I have not posted about Party’s progress in 2 weeks, and that’s because we didn’t actually make any progress as we didn’t do any training. Like for many of you, life happened for me – I got sick (not Covid) and just did not have enough physical energy to go out and work on counterconditioning.
I want to share this because it is just the reality of owning a dog (whether reactive or not). Even if we have the best intentions and plans, sometimes it doesn’t go according to plan.
However, I want to take this as an opportunity to talk about breaks in training, and whether they cause regression.
Generally, for adult dogs breaks in training do not cause regression. Breaks in management do cause regression.
For adolescent dogs breaks in training will cause regression.
Let’s dive into this a little deeper.
We will look at young dogs first.
As we already know, lapses in socialization can cause reactivity to develop. Your dog’s breed will play a significant role in this. His genetic disposition will have already “primed him” with a certain attitude for life. This might be “Everyone’s awesome!” if you own a Golden Retriever … or perhaps “Everyone’s sketchy!” if you own an English Shepherd.
If you own a breed who has a tendency to see others as sketchy, you need to constantly provide positive exposure to make sure that the instinct to be suspicious doesn’t take over.
For these dogs, if you fail to regularly “remind them” that the world is an okay place, they will regress. So breaks in training equals getting worse (and of course, no management equals getting worse.)
For dogs like Party, this is different. He is 3.5 years old and the period in which he is constantly changing his opinion of the world is over.
He does not have any “internal drive” to see the world as sketchy. He sees other dogs, especially those who are large, bark and are off-leash as scary, because one tried to eat his head – but otherwise, his life is pretty trigger-free.
If you own an adult dog that has become reactive through a traumatic incident, the following will apply:
As long as you do not do counterconditioning, it will get neither better nor worse. The level of reactivity will pretty much stay the same. By not training, you are not doing any improvement – but there also is no inherent movement to regression (as there is with younger dogs).
Of course, you still need to use management. So, if during the time I was sick, I would have walked Party close by other dogs that are barking, he would have definitely regressed.
Breaks in management will always result in dogs getting worse, as they are repeatedly crossing their threshold.
I am getting better, and will hopefully be back to training as usual soon 🙂