Q: Our Bulldog lunges at the TV every time there is another dog, cat, or even wild animals and if there is an action fight on the set. How can we train her to stop lunging?
A: There are several solutions that may potentially improve or extinguish your Bulldog’s behavior.
First, you can try simple preventive management. Remove your Bulldog from the room anytime that you elect to watch a program or channel that your dog may find provocative. Moreover, remove her before she erupts- not after.
Second, if you prefer that your Bulldog remain in the room, you can have her wear a Calming Cap® when you watch TV. The Calming Cap reduces the acuity of her vision, so that she sees silhouettes without highly defined resolution. By partially obstructing her vision, the stimulus from the TV may fall beneath the threshold level required for her to become reactive. We have had consistent success using the product to abate the behavior of dogs that exhibit reactivity when riding in the car. The product should likely work similarly with a dog that becomes reactive due to visual stimulation from the television.
Third, if you have difficulty predicting when programming or commercials will include provocative video or audio, do not wish to use the Calming Cap, or wish to use a method in combination with the Calming Cap, then you need to train her to perform a replacement behavior in lieu of lunging. The most effective replacement behavior is focused attention from either a sitting or standing position. The replacement behavior of focused attention causes a physical redirection that reduces the potency of the visual stimulus from the TV. Begin by conditioning her to pay attention and receive praise and food when she hears a clicker. Once she reliably visually orients when hearing the clicker, practice with the TV on, but without an animal show. Once she reliably orients and sits with the TV on, then insert a DVD of an animal show to complete the next homework stage. Work her hungry and use highly delectable food.
Fourth, if she finds the programming more stimulating than the food and Method 3 is unsuccessful, attempt Method 3 while she wears a Gentle Leader head-halter collar and a leash. When she starts getting aroused by the TV, before she lunges, click and pull her toward you with the leash. Then, praise and treat when she is calmly attentive. The GL collar and leash aid in response prevention, so that she is unable to lunge and therefore becomes more likely to comply with your wishes that she adopt the focused attention replacement behavior.
Fifth, if Method 4 remains unsuccessful, you may wish to add a strategy of aversive conditioning. Nevertheless, we recommend adding a Calming Cap to Method 4 and sticking to methods that emphasize positive reinforcement, counterconditioning, and prevention before engaging in potentially aversive or punitive methodologies. However, if you already added the Calming Cap and Method 4 still fails to modify her behavior, then progress to Method 5. You can use a shake can, air horn, squirt gun, or electronic collar whenever she begins to lunge. If she strongly dislikes the aversive, especially if the aversive creates a fear/startle reaction, then she should immediately cease lunging. Once she stops lunging, click, pull slightly with the leash and GL, praise, and reward her with food for providing focused attention. After several repetitions, whereby she realizes that the aversive occurs whenever she lunges and that she instead receives praise and food whenever she is attentive, her behavior modification may become permanent. Alternatively, if she redirects her aggression toward a human in the room, promptly cease using Method 5.
While using any of the above methods, continue to provide your dog with ample walks, play time, exercise, obedience training, and a quality diet. Reactive, excitable behavior becomes more common when a dog is bored, irritable, or generally under-stimulated.
In addition, if your dog has generalized aggression to dogs, cats, or wildlife and her TV lunging behavior is principally an extension of what you observe when she sees live animals, we recommend that you contact a trainer/behaviorist to assist you in ameliorating the problem.
If you live in the Atlanta, GA area, we recommend contacting a CPT behavior modification professional (www.cpt-training.com). CPT professionals are also available for interstate consultations.
© Copyright Mark Spivak and Comprehensive Pet Therapy, Inc., August 2011, All rights reserved.