Reactive Dog – Shelter Dog Case Study, All or None Training
Working with shelters is usually pretty
fun and exciting. I get to pet a lot of
dogs and hang out with some really cool
people. Today I want to focus on one
little case study on a dog named Clover
or as I like to call it, Project:
Ian here with Simpawtico Dog Training and
before we take a look at little Clover
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Now I work with my local SPCA as a
consultant. I try to spend time there
regularly to help out with behavior
issues with the dogs in the shelter.
The aim is to not only help certain dogs
become more adoptable but also to help
make sure they go to forever homes and
not just to another weigh station. We need
to keep dogs out of the shelter system
and in those loving homes.
Unfortunately the number one reason dogs
go to shelters in the first place is
behavior problems, and those are very
hard to remedy in the shelter setting.
But that doesn’t mean we aren’t going to
try. Now I am by no means a one-man band
in these situations. All the fantastic
staff and volunteers down there really
do all the heavy-lifting; I just show up
and answer questions and make
It truly is a team effort in every case
and this one is no different. Today we’re
going to meet Clover. Clover is a very
sweet girl but she had a couple of
issues that were keeping her from
getting adopted. Primarily Clover has
poor kennel presentation. Kennel
presentation is the demeanor that the
dog presents to people and other dogs
walking by the kennel. Unfortunately
undesirable kennel presentation can keep
a dog from going home. Behaviors that
come off as obnoxious or overly
rambunctious can send people walking the
other way. When things start appearing
aggressive, it can mean that the dog is
there for a very long time. In many cases
this is related to barrier frustration,
unsuccessfully coping with the stress of
being in the shelter, and isolation
distress from a lack of stimulation,
among other things. So the shelter staff
asked me to come down and offer some
suggestions for helping Clover improve
her presentation and let everyone see
the doll she really was. One of the first
things we did was to try out some
all-or-none reward training. In most
cases us dumb emotional humans tend to
get all worked up about the bad and then
go totally ignoring the good. We tell a
dog to stop it, knock it off, and no bark,
and come here, and settle down, and then
they do something “not
bad” or even good and we don’t say
Where’s the motivation in that? To not get
in trouble? That’s piss-poor motivation.
So an all-or-none reward training we flip
that model totally over and we
completely ignore bad behavior and only
reinforce good ones. In this case we’ll
stand by Clover’s cage quietly, turn to
the side so we’re not threatening, and
avoid eye contact so we’re not sending
weird vibes. And then we wait. We don’t
say “be quiet” or “its ok” or anything. We
just zip it. Then when Clover does
something good we praise and reward her.
it’s a pleasant surprise. Over time
she’ll start connecting the dots.
She’ll know that reacting doesn’t get
the results she wants but being good
gets her good things. Here are some pro
tips for all-or-none reward training
everyone should remember: don’t waggle a
treat to get what you want. That’s
bribing and will never get you
long-term good behavior.
The food comes as a reward after the
It’s neither promised nor guaranteed.
Don’t say anything.
God, I don’t know how many times I’ve
coached people not to say anything and
they just can’t bloody resist. They stand
there for a minute and then they go,
sit please,” and I’m like “What did I just
tell you?!” If you say something and they
don’t do it now they’re wrong and you’ve
just added a bunch of stress into the
system. Also if you keep asking for
things you’re implying that they only
have to be done when you ask. Wouldn’t be
better in social situations like this
for the dog to just offer good behaviors
without being asked?
Also lower the bar to start. Maybe
instead of looking for
“good” behavior it’s better to look for
“not bad” behavior. Good kind of carries
with it an image in our heads where we
expect polite sit-stays, wagging tails
and cute little gestures. The dog
probably won’t do any of these things
initially, so we’ll reward them for not
barking, not lunging, not growling, and
then progress into better and better
You’ve got to get your paw in the door
Ok so the first person I tried this on
was one of the volunteers, Mike. Clover,
for whatever reason, had taken a
particular disliking to Mike walking by
So Mike was going to be my first victim…
I mean guinea pig.
I was also told that Clover also went bonkers
around kids, so I had one of the senior
staff member’s son, Kaden, help me out with
Clover. I gave Kaden the same
directions I gave Mike. Now watch him
rock it as his mom and I watch.
The next time I visited the shelter
Clover head unfortunately continued her
obnoxious behavior and had to be moved
off of the main adoption floor into the
back area. While I was there I touched base
with an old acquaintance of mine,
Amie, one of the animal care technicians
at the shelter. So she was on the main
floor and then she had bad cage
presentation, barking at everybody and
making a fuss so we moved her back here.
So now is… is it everybody? Is it
every person that goes by? Every volunteer,
every staff member?
It’s more males than females. It’s
kind of continuous, like this,
no matter who it is. But certain males
if they stop in front of her run, and then she’s right at the cage.
But outside of the cage. She doesn’t make a peep.
Right, she’s a pussycat.
I tried playing with her in the clinic room. She played for a minute
and then she just wants to sit on you and be loved.
The last time I was here I know we
did an exercise with the
volunteer Mike because Clover was
barking at Mike a lot up and that
turned out really nice. And we did the
same exercise with
Audrianna’s son, Kaden, because children sometimes
set Clover off.
yeah so that turned out ok. The exercise
ended well but I think probably we just need to
repeat the exercises so she learns. I
sat there for a while and just watched and
there was people coming in and there was
really big guy and his girlfriend came
in and said “hi” and knelt down and pulled some of the treats out of
the bin and gave them to her. She didn’t make a peep.
So it’s not even like every guy. Right, I say random
but obviously to her it’s not. Right,
there’s some rhyme or reason to it. We…
yeah right it makes sense to her and we’re
Here Amy talks about her
rottweiler and we get a little window
into how leash and barrier frustration
work. So you were telling me earlier about your
Rottweiler has kind of like that
frustration when when the leash is on.
So tell me more about that.
Well she…uhmm…I’ve construction going on at my
house right now so she’s been out loose with
myself, the construction guys, whoever
happens to be around, and she’s fine. She
doesn’t bark at anybody, she doesn’t she
just kind of hangs out, runs around, does own
thing. But as soon as I clip her to her
like if I’m going out front or you know
I don’t want her near the road then she
immediately starts barking at the same
guys that she’s just been hanging out with.
So it’s it’s like, a ok now I
can’t go where I want to or I don’t feel
like I can get away if I want to kind of
so it’s I don’t know what her issue is
she just..if she’s not tied she’s fine.
Like, frustration with what not being…
like you said… I can’t go see if I want
to and I can’t go away if I want to so… it
seems like I see a lot of the same stuff
with Clover. So when she’s got the gate in
front of her and she can’t you know
interact she can’t smell and get a
bead on everybody then she starts kind
of acting like a fool. But then when she’s
out of the cage and she’s just walking
around it’s no big deal, she’s a pussycat.
Right. Right, okay. So she’s
almost more vigilant with sound and
smell. If she can’t figure it out
on her own then there’s, like, when
she’s in there, then there’s that
frustration. Right, then she
vents that frustration in
Yes. Yes that looks scary to some people
but it’s really not.
It’s not aggression it’s just kind of a
reactivity. Right. Yeah, and
reactivity and aggression in many cases
look the same they just have different
goals. Right. So Amie do you think if
I put together just like an easy like
little 1234 plan and printed it out we
could put it like a clipboard and move
her back on the main floor, you think
that’s something that we can have like
the staff and volunteers just do with
her every time they walk by her cage?
Yeah absolutely and I think that’s one
of my issues with having her back here
rather than on the main floor is that
she’s not getting the interaction that
she could be because a lot of
volunteers don’t come back here because
these are the intake dogs, so she could
be getting a lot more interaction and
attention, training, that she’s not because
she’s back here instead of on the floor.
Exactly, right, it doesn’t really address
the problem, it just kind of puts a
bandaid on it and makes it manageable.
Exactly. Yea and I’ve always
said that if you have a problem that’s
the thing you need to do all the time.
Yes. If her cage presentation sucks then
she needs to present all the time. Right
yeah yeah I agree
So with those two good test runs with
Mike and Kaden in the bag, and the staff
on board for some regular practice, I
went home and wrote up a short easy plan
detailing the all-or-none training
protocol for Clover. They printed out
several copies and posted them on Clover’s
kennel and in the staff room and when I
checked in with them
I got to see a couple of staff members
practicing with it. Very cool.
So this is Clover’s kennel in the back
run at the shelter and they put my
directions up here for the little exercise
so anybody whether it’s shelter staff
or people that want to adopt her they can
come by and they can just use these
little treats to do this exercise.
They’ve been doing it for about a week
now, and it hasn’t fixed the problem but it’s
reduced the problem enough that now there’s a
family that’s interested in adopting her.
So earlier they were in the clinic room
visiting with her. It was her second
visit and I think it’s gonna go, I think
she’s gonna go to a new forever home, so
we shall see. They’re coming back Monday
hopefully they’ll keep working on her
and things will keep getting better.
Clover was adopted that week by Melissa
and her son and it seems like a match
made in heaven. As long as Melissa and
her son keep up on the training, relax
and have a can-do attitude, they will do
Clover just needs some patience, love and
structure.v So there you have it guys. I
thought you’d like a peek into the nitty-gritty
of shelter training and behavior
consulting. Down the road we’ll do some
more spotlights of some of the other
dogs that have come through the shelter.
One takeaway for you here is to help you
understand a little bit about leash and
The idea is that dogs want to interact
but they might not be sure how or what
the expectations are, or they’ve had hit
and miss experiences in their life and
so that uncertainty creates unrest. Then
coupled with a leash or a barrier—both
of which take options off the table for
them—then a dog may vent that
frustration in, what looks like to us,
It’s unsuccessfully coping with
conflicted emotions, essentially.
All-or-none reward training is a good
way to start the process of dismantling
that reactivity and replacing it with
healthier more confident and more polite
ways to deal.
Keep in mind that all-or-none reward
training is just one of several tools
available for dealing with reactivity.
Also there are a million uses for all-or-
none reward training.
Besides reactivity, we use it in classes
for getting offered attention, for
teaching off-leash heeling, leave it and
take it, for default sits, and several
other little things. Most training
classes out there focus almost
entirely on lure-reward training, which
does work for a ton of stuff. But as I
said there are many many tools in the
trainer’s toolkit and lure-reward
training is just another one.
All-or-none reward training is another
great tool and in some cases, like
Clover’s. it was faster and less
frustrating than trying to lure-reward
train her to do a good behavior or to
correct her for obnoxious ones. Remember:
reinforcing behavior you want is always
going to get you better, longer lasting
results than simply correcting what you
Now that you’ve got a taste of it maybe
you can give it a try with some of the
behavior problems you’re having.
Let’s keep connecting
the comments about some of the ways you
might use all-or-none reward training
and how it’s going for you.
Also, make sure you support your local
shelter and the caring, hard-working
staff and volunteers. In most cases these
guys are doing the best they can with
what they have available. If you have
time to volunteer and even just walk a
few dogs please reach out to them. I’m
sure they would love to have you there
and so would the dogs.
As always guys keep learning, keep
practicing and we’ll see you next time.
Give us a thumbs up and thanks so much