Raising A Creative Canine

The introduction of a new puppy into a reactive multi-dog household

Kayden and Austyn (Final)

A Chronological Summary No Comments »

For those of you who are currently working on integrating a new puppy into a reactive dog household or for those of you who will be in the future, I wanted to write up a chronological summary so that you can see the steps I took and in what order. Some of this information was discussed in more detail in the previous two posts.  (Please review Kayden’s history. This description is in the entry called “Austyn-Roque Comes Home!”) Kayden is highly reactive to dogs and also exhibits possession aggression tendencies. If he gets frightened and panics, he will attack whatever or whoever is in front of him. He has never attacked a person but he certainly will go after any dog.

When Austyn came home, I was very adamant that both dogs be separated. No surprise meetings! I set Austyn up in the kitchen with his bed and all of his toys. For a couple of months, this was his central residence. I set up three crates: one in the living room, one in the bedroom, and one in the car. (The one in the bedroom and in the car were purposely set up next to Kayden’s crate. I wanted to see what Kayden’s reaction to this would be knowing that I could make whatever changes if necessary.)

I used the crates with the hopes that I could transfer Austyn from one to the other so that he could always still partake in whatever activity we were doing. Though I needed him safe, I never wanted him to feel separated from us.

Because of this situation at home, it was even more important that Austyn was physically and mentally stimulated. Please note that Austyn would not stay in the kitchen all of the time. I would take him out on a leash in our big yard while the rest of the dogs were playing and he would run around the rest of the house when Kayden was downstairs.

At feeding time, Austyn would stay in the kitchen while the rest of the dogs went downstairs and stationed in front of their crates awaiting their meals. For security, we would be sure that Kayden was put in his crate first with his meal, and then lastly, Austyn would be invited to come downstairs and “jump in” his crate to get his meal.

Austyn was also taught to station on his bed as Kayden was coming back into the house. No crowded doorways. See the final behavior at: Kayden and Austyn (Part 2)


In the beginning, Kayden was afraid of Austyn when we brought him home. He would look at him but then keep as far away from him as possible. What was difficult is that though Austyn appeared to love Kayden all of his happy wiggling would send Kayden running into another room. Gradually Kayden’s curiosity won him over.

As Austyn’s body movements became more familiar through the baby gate, Kayden became more comfortable. He started to stay closer and closer to the baby gate.

The first baby gate had really small holes so that if Kayden would erupt, the puppy would not get hurt. This is the way that we left it for a while. As Kayden would hang out closer and closer to the gate, he seemed to get calmer and calmer. I liked this because Kayden could make his own decisions as to how close he wanted to come to the puppy. A couple of weeks later, I started training them together as a group. They would all sit and I would click and feed each one of them over the baby gate. (I knew that team training had to be implemented if they all were to become comrades. I remembered this from Ben’s training plan when attempting to incorporate him with the rest of the pack.) This is a video of Greg reinforcing them for sitting:

The next step was to put up a baby gate that had bigger holes so that the puppy would become more and more obvious but yet would still be protected. It was around this time that I would have Greg hold Austyn in his lap and I would put Kayden on a leash and would click and feed him for watching the puppy at a distance. Slowly we moved closer and closer. It wasn’t too long before Kayden was actually targeting Austyn but in a very structured manner. A video is posted in: Kayden and Austyn (Part 3).  Kayden was taught at a very early age to “Go Touch” those things that scared him for whatever reason. This is the same technique that we used here. If Kayden appeared to get over-excited, I would end the session while it was still successful. (Or Kayden would have already removed himself from the situation.)

Over time, I noticed that Kayden would try to play with Austyn underneath the baby gate. I would watch this closely. Austyn looked like he was trying to push the toys underneath the gate while Kayden would be reaching for them with his paws. I was cautious with this! Although I loved that they were actually interacting in a positive way with each other, I wanted to be sure that Kayden would not obsess about “winning” the toy. Around this time, I also noticed that Kayden started sleeping close to the gate. Austyn would be lying on one side with Kayden on the other.

Here is a video of Kayden and Austyn during one of their interactive sessions:

Slowly Kayden got more and more accustomed to having Austyn around in a controlled manner.

The next step was to see how Kayden would adjust to Austyn in the big yard. Greg and I went out and let all of the dogs run off leash in the yard. Austyn would run after Kayden but thankfully Kayden could always outrun the little guy. Kayden’s confidence started to grow! Little by little, they started playing more and more, as Kayden started to become more and more comfortable.

After many of these successful interactions, Greg and I put them both in the small yard. Yes! Both dogs continued to play as they had in the bigger yard. No breakdown of behavior seen! Here is a video taken from the first couple of sessions:

The hardest, and most trying test was to allow them to interact in the house. Our house is a decent size but none of the rooms are very large. Each room is small, and with the furniture in it, can become very confining. So Greg and I picked up all of the toys, put the other two dogs downstairs, took a deep breath and let both of the dogs roam around the main floor. Both dogs started playing immediately however we did not allow it to continue for a long period. After about 1-2 minutes, we called both of the dogs to us, had them sit, and gave each a training treat. Then we separated them for the rest of the night. We started doing this sporadically at first, and then as both dogs continued to enjoy each other’s company, I lengthened the duration of the play sessions.

Currently both dogs are continuing to get along very well, however I still have to monitor them. For example, Austyn can sometimes get overbearing. He will jump on the couch and then, as Kayden walks by, he will throw himself into a spin and land on Kayden’s back! “Too much” is the cue I use to tell Austyn (and Kayden) that they need to slow down. I have to be the one to monitor them both. I don’t want Kayden to think that he has to make these decisions. I will keep them both safe.

I am now working on allowing the dogs to have toys in the room. They will share bones and balls well however the stuffed toys are a different story. They will start to play tug, and then if Kayden wins the toy, he will take it and hide behind a piece of furniture, ready to go after any dog (or person) that will attempt to take it away. Because of Kayden’s intense weekly training schedule, so far I have been able to take the toy away from him without incident.  (Please see my next blog post about Kayden’s regression after my recent surgery.)

My next question is whether or not I should allow the dogs to have the toys in the room, and if so, how to prevent the above scenario from happening.  Stay tuned…!

Kayden and Austyn (Part 3)

The Preliminary Clicker Trained Behaviors No Comments »

In order to retain control of the household while this process was (and is) in progress, Kayden had to know the following foundation behaviors reliably: Back Up, Go Touch, Stay, and a solid recall cue. I will explain below how I integrated them.

The “Back Up” was taught originally as a Doggy Zen behavior taken to the extreme. I would hold food in my hand, and when he would turn away, then I would click and feed him. With each repetition, he would move farther and farther away from my hand, backing up to do so. From there, I put it on the verbal cue of “Back Up.” I would have him back up away from many different obstacles. The most noted here was backing away from the baby gate as well as backing away from Austyn’s crate.

Kayden always loves to be in the middle of things and this is where things can get out of hand. If Kayden gets over-stimulated, he will easily launch himself into a reactive episode! And please note: although Kayden has never actually bitten another dog, he flies into these rampages where he will attack the other dog instantly, with absolutely no regard as to whether or not the other dog is surrendering. Once he starts, he physically cannot stop! Like Ben, Kayden is blind to the other dog’s body language. I only mention it here because, in the beginning, if there was any kind of commotion that the puppy created, whether on the other side of the baby gate or going in and out of his crate, Kayden was always at risk for flying into one of these episodes. Being able to control Kayden’s distance to these things helped immensely. (I could not control the puppy’s exuberance but I could control Kayden’s proximity to it, and hence, his reactivity level.)

‘Go Touch” was a simple behavior to teach. I started out with holding up an object of some kind and clicked and fed Kayden for touching this object with his nose. When this behavior became more reliable, I started moving the object farther and farther away.

Kayden is a dog that is reactive to many different kinds of triggers. One day it could be a lone person walking in the field and the next it could be a trash bag blowing in the wind. What I like about this cue is that it teaches Kayden to move toward the scary stimulus himself. He can determine how close he wants to go instead of me trying to coax him (or lure him) to it. Over the years, he has learned that these situations are always safe.

This was one of the most important behaviors in Kayden’s repertoire. In this way I was able to have Greg hold Austyn in his lap and then I could cue Kayden to “Go Touch” the puppy. We started with Austyn’s feet and then slowly made our way up. Kayden had so much trust in this cue that he very slowly started to touch Austyn gently without any anxiety. If Austyn moved, Kayden would quickly back away but in a few seconds, he would venture out again. Sometimes Kayden would do a “fly-by” touch which I would click as well as the actual touches themselves.

Below is a video of one of our sessions. This session was taken about a month ago where Kayden is touching Austyn’s body parts. Please note that Kayden has an extremely high energy level so he tends to move really fast. Because of his nature, all training sessions carry a certain amount of tension in them. Scattered amid the “Touch the Puppy” behavior are other movements like backing up and downs. These were default behaviors that were captured at an earlier date. (If Kayden was in a situation that I felt was dangerous, I would cue him to back up away from the excitement and/or tell him to lie down and stay.)

Stay behavior is any behavior where the dog’s body is motionless and it stays that way until the handler releases the dog from whatever body position the dog was in. I cannot overemphasize how important this behavior is especially if you have a reactive dog of any kind. Sometimes the only way that you can protect yourself, and your dog, is to put your dog in a stay behind you, or in a safe space, while you deal with the challenging situation before you. You cannot run the risk of the dog jumping up or moving forward! Patty Ruzzo, my former competition obedience instructor, used to say to me, “When I ask my dogs to stay, they stay like a rock! They do not move unless I release them.” I have always taken this advice to heart and it has saved me from countless potentially damaging situations throughout the years.

The importance of the recall behavior is the same. The benefits of teaching a really reliable recall are many. Leslie Nelson has a wonderful dvd out called “The Really Reliable Recall” (DVD/ BOOKLET / e-booklet)and it can be purchased at Dogwise.com. It explains in depth how to build a recall that is super reliable even in the most challenging of circumstances.

If you have any questions regarding how to build either a solid sit or down stay and/or a really reliable recall, I would be happy to answer them. There are so many excellent resources to reference that I felt that I did not have to explain it here.

Kayden and Austyn (Part 2)

Reactive Dog Home Management No Comments »

In the beginning, Kayden and Austyn were not allowed to be together unless the activity was thoroughly planned. We kept Austyn in our baby-gated kitchen with all of his toys while the other dogs rested in the remaining parts of the house.

I purposely changed the positions of the crates in our bedroom as well as the positions of the crates in the car. I thought I would try to put Austyn and Kayden side-by-side in the bedroom as long as it was pleasing to both dogs. Luckily, it was! In the car, Austyn was kitty corner to Kayden and right next to Lizzie-Taylor. This also worked out well.

At night, when we would feed the dogs, each dog would station in front of his or her crate. Greg and I would carry Austyn down and put him in with his meal after all of the other dogs were put in their crates first. Kayden especially. When Austyn started “doing” stairs, we would again put Kayden in his crate first and then we would let Austyn slowly join the rest of the pack via the stationing behavior. Then he would wait his turn as the rest of the dogs were fed.

One particular challenge was moving the dogs past each other when they had to go out to potty. I knew that having Austyn and Kayden crunched in a doorway was going to be a potential disaster!

We have a very narrow kitchen that opens onto a narrow porch. From there, they go outside. In the beginning, Greg and I would just pick up Austyn as all of the dogs passed through the kitchen. Kayden would sometimes stop to sniff the puppy’s toes and I would click and feed him. (Here, I made a mental note that I would do more of these sessions.) As Austyn grew, holding him was no longer an option. Instead, as the dogs came in, Greg or I would hold Austyn in his bed as the pups passed. Kayden, at this time, was not allowed to sniff the puppy, and all would get treats, after they had passed through the baby gate and joined Austyn and us on the other side.

Below is a video showing what this behavior eventually looked like. As Kayden would come through the door, Austyn knew to go to his bed to wait patiently while Kayden walked through. A beautiful way to manage the situation:

Kayden and Austyn (Part 1)

The Plan No Comments »

Kayden and Austyn are doing remarkably well! If you would have told me that in six short months, they would become the best of buddies, I would have been completely surprised. Not because I didn’t think that it would happen but because I thought it would take a lot longer. A lot longer!

Austyn and Kayden are not only going out in the yard together but they are also roaming in all portions of the house (we have small rooms) and are currently sharing bones and balls!

I want to share with you the pieces that I have worked on, with both dogs, to make this success a reality. I will try to keep the training plan as simple as possible, and if any of you have questions, please ask.