SDOS Episode 44 – Reactive Dog Training with Grisha Stewart

SHDOS Episode 44 – Today Dom is joined by author, international speaker and dog training extraordinaire Grisha Stewart! Grisha share how being a mathematics geek helps her work with dogs, why she specialises in mistakes, what the main differences between between dogs in the U.K and the U.S.A, why it’s important to breathe and how dogs have been her greatest teachers. If you have a reactive dog then this is a must watch episode. If you enjoyed this episode then don’t forget to leave a review on ITunes. Enjoy!

Dom: Hello me bonny bairns and welcome to the superhero dog owner show this is episode 44, I am your host Dom Hodgson, I’m joined by my very good friend and technical wizard Alex the video guy.

Alex: Hello, I am a technical wizard ’cause I’m hands free now.

Dom: Yeah you’re loving the new van setup aren’t you? Especially you just, look at you all chilling over there.

Alex: I’m not even doing any work just sitting here.

Dom: So we’re here Alex it’s high summer, we’re on the cliff tops at Hendon again. The weather’s been a little bit unpredictable hasn’t really the last few weeks.

Alex: Yes. Filming earlier we got stuck in a bit of a down pour didn’t we, had to abandon everything and come inside but then after that it’s been absolutely lovely.

Dom: It has, it’s been nice, really nice. So today on the show we’re gonna be doing an interview with an awesome dog trainer called Grisha Stewart.

Alex: Yes.

Dom: But first I thought we’d have a little catch up.

Alex: Cool.

Dom: Mm-hmm (affirmative). I haven’t seen you for a while so what’ve you been up to lately?
Alex: To be honest-

Dom: Hold up in [inaudible 00:01:08]?

Alex: Yes pretty much yeah been filming a lot of different things recently so now the past couple weeks it’s all been about editing to be honest so being at home, which is meant, to be honest to kind of keep myself entertained in between then I started watching house of cards on Netflix.

Dom: I’ve watched the first season but not for a little while I need to get back in to it. I liked it though what do you think?

Alex: Really enjoying it, yeah, yeah love it. Not just kind of the story and stuff but just Kevin Spacey’s character on his own is so entertaining to watch you know?

Dom: Yeah Frank and, who’s his little sidekick?

Alex: Doug.

Dom: Doug yeah.

Alex: Frank and Doug yeah.

Dom: They’re quite a team aren’t they?

Alex: Yes very cold, calculated, grounded, sometimes quite nasty.

Dom: Yeah. There’s not a lot of traits you would particular want to aspire to I suppose in those two is there? Or is there Alex? What can we pull out of there for dog training?

Alex: I suppose on the extreme side you’ve got things like blackmail and you’ve got like awful shady deals and stuff going on and secrets and all of that stuff. But on the other side of it and kind of bringing it back to dog training maybe you’ve got things like bargaining in there and deals and stuff you know?
Dom: Yeah.

Alex: If you do this, I’ll give you this or if you do this favour for me I’ll help you with this.

Dom: Yeah.

Alex: Maybe there’s some kind of parallel to be drawn there.

Dom: Definitely yeah I think there is probably yeah because life’s very much like that isn’t it you know life’s, they say it’s not what you know it’s who you know and that is the case a lot of the time isn’t it? You know if you know, and the person who you know is generally only gonna want to do a favour or do anything nice for you if you’ve probably been nice to them in the past.

Alex: That’s true yeah.

Dom: So reciprocation plays a big part in that and with dog training as well you’re dead right you have, there’s a lot of bargaining in dog training you know? I think we get a bit hung up sometimes on this idea that dogs should just want to be with us.

Alex: Yeah.

Dom: Dogs should just want to love us, they should just want to walk around the fields with us and ignore everything else that we want them to ignore you know but life, then we tend to get upset and we feel like strangling the dog when he doesn’t do what we want and it gets really frustrating isn’t it? But if you’re a bit smarter about it and you start to think well if I know this dog likes this ball or I know this dog likes hot dogs or cheese and if I take a couple of those things with me then we can do a little bit of bargaining with the dog and I can get him to stay with me or to come back to me or to enjoy being with me using the things that he likes. You can bargain your way to a better relationship I think.

Alex: Yeah definitely.

Dom: And an easier life definitely.

Alex: Oh for sure and I remember actually I think it was when, way back when was it episode three or four when I took orders for a little while?

Dom: Yeah.

Alex: And I was trying to put in to practise all of the things you’ve been teaching me and stuff. I remember showing someone and them saying “so how do you do it? How do you get your dogs to do what you want?” And I said “well part of it is to like you just said have stuff that the dog wants and say like well if you want this then you’ve got to do this thing that I’m asking you to do, do a sit or whatever.” And they were like “so you’re like bribing the dog? Is it just bribery is that all it is?” And I was thinking well it’s like maybe that’s a bit of a harsh term for it but in a way I suppose it is, but in a way I suppose it is but bargaining is a better word for it you know?

Dom: Yeah definitely yeah it’s you know a nice little exchange you know you do a sit you get a pet, you do a recall you get a piece of cheese you know, you want to stay with me next to the park I’ll chuck the ball for you. Not many people do something for nothing you know. Even relationships and stuff you have to give and take a little bit don’t you, human relationships I’m talking about as well, with your kids and with your spouses and stuff, with your parents or whatever you know what I mean? Take, take, take if that’s all that you do it’s not really a recipe for a fantastic relationship is it?

Alex: No that’s right.

Dom: So good point Alex thank you that was a good little house cards …

Alex: Yeah? I’m glad-

Dom: I wasn’t sure where that was going.

Alex: No I didn’t either to be honest.

Dom: You’ve curve balled but you pulled it out the bag, you pulled it out of the treat bag for sure.

Alex: I’ll take that [crosstalk 00:05:33].

Dom: So on to the interview then with Grisha Stewart. I’m not gonna, I’ll do the preamble in the interview so Alex if you would just kindly press that button.

Alex: Okay here it is.

Dom: Okay my guest today is an author, an international and a dog trainer obviously for Alaska who specialises in dog reactivity, BAT specifically, which we’re gonna talk about in a moment is behaviour adjustment therapy and her interest in dog reactivity along with a need to find an efficient rehabilitation technique that would work with her own dogs fear issues led her to develop BAT so we’re gonna find out more about that when we speak to Grisha Stewart. Hey Grisha.

Grisha: Hey, thanks for having me on.

Dom: Thanks you for coming, I really appreciate it ’cause I know you’ve been dashing about all over the world lately and we managed to squeeze you in.

Grisha: That’s right, it’s my morning up here in Alaska so I’m happy to be hear but I’m, well we’ll answer that question shortly.

Dom: Okay, okay so before we get in to all of the dog training stuff we’re gonna start with the greyhound round alright? This is a quickfire round we’ll get to know you a little bit better. Are you ready to go off the leash?

Grisha: I’m ready let’s do it.

Dom: Okay. Are you an early bird or a night owl?

Grisha: I’m whatever kind of bird is in the middle of the day.

Dom: Okay, the mid-day bird.

Grisha: I’m the mid-day bird.

Dom: I’m not sure what that is, we’ll have to find out. What’s your favourite film?

Grisha: Hunger Games.

Dom: Good film, good choice yeah good book too. Your favourite doggy cartoon character.

Grisha: Sorry say again.

Dom: Your favourite doggy cartoon character.

Grisha: Probably snoopy I guess.

Dom: Yeah that’s a good one. Would you prefer to walk a Bulldog at the beach or a Pomeranian and the park?

Grisha: Bull dog at the beach.

Dom: Okay. Bulldog or beach, which swung it?

Grisha: The beach.

Dom: The beach cool. Red or white wine?

Grisha: White.

Dom: Okay. Your favourite animal that isn’t a dog.

Grisha: Dragon, definitely a dragon.

Dom: Okay, okay it’s gonna be one of those interviews alright we can handle that. What’s a trick that you most like to play or practise with your dog?

Grisha: Chin targeting.

Dom: Alright cool.

Grisha: It’s useful for all kinds of things.

Dom: Yeah brilliant, brilliant alright then excellent. I’m gonna give you nine out of 10 Grisha ’cause I know how tired you are so I’m just pleased that you managed to get your words out.

Grisha: [crosstalk 00:07:53] there’s a score, okay let’s go.

Dom: So let’s start at the very beginning, let’s go back in time before you were a dog trainer, before the book and everything, what was your experience of growing up with dogs when you were little Grisha?

Grisha: Well little Grisha grew up without electricity and running water in the middle of nowhere in Idaho and we had lots of dogs, my family was not responsible when it came to spay and neuter so at one point we had three females in season, they all had puppies, so we had 30 puppies running around so we had lots of dogs growing up but my mother always was against training per se. But actually it turns out what she was, was probably a positive reinforcement trainer.

Dom: Alright, okay right, right interesting, interesting. So where did the, when did you go from being just a dog owner to someone who was more interested in dog behaviour?

Grisha: I would say probably when I even just first got my dog as an adult, so my partner at the time he said “you have to read books about dog training before you can get a dog.” He was a computer science PHD student and I was a mathematics grad student. So that summer I read like 50 books on dog training and then we got our dog, which was spoon she was a basset hound border colly mix that passed away a couple years ago. Then from there I started taking classes and probably two classes in I started volunteering at the humain society and then from there got enough experience to start my own business eventually doing private lessons.

Dom: Brilliant, brilliant.

Grisha: Yeah I was a mathematician when I first started my business so I had already by then gotten my degree, well I had my masters I bailed on the PHD but I started teaching at a community college and then from there at the same time started my business.

Dom: Right, right, right and what was the, was there anybody who inspired you to work with dogs? What was it that made you want to go from one career to the next one?

Grisha: So I think the dogs inspired me but I also think that, so when I was taking that first training class at some point I started asking enough cheeky questions that the person was like you know you kind of remind me of when I was a student, I’m like him well then she became a trainer so I could become a trainer so that kind of planted the seed I think. I’ve always been in to teaching so teaching is definitely, has been my trajectory the entire time but what I was going to teach has changed over time, it was gonna be math of course.

Dom: Yeah, yeah cool interesting yeah ’cause it’s not something that you get really given an option for at school is it you know dog training when you see a careers adviser you know it’s not a, but it is a viable career obviously for anyone who loves dogs isn’t it?

Grisha: Yeah, I wish I could’ve ticked that box sooner, I know some people who did start young and it’s just amazing to be able to get that level of mastery over something [inaudible 00:10:51].

Dom: Yeah, definitely yeah. So can you tell me an embarrassing dog training story?

Grisha: I have many. So I specialise in mistakes, but I would say one thing is, so I had peanut my previous dog, my soulmate dog and he used to be afraid of all kinds of things and at this point he still was and I had a new trainer that I had hired and so she’s teaching classes in our training centre and I bring peanut to the training centre but I’m outside still and we encounter a man who has skis strapped to his back so he looks like, I don’t know some sort of super tall devil man and peanut was just like oh heck no and he took off. So he’s running away from me, pulled the leash out of my hand, running away from me passed the window where all the students are. So I have this new trainer who’s like oh that’s my boss fleeing or you know chasing after her dog down the street, so that was … yeah. Then I remember I had an emergency recall queue and I finally used it and it worked but at the time it did not occur to me so …

Dom: Good one, good one, good one. So before we get in to your speciality what you’re doing now, which is helping dog owners with their reactive dogs, how did you go from specialising in mathematics to dog training and has one helped the other?
Grisha: So I, definitely one has helped the other, so mathematics is very organised and it’s all about critical thinking and problems solving and so that aspect has definitely been very helpful to me. In terms of the transition so I started both the full time 10 year track position and the dog training business as the same time so for one academic year I was doing both, which was really helpful because then I had an income, as a dog trainer, a new one you don’t really make a lot of money and some people even later don’t make money. But anyway I started with private lessons just in the home, at first I was offering them for free, which turned out to be a terrible idea because people don’t taking things serious if they’re free, anyway then I started working at a daycare or using renting space from a daycare and then I got my own space and doing classes and that sort of thing.

Dom: Cool, cool.

Grisha: So just kind of went from there and then was full-time after a year so when I realised that actually nights and weekends is not just when I can do dog training but when other people could also do dog training so, which was kind of a big surprise to me.

Dom: Yeah, yeah, yeah. So you don’t, you’ve never obviously never regretted the decision to go with dogs?

Grisha: No never, although at one point my dogs regretted how little they saw me but, you would think that as a dog trainer I’d have my dogs with me like all the time, turns out that’s not true. You know you go to someone else’s house and their dog wants to kill other dogs you shouldn’t really bring your dog with you when you go.

Dom: I didn’t know there was rules but … alright hang on. So you do a lot of events and as we said you just got back from the UK and I know you’re coming back out again. How did that go? Was it good? Was it enjoyable? Do you enjoy doing the events?

Grisha: I do, one of my very favourite things is teaching right? So I have an online school but I also really like seeing people face to face, be able to do some demonstrations that sort of thing. So the bite conference with Victoria Stillwell was awesome, then I got to teach in Wales and then of course I loved teaching in London and I’m excited to be teaching again. That was a practical one with a full day of dogs.

Dom: Yeah cool brilliant, brilliant.

Grisha: But yeah I love it, I also really like hearing the stories that people tell me of how they saw me four years ago or 10 years, not that far but anyway a while ago and then tell me how well their dogs are doing now and that makes me feel really [crosstalk 00:14:48].

Dom: Brilliant that’s nice, yeah, yeah brilliant. So how do you find, obviously dog reactivity is a big issue, almost I mean we speak to dog trainers all over the world from India, Canada, America, Australia and reactivity seems to be a worldwide problem that many people are suffering from. Do you find there’s differences in difference countries like from here to in the States or what?

Grisha: I think there’s differences even within countries but definitely between countries. For example here in, so the UK and the states is actually fairly similar in terms of reactivity, I think we have more space so in some places it’s easier and I think a lot of people just don’t care about certain types of reactivity in the more rural areas but of course and time the dogs gonna be biting people or getting in to fights with other dogs it’s a concern. But definitely like up here in Alaska the people tend to be more accepting of dogs just being dogs in terms of working it out to some extent.

Dom: Right, yeah, yeah, yeah.
Grisha: Then I would say in the northern countries so in Scandinavia it’s, there’s the reactivity they have tends to be a lot more mild and I think a big piece of that is the regulation of breeding that people tend to be very, very responsible breeders ’cause there’s contracts and all this stuff and so I think in terms, as pet owners and as breeders I think they’re a lot more responsible.

Dom: Right, right yeah interesting, interesting.

Grisha: So it’s not like that’s fixing the problem over here in fact it could be potentially causing it.

Dom: So how would you define then reactivity for someone who didn’t, you know a non dog trainery person?

Grisha: I would reactivity is a dog who’s over the top who’s doing more reacting in a bigger way to something than they should be doing in terms of the acceptability for society. So there’s something that happens and they bark too much or they growl too much or they run away too much based on what the sort of normal expectation is for dogs and it turns out that’s actually, we have a higher expectation than most dogs are really capable of. So what is normal is not common however.

Dom: Yeah, definitely yeah we’re definitely responsible aren’t we for a lot of it. So I’m a bear of very little brain,  can you give me an idiot’s guide, with me being the idiot obviously, in to what BAT therapy is?

Grisha: Okay so BAT is actually behaviour adjustment training, although therapy would be a better word for it ’cause really that is what we’re doing. It’s basically a way to help dogs gain confidence and social skills by having an opportunity to really just check out what they’re afraid of at a distance or amount of excitement that they’re ready for. So for dogs that are overly frustrated or afraid or assertively aggressive, all of those dogs really, really benefit from taking kind of a step back from where they normally react and being able to just hang out there and move themselves around and start to really appreciate what the stimulus is and not be so afraid of it or freaked out by it or drawn to it. So it’s about kind of reducing excitement and making better choices.

Dom: Right, right, right okay interesting.

Grisha: And if you watch it, sorry can I give one more piece?

Dom: Yeah, yeah please yeah.

Grisha: So if you were to watch a BAT setup it really just looks like a dog looking for a place to wee. It’s very boring, I have a trainer who calls it boring adjustment training because it’s really, you just kind of wander around and the human’s main job is to use a long line but keep the dog from getting to close, that’s kind of the main idea, we’re not prompting or begging the dog all the time it’s really just about the dog figuring it out as a being.

Dom: Okay, right, right interesting. So is there, obviously it depends on the level of reactivity and how safe you feel with your dog because some people should just go and see a dog trainer straight away you know if they’re feeling safe and stuff. We would always recommend that, I’m sure you would as well but are there any sort of strategies that pet dog owners can employ themselves to help them manage their reactive dog a bit better?

Grisha: So I run the risk of giving just enough information for people to be dangerous but yes there are some quick tips. So the main thing is recognising when their dog is over the top that’s not the time to be teaching it’s really to create times and spaces where the dog is able to comfortably interact with something. So the times when the dog is more boring and so that may mean crossing the streets or calling your dog away from something before they have a chance to react.

Dom: Like avoidance type thing, yeah.

Grisha: If they are very reactive themselves, if a dog barks and that’s when they jump in with what to do but actually you can see the dog get taller and taller and head forward before you even start, or as you start getting that, that’s a good time to get away.
Dom: Yeah no I like that, yeah, yeah that’s really, we can say that, that’s safe enough I think definitely.

Grisha: I think that’s safe enough yeah. Then I also think things like sometimes it’s a medical issue, a lot of times there’s pain so looking for signs of pain like even if their fur has a different pattern over the hips there may be some pain there that’s from the injury

Dom: Yeah, yeah.

Grisha: So things like that, then also keeping a loose lead as much as possible. The human side of that lots of times people will hold on tight when they’re worried that their dog will react and of course we don’t want to give them a lot of space to react but you can give an inch or a centimetre or whatever to give the dog a little more freedom to be able to make choices.

Dom: Yeah, yeah.

Grisha: If you could imagine being held back by something you tend to not make the best choice.

Dom: Yeah definitely, yeah definitely. Yeah that’s really, yeah no I can see brilliant, brilliant.

Grisha: And don’t ever let anyone who says throw your dog on the ground anyway sorry go ahead.

Dom: No definitely not, never ever. What’s the best, that’s good advice and on that point what’s the best advice you’ve ever been given? Either personal or in your dog training career.

Grisha: I think just breath. Breathing and paying attention to your own breathing I think is the most important thing that you can do because it brings you back to the present moment and that keeps you from say even without training overthinking it. So be present with your dog, staying off of your phone when you’re interacting with your dog you know just … yeah [crosstalk 00:21:27].

Dom: I was gonna ask you how have you, would you say that’s good advice for not just with dogs but for most things?

Grisha: Yeah pretty much everything kind of centres around that so I think another good piece of advice, actually so of course I’m gonna go towards the more recent because that’s how the brain
works but one of the books that I read recently is called Buddha’s brain or something like that and it’s about when you do have a pleasant experience and I would say that’s with your dogs as well but when you have a pleasant experience really spend some time savouring it about five to 10 seconds for, so the brain can actually register that it exists and then really intent to remember it so that your hippocampus actually processes it. What happens is we tend to have a negative bias and so for example without dogs we notice all of the things that they do wrong and if we’re not really taking in the good the aspect of our relationship that are positive with the dogs and we may end up want to re-hone them.

Dom: Yeah you’re right, yeah we just adopted a dog this week and we just shot a little video before this a little training video with him and he was so good, we’ve only had him three days but he was so good it just made me think like oh my god this dog’s so good you know? Like he was doing almost everything, you know he was just being a dog but it was a good reminder, it was good reminder so yeah you reminded me of that when you said it. Brilliant yeah. Fantastic Grisha I’ve really enjoyed this, where can people go to find out more about you or your events if they want to come and see you?

Grisha: They can go to my website I also have a Facebook page that has events on there but my has a whole bunch of information just for pet owners so definitely check that out.

Dom: Brilliant and they can buy the book and stuff on there, your books as well?

Grisha: Yep, yep hard copy and streaming as well and student members get discounts on all of our digital products and we do ship the DVD series, so we have a six set DVD we ship that for free anywhere in the world so …

Dom: Fab, fab, brilliant I’ll put those links in the show notes as well so people can check them out.

Grisha: Okay.

Dom: This has been really awesome, I’m finally I’m so pleased I’ve gotten a chance to speak to you. I look forward to, I might try and catch up with you maybe next time you’re in the UK that’ll be great as well but thanks very much for your time.

Grisha: Alright thanks Dom.
Dom: Thank you.

Grisha: Bye.

Dom: So Alex.

Alex: Yes Dom.

Dom: How awesome was that?

Alex: Pretty awesome, I enjoyed that one.

Dom: Pretty good, yeah me too. If I can I’m gonna try and get down and see Grisha in September …

Alex: That would be wicked.

Dom: … when she comes to do a seminar because there’s a lot we can learn from this BAT. There’s a lot of parallels with what I’ve learned from other dog trainers and it’s a very similar kind of thing to what I teach and in my inner circle and stuff like that as well.

Alex: Yeah.

Dom: Where you, you know if you want a dog to get used to a certain situation, get used to being near other dogs who he’s normally reactive to you need to build up to it, you know you need to build up to it and you need to provide a counter balance and you need to provide something else that’s gonna get the dogs attention so he doesn’t get too interested in that thing but that was a really, really cool interview and I’m very appreciative to Grisha for stopping up.

Alex: I know yeah.

Dom: For waking up early after a long trip home.

Alex: Yes we did ask a lot actually.

Dom: So next week we’re gonna be interviewing another gust via Skype and this is Denise O’Moore, Denise is a dog trainer in Ireland and she deals a lot with adolescent dogs. So these are the dogs I guess a little bit like Derek and older where often a lot of these owners, they’ve gone through the cute puppy stage and then the dog gets a bit older and he starts being a bit naughtier and he starts, his personality starts coming out. His characteristics start coming out and the owner starts to really struggle with the dog at that time you know they’re not this cute tiny little thing who we can forgive for anything they’re a big pain in the ass a lot of time you know so Denise has got some good strategies for us for dealing with adolescent dogs.

Alex: That’ll be very useful for a lot of people I think.

Dom: So that’s episode 45, that’s next week. If you haven’t yet you really should buy a copy of my best selling dog training book, it has over 120 five star recommendations on Amazon, it’s available on Audible, you can get the Kindle version from Amazon or you can get a signed paperback version and I’ll even include a free gift for you as well and you can get that by going to

Alex: Fantastic.

Dom: Yeah and if you don’t, if you’re too much of a skin flint, you don’t want to buy the book you can even get a free chapter of the book by going to

Alex: Brill.

Dom: Easy peasy.

Alex: Excellent sir.

Dom: Yeah so we’ll be back next week with Denies O’Moore, thank you for your time Alex.

Alex: No problem.

Dom: I hope you crack through some house of cards between now and when I next see you.

Alex: Yes I’ll do some editing as well.

Dom: Definitely yeah.

Alex: I should do that as well.

Dom: Try to do a little bit of work. That’s it from us and we’ll see you next time.

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Dom Hodgson