to be able to see what is
approaching. Neighborhood streets are good for this because you can usually see
other dogs from a distance first. Dog parks are way too
Next, get some really tasty
treats. NOT the flavored kibble treats from the grocery store! I mean the really
Good stuff. The stuff we love,
steak, cheese, chicken and garlic, roast beef, etc. Find
what you dog is willing to die for to have. Much the
way we do for stuff we like chocolate! :-)
As soon as he sees the
other dogs and gives the slightest hint that he's going to be reactive, start
offering those treats his way. Be generous. If your dog won't take them then
you've already passed their threshold.
What you are doing in this
is, in effect, changing your dog’s mindset about other dogs altogether. Instead of instant fear or aggression at the
site of other dogs, your dog now knows that other dogs
equal good things are happening to them. He sees other dogs and knows that
wonderful food is going to come his way. Yes! Wow! He will soon start to realize
that the presence of other dogs is the best thing in the world that could
possibly ever happen.
Be sure to do this daily
and at different times during the day or night. It is find to change up the scenario too. Do this Open Bar
technique with all sizes of dogs, dogs behind fences, dogs that are running,
dogs that are on and off leash. The only common element needs to be the
association of other dogs and the Bar Opening.
Eventually, your dog will
start to look at you when he sees other dogs.
Great! This is what you
want!! The more he pays attention to you and less on other dogs the better it
will be. In time, you will be able to greatly reduce to distance between your
dog and the other dogs and you will then use your clicking and treating to
further shape better behavior. There will be some tweaking that will occur but
basically this should get you started on the right track.
It is important to begin
stuffing luscious high-value food treats (snippets of roast beef, or little
pieces of cubed cheese) just as soon as your dog catches a glimpse of other dog
in the far distance. You'll know that your dog is in their comfort level if they
will accept the food treats.
progress forward, stay at this
distance. When you want to
finish this step or when other dog walks away, STOP
feeding your own dog. Walk away in an indirect-arched path away from other dog.
This is the BAR IS CLOSED part of this method.
Continue this practice for
at least three, sometimes four days, perhaps more if needed. Then for the next
practice walk, gradually begin to:
1. Decrease the distance
slightly, say by five feet,
2. Increase the duration of
the exposure to other dog.
If you are leash walking a
dog and using this open bar/closed bar method and your dog is still pulling and
lunging . . . then something is terribly wrong. You are pushing him beyond his
Don't subject him to this
level of distraction. It’s too much. You must stay in control and not allow him
to get out of control! Don't get into
situations like this. You need to do this outside but not to a
dog park or area with tons of dogs. Carry you dog to your car if you have to in
order to prevent them from practicing unwanted behavior and drive to some place
that has minimum distractions.
Eventually you’ll be able
to got to areas with higher distraction levels.
However, if your dog begins to react there as well then you've gone too far and
you need to lower your criteria. Try walking on neighborhood streets in off
hours where you will only encounter a few dogs and work up from there when you
are already successful at lower level distractions 99 percent of the