Why Reactive Dogs Belong in TDI Classes

Hello Internet,

Today’s somewhat provocative post is about my experience with the Little Beast in her therapy dog class. Lila’s not old enough to pass the test, but I enrolled her in our trainer’s (one of the many wonderful trainers we’ve been luck enough to work with) therapy dog class at around eight months. This seemingly insane decision turned out to be one of my better brain waves. The trainer we work with explained to me that her entire TDI class is built around the reactive dog’s owner’s most powerful tool: counter conditioning. Counter conditioning, or CCing to those in the know, centers around replacing the negative association a dog has with something with something more positive. In the TDI class, a sort of preemptive CCing was used; a novel stimulus would be introduced to an average dog, such as a walker moving across the room, and paired with cheese whiz; the backbone of dog training: cheese whiz.

Lila WAS scared of this bucket pre CCing to it

Lila WAS scared of this bucket pre CCing to it

For example, if a bicycles have previously heralded fear and emotional discomfort, the goal is to replace that emotion with the lavish influx of delicious treats into the dog’s mouth; the bicycle becomes the predictor of food. This won’t necessarily eliminate the fear of something, though it can, more likely it will shift the dog’s focus from the stimulus to you, the bearer of treats. I’m scared of spiders, but if every time I saw a spider someone gave me a cookie, I would see a spider then immediately ask for my cookie. Big Beast is a simple creature.

Cookies are the most important

Cookies are the most important

Since this therapy dog class, and I assume many others, is built around creating positive associations with a multitude of stimuli, it is perhaps ideally suited to a fearful dog. Obviously depending on the dog this could be a terrible decision as it inevitably entails exposure to other dogs and people. I think there are four main elements that will allow a reactive dog to be able to safely participate in a TDI class:

1. The dog must be able to remain under threshold in a class setting,

2. The trainer must understand the specific work that the reactive dog requires and how it differs from the work a typical dog would be doing in the same class

3. The dog owner must be able to take the dog out of the room whenever necessary 

4. The training exercises must be modified in order to accommodate the dog’s needs

If all these necessary elements are present, I would argue that the ability to expose a reactive dog to unusual stimuli in a controlled setting is an invaluable opportunity for effective counter conditioning and desensitization work.

CCing makes Lila happy

Because Lila loves class and is perhaps the most intense teacher’s pet I have ever seen (ever seen a tough as nails trainer give a dog a cupcake for jumping? yeah, she’s got them wrapped around her paw), she shined in her TDI class. She was even able to participate in the final test and completely won the evaluator’s heart. Her trainer, the evaluator, and myself are all confident she will be able to pass the TDI test on her first birthday. While I don’t think she would enjoy therapy dog work and would not likely expose her to those situations, the certification signifies something very profound in our work as a team.

We're a team

We’re a team

What do you think internet? Am I blowing smoke? Are you inspired to look into a local TDI class for your fearful dog? Am I just the luckiest to have a dog that will work so hard for me (hint: yes)? Let me know!

All the best Internet,

Little and Big Beast


New Exercise Ball on Fit Dog Friday

Hello Internet,

So yesterday I picked up a 65cm Gold’s Gym exercise ball for the beast. I love having physical things to do with her inside the house for days when the weather just does not allow us outside. I’m also working on building a back stall and a rebound off my hip and need to get the Beast some better balance skills (she falls off of the sofa too often, clumsy thing, not like her human at all, nope). I’m working very close to the ground and very sparingly since Lila is under a year, but I see no reason why the early skills can’t be built up while we’re waiting for her growth plates to set.


We previously had an inflatable exercise “bean” which I liked and Lila had a great time balancing on it. However, in my infinite wisdom, I thought it’d be a good idea to create lots of positive experiences with the giant new green spaceship thing, and let Lila to play with it. the bean now has a giant hole in that is ineffectively sealed with duct tape. I now know better. The beast has mighty jaws and they should be respected and not used to snap at bouncy exercise equipment.

You mess with the beast, you get popped.

You mess with the beast, you get popped.

The ball is great though. It’s pretty tricky for Lila to balance on in a good way. She’s able to sit and stand and up and off. The ultimate goal is to have her sit pretty, but that’s a long ways away. I want to find a nice base for the ball, but the rubber bin I got is much too large. Right now I’m bracing it with my legs which I don’t mind, but it would be easier if I could stand.

Lila really enjoys working with the ball.

I also now have a massive blue exercise ball in my living room due to having a small apartment with limited closet space. It’s a major aesthetic commitment, but a heck of a good footstool.

It's a lifestyle choice

It’s a lifestyle choice

What do you think Internet? What dog related eyesores do you have in your house? What do you do to tire your dogs our indoors?

All the best Internet,

Big and Little Beast

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Treat Talk

Hello Internet,

Little and Big Beast both hope you’re doing well. For my second post I thought I’d talk a little bit about store bought treats. While I feed raw, I’m not a fan of 100% all natural raw. More power to you if you can achieve this, from my perspective, impossible feat, but my dog can’t function without cheese. Life is so hectic and I’m an under-achiever who loves convenience. I have a large collection of treats at the moment and generally like to have a range to rotate through since Lila is impossibly picky and I want to keep her interested.

Who's picky?

Who’s picky?

My requirements for treats are:

1. Must be made in the USA or Canada. Too many unsafe ingredients in treats made in countries with different safety regulations on pet food. China has produced some particularly scary stuff.

2. Grain free. I go back and forth on whether I think grains are ever an appropriate part of a dog’s diet due to the structure of their digestive tract. I know some aware people who have dogs that do fine on grains. Lila, at least, really doesn’t tolerate them well. She can have little bits of grain now and then, but on the occasions I’ve thrown caution to the wind and tried her on a proper amount of buckwheat or oatmeal I’ve been very sorry. Therefore, Lila is on a somewhat strictly grain-free diet.

3. Fish free. So many dogs have so many allergies and Lila is no exception. Fish oil is everywhere and if Lila gets a taste of it, which she loves to do, I will 100% be scrubbing the carpets that evening.

My favorite treats are one-ingredient dehydrated meat. It’s simple, healthy, pretty much perfect. However, they’re pricey and I can’t seem to get them into teeny-weenie training sizes as easily as their multi-ingredient counterparts. Maybe time I invested in a dehydrator. What do you think Internet?

In my house right now:

Left to right: Peanut Butter Grain-Free Buddy Biscuits, Zukes Duck and Apple Links, My Little Wolf Duck Hunter Recipe, and Hula Lula Chicken.

Left to right: Peanut Butter Grain-Free Buddy Biscuits, Zukes Duck and Apple Links, My Little Wolf Duck Hunter Recipe, and Hula Lula Chicken.

I, and more importantly the Beast, love all these treats. When Lila was on an elimination diet at 3 months old, the only treat she’d eat was Hula Lula Chicken. I could not think up a more perfect treat, but sure wish they were less expensive! We’re loyal customers regardless. The Buddy Biscuits are great for social things since they’re cute and people, especially kids, love to hand them out to polite pups. The Zukes usually end up diced into training treats and mixed with kibble for class because their grease provides an excellent “sauce.” I haven’t used the My Little Wolf treats much, but they were such a massive hit last time I picked up another bag. Honorable mention is Galaxy Dog Treats which are these amazing cheesy cookies that break into clean little bits so easily. Lila will do anything for them.

*grasps treat jar with mighty claws*

*grasps treat jar with mighty claws*

I do want to quickly note that none of these things are fed excessively. I prefer to use grain-free kibble (mixed with cheese, shhhh) for the majority of my training treats since it’s convenient and relatively nutritious.

What do you feed as treats dear Internet? Any favorite brands that I just have to try? Any of my selections make your dogs balk?

Whatever you feed, give your dog a treat from Lila and me!


Big Beast

Greetings from the beast.

Oh hello there internet,
I’m sure you’ve noticed the exceedingly cute beastie bounding across the top of this page. That, internet, is Lila. Lila is an English Springer Spaniel who is, at this moment, just shy of her first birthday. Lila is a little whirlwind. In a lot of ways, she’s just like any other dog. She loves squeaky tennis balls, peanut butter, belly rubs, mud, and sunshine. But in other ways, she’s a little different. At around three months old, it became clear that Lila was a bit scared. Well, she was terrified, absolutely terrified, of people. Internet, this is when the world changed; no longer was I a normal dog owner. Things got serious in a heck of a hurry. I became a bodyguard, a nutritionist, a psychologist, a personal trainer, a teacher, and an amateur canine reproductive expert, practically overnight. This, internet, was stressful, but it was also strangely inspiring, as only the very best things in life are. After a lot of work, with simple goals that often seemed impossible, Lila has grown into a sweet, slightly shy, spirited, amazing Canine Good Citizen, settling the chaos that was once our lives into something that often resembles order. I want to make sure that our continuing adventures together are documented with as much good information and lighthearted humor as possible. This blog is going to be dedicated to the daily experiences, occasional struggles, frequent joys, and intermittent sorrows of having an ex-reactive little beastie.
Ambitiously, I’m going to aim for two short written posts a week on things we’ve done, things we’ve learned, or things we’re going to do. I hope it will, first and foremost, make you smile. I also hope it will motivate you, internet, to play with your dog, to teach your own beast a trick, to take him or her to the pet store, and to always ask before petting a strange dog, because the world badly needs more wagging tails.
I’ll also attempt a daily “Raw Roar” on Instagram since Lila’s meals are pretty unique and appropriate only for the most “fearsome” creature.
Talk soon internet,
Big Beast