Owning a reactive dog can be hard. It can be hard work to simply enjoy a walk with them without worrying that they are going to react…
Let us talk a little about what happens when your dog reacts first. The reaction is what most people classes as when your dog barks, lunges, rear up or any other behaviour that we do not like, however to our dogs these are all perfectly normal behaviours. When these reactions happen, your dog realises chemicals in its body, these chemicals are cortisol, endorphins, Adrenaline and Norepinephrine. Every day your dog is releasing these chemicals into their body but when they react, they get a surge, or these hormones and these high levels are often the reason why your dog even after the trigger (the person/dog) is still on edge. In fact, it can take up to 72 hours for these levels to return to your dog’s normal levels and this is without another reaction happening. Often there is rarely the perfect day and many dogs get multiple triggers, keeping those chemicals in the brain.
Alongside this we also feel these chemicals when faced with our dogs triggers, which can then become our own. It leads to a cycle of reactions happening on every walk.
How can mantrailing help your reactive dog?
Mantrailing is a sport that teaches your dog to follow a specific person’s scent to find them. They get a tasty or fun reward at the end, and get to use their nose for a fun task.
Dogs can link experiences with scent, as scent is their most distinct sense. These associations can be either a positive or negative. We as humans want to build a positive association and your dog will release endorphins and serotonin as a result, both of these hormones and feel-good hormones for your dog and will make them feel amazing. Similar to when you know you are going on a trip to some place exciting or getting a slice of tasty cake, it makes you feel good.
These scent experiences need to be done carefully as this association can last a lifetime. Single negative events can create poor experiences which take a lot of training to undo.
This is why in Mantrailing we want your dog to have so much fun and enjoyment when they are doing this, especially for nervous, fearful, or reactive dogs. Our instructors are well versed in helping your dogs have a positive experience from the beginning of their introduction to the sport.
All dogs are worked one at a time and if your dog is dog reactive then venues are picked so that you are less likely to meet other dogs (it can never be guaranteed). We build the positive association with trailing to feel happy, over time this feeling can be transferred on to other things which can trigger a reaction. Many dogs which have started mantrailing can now trail past dogs, horses, bikes and cars at a distance without a reaction. The dogs choose to trail rather than react as its more enjoyable, and less stressful.
Dogs with people reactivity can still attend the course, our instructors just take into account the dogs preferences. We get experienced trailers to run for the dog or ask people the dogs trust to be their misper. We are careful about the set up to makes sure your dog still gets to have fun, and not be restricted. We would suggest if this sounds like your dog then you get in touch with your instructor about your dogs behaviour to make sure the set up is suitable for them.
How can mantrailing help you?
Starting mantrailing can not only increase your dogs confidence and positive associations, but it can also help you feel more confident, and relaxed. Often owning a reactive dog can become isolating and defeatist. Feeling like you'll never get past the dogs worries, and like your alone. One of the many positives to mantrailing is while each dog is worked individually, it is a group class and you have time to meet like minded owners. The chance to socialise and meet others in the same boat can help. Its also a happiness boost to see your dog excel at something, as far too often you are unable to attend group classes due to anxiety or reactivity.
Mantrailing is for all dogs, regardless of age, breed or behavioural issues. The sport was designed with reactive dogs in mind, and as such we make sure they can join in.
How to get involved.
Getting started is easy, just find your local instructor via this link - Instructor Map and join them for an introduction course to teach you and your dog the basics of mantrailing. You don't need any fancy equipment, or prior training. Just enthusiasm to have fun with your dog.