E260: Karen Deeds - "Reactive Integration: Talking about our options for reactive dogs"

There are a ton of different methods out there for working with reactive dogs — how do you decide what to use when and with which dog? Karen and I talk about in this week's podcast. 


Melissa Breau: This is Melissa Breau and you're listening to the Fenzi Dog Sports Podcast brought to you by the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy, an online school dedicated to providing high-quality instruction for competitive dog sports using only the most current and progressive training methods.

Today I have Karen Deeds with me, here to talk about her training journey, rehabbing reactive dogs, and integrating different approaches.

Hi Karen, welcome to the podcast!

Karen Deeds: I am so glad to be here.

Melissa Breau: I'm excited to have you. To start us out, can you share a little bit about you, any current pets, what you're working on with them?

Karen Deeds: Bob and I live in Texas for now, and I have a retired competitive dog, Cassidy, who lost a leg to cancer last year, so that kind of put me out of the competition ring for now.

I have D-Man, Dempsey. He's a Border Collie mix that I adopted a couple of years back with some pretty serious behavior issues, and we are doing disc, thanks to the lovely Sara Bruske. Right when Covid hit, I had gone to a seminar with her right before things shut down, and she looked at me and she looked at Dempsey and she says, "He needs to learn to do disc." I looked at her and I said, "I can't throw a Frisbee." And she said, "Learn." So I spent most of Covid learning how to throw a disc. I'm still not very good at it, but, dang it, I try, and we have a lot of fun, and that's what's important.

I have a Labrador named Stoney, and I've done a little bit of triball work with him. I got him right when Covid hit. And so having nothing to do for about three months, I was able to lay a pretty nice foundation with him, and of course haven't done a damn thing with him since. So he's just a good boy. I wanted a nice dog. I got a nice dog because most of my dogs in the past have been project dogs, hence the reason I work with project dogs a lot.

But I am certainly glad to be back doing live seminars and conferences. I present in the shelter world, the animal control world, obviously behavior, and not doing as much sports stuff because I'm not doing sports stuff now. But I'm really glad to hopefully be getting back into the real world with some of this stuff next year … or this year.

Melissa Breau: Awesome and exciting. You gave us some clues there, but take us back to the beginning. How did you originally get into the dog world?

Karen Deeds: Well, I actually was in the horse world first, and I was a professional horse trainer from the time that I had just graduated high school. My sisters and I had competed all throughout the United States with our Appaloosas, had competed on the national and world level, had done pretty well for three little girls from southwest Kansas.

I left home in the '80s, I got my first dog, and I started doing a little bit of dog showing. It was a Keeshond, and that was my first show dog. Didn't get very far with that, ended up moving to Texas then, got another Keeshond, and then I got a Chow Chow. Oh, that was so fun. And he was a great dog. Oh my gosh, the best dog ever. But I started showing dogs in the late '80s, early '90s. So yes, I am that old.

Melissa Breau: So you came over from the dog show world. Conformation?

Karen Deeds: No, no, actually not. I never did conformation. That's a great question. I got into obedience. Gosh, this is long, long, long before there was rally, and we didn't even have a clue what a clicker was, for God's sakes. But choke chains, pinch collars were all the rage back then. Sometimes it still is.

But it was quite the journey to go to dog shows. And of course I didn't know what the heck I was doing. I was the little virgin out there. I remember I went to a show with my Chow Chow, and I think it was my CD, so it was novice. I got a 194, for a Chow, and I had one judge that came up to me and said, "Why don't you get a decent dog? That's a Chow. You'll never do anything with it." The next day I had a judge that came up and said, "It is so lovely to see you out here with an unconventional dog." Well, obviously, I think that was the day that I got the 194, but we were high in trial Chow Chow that day and he was such a great dog. But that's how I got started in it, into dogs.

Melissa Breau: So fun, not even with a classic obedience breed. You mentioned all the equipment stuff. What about today? Do you consider yourself a positive trainer? What got you started that way?

Karen Deeds: Oh yeah, I guess I always was. I remember in the mid-'80s going to the dog obedience classes, and I would have hot dogs in my pocket. The instructor would say, "Nobody's got any food on them, do they?" And I would say, "No, no, not me. No, not me, sir. None. None." And of course my pockets were stained with gooey hot dog grease and stuff. I had a choke chain on my dog, or a pinch collar, I don't really remember, but even back then I was trying to be nice. Didn't know what I was doing, but I was trying to reward my dog for good behavior. So I guess I've always been on the positive reinforcement journey before there was even a journey.

Melissa Breau: Talk to me a little more about where you are today. How would you describe your current training philosophy?

Karen Deeds: I would call myself a positive reinforcement trainer. I try to utilize not just specific quadrants, but I totally understand that they're all in play. I just don't purposefully add positive punishment. I just want to do what works for the dog within the least invasive, minimally aversive mantra that I follow through the IAABC. I think I fit that mold pretty well.

Melissa Breau: Gotcha. So started with the Keeshonds and the Chow Chows. What led you to get into behavior stuff, and more specifically that fearful reactive dog world?

Karen Deeds: Actually, it was my Chow Chow, my boy. I'll probably start crying. His name was Stoney. It was January 9, 1990. I was preparing for a dog show, was getting ready to get my CDX, or start trialing for it, and was out working on an out-of-sight down-stay. We had those back then. And was at a church parking lot and had left him on a down stay. I walked behind the church. It was nighttime, January in Texas, so it wasn't that cold.

I backed up behind this corner and there was a guy back there who was either trying to break into the church or waiting on a drug deal. He started to beat me up, and I was assaulted, and I yelled and I screamed. My dog broke his down-stay and he came around the corner. I remember seeing his little head peek around like, "Mommy, I know I'm not supposed to break my down-stay, but you sound like you're in trouble." By this time I was already on the ground getting pummeled. He saw what was going on, and he took out after the guy and chased him away. Of course, he's a Chow Chow, so he's lazy as heck, and took about twenty yards out to barking and trying to scare the guy off, which it did. He came back to me and we slowly made it back to the duplex together. I called an ambulance, went to the hospital, whole nine yards. Torn ligaments in my neck, contusions, ended up with migraines for years.

Two weeks later I took him to be groomed. He'd been groomed, even though I did most of his grooming, he'd been to groom shop many times before. This was a new one, though, and they called me and they said, "Ma'am, you need to come get your dog." I went, "Why?" "He's trying to eat the bather." I said, "What do you mean?" "He's being aggressive to the guy that bathes the dogs."

I get there, and the guy is the spitting image of the guy who had assaulted me, so of course I was in disbelief. I think I probably took a little hard breath there, and I said, "Is there anybody else that can take him out of the kennel?" because he couldn't even get him out of the kennel to give him a bath. This little blonde girl raises her hand and she goes, "I'll try." She runs back there and she gets Stoney. He starts to come up and I see him and I'm like, "Stoney, what are you doing?" He wags his tail and he sees this kid again and he goes, "Grrr." He lowers his head and he lowers his tail, and I went, "Oh my."

I was a psychology major in junior college, so I went, "What should I do?" I just happened to remember this dude Pavlov, so I went home, and I had called back and I talked to the bather, and I said, "What are you doing after work?" He says, "I don't know. What do you want?" I said, "Will you help me? I'll pay you if you'll stay after work, and I'll come up with my dog and we'll see if we can't do some training." I think I paid him a six-pack of beer and took a bunch of hot dogs for my dog. I stood out in the parking lot and this kid stood behind a pillar, and every time he came out, I gave my dog hot dogs.

Even though Stoney was "Grumble, grumble, grumble, grumble" every time the kid was there, I was just turning it on, "Here's cookies, cookies, cookies, hot dogs, hot dogs, hot dogs." And then I'd nod my head and the kid would go behind the pillar, and I would say, "All done," and I'd show him my empty hands. Then the kid would come out and I'd feed him again, he'd go back behind the pillar, I'd say, "All done, no more food," and we did that about three or four or five times. About the fifth time he came out, my dog looks at the kid, looks at me, and goes, "Hey, Mom, pay up." So I went, "There it is."

What I did, unbeknownst to me at the time, was just simple classical counterconditioning and had developed a different emotional response. So that's probably what led me into that. That was in 1990. Long time ago.

Melissa Breau: But, in a good way, it means you've got lots of experience with this stuff now.

Karen Deeds: So very true, sadly. Yes, lots of experience.

Melissa Breau: I think most of us have a picture in our head when we talk about reactive dogs, but I do want to make sure we're all on the same page. Can you describe what behaviors you're referring to, or how you use that term, when you talk about the label "reactive"?

Karen Deeds: I think if you asked five different trainers the difference between reactivity and aggression, you'll probably get five different answers. But I tend to call any kind of a reaction, whether it's barking and lunging, distance-increasing type behavior, or if it's whining and screaming and jumping at the end of the leash, which might just be frustration … you know nothing about that, right?

Melissa Breau: Never seen that before.

Karen Deeds: Never. Those frustrated dogs. It can even be a little bit more subtle than that, especially with the dogs that are doing it for distance-increasing reasons. And that might just be the lip licks, the eye averts, the head turns, the sniffing. Some of those behaviors, to me, are all parts of the reactive sequence. But, for the most part, I think we all look at barking, lunging, growling, snarling, snapping, squealing, jumping, trying to get out of your harness or your collar — all of those things are some sort of reactivity. It's just a reaction. Typically it's a reaction that we want to change. Either we want to change the emotional response to it or we want to change the physical response, or maybe we need to change both. Just depends on the dog.

Melissa Breau: Talk to me a little more about that. There are obviously lots of ways to approach rehabbing reactive dogs. Tell me a little about the approach or the approaches that you tend to use when you're looking at a dog like that.

Karen Deeds: All of them. I guess maybe I've just gone to too many seminars over the course of my many, many years. I've been to everybody, and I owe all of them a great deal of thanks. I don't even know where to start. Trying to think. Probably the very first seminar I went to was when I was in the vet profession, 1992 probably, maybe '93, that I was working at a vet clinic and I went to my first vet conference and Dr. Rolan Tripp was there. This is when we were talking about if a dog sat on your foot, it was because they were dominant.

Melissa Breau: Oh boy.

Karen Deeds: Oh boy, yeah. That's the journey I've been on. And that we had to show them who was the boss and the alpha and all that, because we hadn't really decided at that point yet that dogs were pack animals. That was a great start.

What's ironic, it's probably been about five years ago maybe, I saw Dr. Tripp at an IAABC conference. I think I was in California. I saw his nametag, and I stopped him and I said, "I want you to know you're the reason I'm here." He and his lovely wife were there, and he went, "What?" I told him this little story, and I'm not sure who cried first, him or me, because we have both seen the progression over the years. There's just been so many people that have influenced me. I can't name them all, obviously, because I think I've been to everybody's stuff over the years.

Maybe that that's why I use all of this stuff is because I know all this stuff. Or at least I know bits and pieces of it, probably enough just to be dangerous. But sometimes just that simple Pavlovian to a much more structured approach, like some of the lovely stuff with Leslie McDevitt with the pattern games, and the bat and the cat and the structured approaches.

I have to admit, when I first got my Border Collie Dempsey, he lived in a 10-foot-by-10-foot pen and had never seen the world. It wasn't like he was an overly fearful or reactive dog at all. He had just never seen anything. I remember taking him places and just sitting outside the store, or I remember being with Sara Bruske in Missouri, and they were doing a little seminar-type thing, and I'm walking around the field when my dog looks around. I just did a lot of desensitization, just look at the environment and not be worried about it. That's really where I started with him was that simple process. Obviously I know that some dogs have to have a little bit more than that, but I was very fortunate with him now.

Melissa Breau: You said some dogs have to have a little more of that. How do you integrate, implement, decide which approaches you want to use, pick and choose based on the dog?

Karen Deeds: That's just it. You've got to look at the dog in front of you. We've never heard that saying before, have we? Look at the dog in front of you. I think somebody wrote a book about that once, didn't they?

Melissa Breau: Somebody.

Karen Deeds: Somebody. And that's really what it is, because some of these dogs, when they leave the house, they can't take food. So maybe my approach with them is a little bit different. Maybe I need to get them to the point that they can take food. Some of these dogs are food whores, and if you've got food on them, they don't even know that there's anything out there that should bother them. So every dog has to be taken as a case-by-case basis.

But I tend to have specific things in mind when I'm working with that fearful dog. I'm going to probably try to take them a little bit more in the operant direction, if possible, versus the very operant outgoing … and I use the terms "introvert" and "extrovert," and I know that's probably not right, but I'm not a scientist and I don't have any degrees or anything like that. I'm just somebody who's been around a lot, and so I use the things that I think make sense to me and I think make sense to my learners as well. And so when I talk about somebody or their dog being an introvert, they go, "Oh yeah, I get that." And then "Your dog is quite the extrovert," and they're like, "Oh yeah, you betcha." And normally it means we're more shut down or we're more outgoing.

Of course, that's why I love the whole concept of integrating the stuff that I learned from the sport dog and the working dog world is because, I don't know, they're a little bit on the extroverted side. And that's probably why I like the reactive dogs more than the fearfully introverted dogs a little bit more than I do, or I like the reactive ones more than I like the fearful ones, because I like that "go, go, go" feeling and I can funnel it a little bit easier.

I'm pretty sure it was one of Shade Whitesel's seminars I went to … oh God, how many years ago … her talking about f you have a dog that's got a lot of "go, go, go," you want to counter that tendency with more relaxation. If you have a dog that's more withdrawn, you want to counter that with more thinking stuff. That makes so much sense even with dogs with behavior problems. So I tend to implement that based on the dog in front of me.

Melissa Breau: I like that. It's so funny because you like the more extroverted dogs. It's almost like you might be a little bit extroverted yourself there, Karen.

Karen Deeds: You think maybe? I seem to think I've heard that before, maybe.

Melissa Breau: Part of the reason I wanted to have you on is you're doing a webinar for us on March 10 called Reactive Integration: Putting the Pieces Together. Can you share a little bit on what you'll cover during the webinar?

Karen Deeds: All of it. A lot.

Melissa Breau: You a put a lot in there.

Karen Deeds: I did. I guess it's because I have worked with so many clients that have been to another trainer before, let's say. And of course then I look at the foundation of the sport dog.

And of course I am married to a guy that used to do disaster search and rescue. I remember him telling me when I first met him that everybody wants to do the sexy stuff. I went, "What do you mean?" He says, "They all want to go hunt for lost little Timmy." I went, "What do you mean?" He said, "They just never have the foundation."

And then, like I say, I got into sport world, and of course what do we spend years on? Foundation, foundation, foundation. I went, "All of these behavior cases I am seeing that are referred from another trainer or have trained with somebody before, and of course all those that haven't, one of the things that I think they're missing is foundation." So I do think that building a foundation, even just "Can your dog eat on cue?" Eating is a behavior.

Oh my God, I was so ecstatic. I think it was ORCA 2020, right before the world ended when Covid hit, not only did Hannah Branigan get up there and talk about eating being a behavior and how marker cues were a cue to eat, but so did Barbara Heidenreich and talking about eating being a behavior and how the world has finally admitted that eating is a behavior.

I think that's one of the things that I love about training the reactive dog, or the sport dog, for that matter, is to get that stuff on cue. And I just love the multiple marker system for behavior cases for so many reasons. So there might be a little lead into a future webinar maybe. I don't know. Could be. We'll see.

Melissa Breau: Is there any guidance you can share for folks on who might want to consider signing up? Who the target audience is here?

Karen Deeds: I honestly think trainers, behavior people, that are maybe thinking they might be missing something in what they're doing. The pet dog people, or the dog owners with reactive dogs themselves, will certainly get a good snippet of things to do. Nothing gets done in great detail. It's a one-hour webinar. I cram sixteen weeks into one hour. There's a lot of stuff there.

Melissa Breau: You do have videos, though.

Karen Deeds: I do have a lot of demo videos. As I was going through there … I was teaching class just last Monday night. One of my students said, "Oh my God, the leash pressure stuff that I've been practicing just made the biggest difference with my dog when she hit the end of the leash. When she was thinking about barking at another dog, she hit the end of the leash and immediately turned around and came back to me." I don't even have that in my webinar. I'm like, "Oh my God, that's something else I forgot," and I thought, "Do I redo it?" And no, I didn't redo it.

So there's lots in there and there's some stuff that's not. But I think it would be beneficial just maybe to see something that you might be missing out on that might want to know more about. If you're already doing all the things, then great. But I'm not doing all the things. God knows I'm doing a lot of the things. It's a matter of being able to determine when to do what things. We talk about the art and science of dog training. To me, that's the art part. So you kind of have to be an artist when you're working with behavior cases, for sure.

Melissa Breau: A little bit at least. Is there anything else you'd want to share about the webinar that you want folks to know about it?

Karen Deeds: Nothing other than be kind. I'm a newbie to this, I guess. I've been doing this, like I say, this started in 1992, for the most part, and it's been a journey I've been traveling.

There's a lot of stuff in the webinar, and there's probably some stuff that some people would never do. And that's okay, because I think there's something you can take away from it, and if it's something you would never do, then that's what you take away from it, and that's something to think about.

Melissa Breau: All the bits and pieces. Excellent. I want to round things out with one last question. If we were going to drill down all the bits and pieces we talked about today, and there was one key takeaway or one key piece of information you want to leave people with or have them understand, what would that be?

Karen Deeds: Foundation, foundation, foundation.

Melissa Breau: I think somebody else has said that once, and I can't remember if it was Sue Ailsby. I think there was somebody else who ended on that note.

Karen Deeds: Are you serious? That's funny. Keep it simple to start with. It doesn't have to be extravagant. And yes, I talk about a lot of things, but in the end, it goes to the basics of foundation to me.

Melissa Breau: Sometimes taking the simple things and just really teaching them well makes a big difference.

Karen Deeds: Yes. Eating. Yes.

Melissa Breau: Awesome. Thank you so much, Karen, for coming on the podcast. It's been a pleasure.

Karen Deeds: Thank you. Nice to talk with you, Melissa.

Melissa Breau: And thank you to all of our listeners for tuning in. We'll be back next week. Don't miss it! If you haven't already, subscribe to our podcast in iTunes or the podcast app of your choice to have our next episode automatically downloaded to your phone as soon as it becomes available.


Today's show is brought to you by the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy. Special thanks to Denise Fenzi for supporting this podcast. Music provided royalty-free by BenSound.com; the track featured here is called "Buddy." Audio editing provided by Chris Lang.

Thanks again for tuning in — and happy training!


Today's show is brought to you by the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy. Special thanks to Denise Fenzi for supporting this podcast. Music provided royalty-free by BenSound.com; the track featured here is called "Buddy." Audio editing provided by Chris Lang.

Thanks again for tuning in -- and happy training! 

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