Our Reaction Scale

I mentioned yesterday that I think of Silas’s reactions on a 1-5 scale. I haven’t talked about it here–it’s an idea that’s just crystallized lately–so I thought I would elaborate a bit. These are my criteria:

  1. Notices something and alerts, but doesn’t bark.
  2. Barks once or twice, but is easy to redirect. Or, he just huffs and puffs, instead of actually barking with volume.
  3. More persistent barking, but moderately easy to redirect.
  4. Continuous barking, has to be physically removed from the situation.
  5. Hysterical barking/howling. Difficult to console or distract even after the barking is done. Often with prolonged whimpering/whining/sobbing sounds.

Level 5s are mercifully rare. I hate it. Mostly I see this with the cat howling in the middle of the night.

Level 4 is our regular “bad” reaction, as opposed to the nuclear meltdown of Level 5. Level 4 means there’s a cat on the garage roof. (The workers on the garage roof last week were somewhere between 4 & 5.) Sometimes the doorbell gets a level 4, if Silas is having a rough day. The landscapers can get pretty close to level 4 if I don’t manage the situation properly. If the cat only meows, instead of yowling, we may stay at 4 instead of escalating.

Some of our neighborhood noises are still a Level 3. With the medication, most of them have drifted downwards. If someone is screaming or laughing really loudly, we’ll get this. The doorbell is mostly a 3. Dogs barking on the sidewalk are a 3 sometimes. Squirrels are a 3 if they’re particularly tantalizing.

Level 1 and 2 are pretty random and variable, insofar as what might get a little bark on a bad day will get no bark at all on a good day. This category is mostly things like the wind blowing tree branches. Loud birds. Well-behaved-but-not-silent people on the sidewalk. “Scary” objects, like clothes hanging in a weird place. Dogs barking outside who for whatever mysterious reason don’t merit a Level 3. I often don’t even know what this stuff is, since I do not have Silas’s supersonic hearing.

The biggest difference in Silas post-medication is the frequency of all these. Pre-medication we could easily hit fifteen separate incidents on a bad day. Yesterday? Two, and one was the doorbell.

Do you have a scale? How is it different from mine?

14 thoughts on “Our Reaction Scale

  1. I was trying to develop a scale when I was keeping a better training diary. I’ve been such a slacker lately – Boca’s presence has done nothing really for Ruby’s reactivity but I no longer feel the need to constantly come up with entertainment and enrichment activities. I really need to get back to a training routine. My problem with a scale is Ruby so quickly skyrockets to 5 with not much in between. She is either fine or really, really not. Redirection is so hard if she’s fixated on anything, which is why I primarily practice management/avoidance. At the vet’s office even the jingle of another dog’s tag or their shadow passing under the door sent her into hysterics.


    1. Silas is less that way post-medication, but there are still things that are all or nothing. Strangers, for instance, he either adores or freaks out over. Also, the scale is much less clear when we’re outside, in part because he can see that the scary thing is gone, instead of fixating on the chance that he might hear it again.

      Did you ever try DAP with Ruby? Silas’s collar was amazing until it quit working. (I assume he got used to it.) I wonder if the spray on a bandana might help her when you know you can’t avoid situations.


        1. They make a pheromone spray that I keep in my car’s glove box for long car trips, just in case. I use it on long car trips sometimes. I spray it when we take a potty break, and when we get back in, she lays right down. Plus, it smells like lavender!


  2. I do have a scale – which you’ve seen. I found solidifying it to be really helpful, but in an intellectual way. You know… post-incident assessments. In the moment (especially when confronted by surprise), I’m not really thinking of Alma’s “matrix”, but am just trying to respond appropriately and quickly for the given situation.


    1. Agreed–at the time, you just have to do what needs to be done. I like the post-incident assessment because it gives me a concrete way to think about trends. Was this really as bad as I thought? etc.


  3. It’s a great idea to identify a rating scale before an incident so you can reasonably judge how Silas is doing. So many people treat any reaction as a big deal and don’t distinguish between full meltdowns and simple alerts.

    I don’t have a rating scale for Honey. But I could probably invent one to describe the level of her greeting disorder. Her trainer, for instance, gets the full retriever meltdown with jumping, barking, leaning, and crotch sniffing.

    Although over-friendliness is not seen as a problem, it is something we have to continually work on.


  4. Again, I have to say that Silas is one lucky dog to have you. We don’t have too much to worry about here since we are in the country on acres of land, however, Trail has seen something in the back field that got him upset. Nobody else cared. I have tried a natural relaxer with mixed results from Breeze when her behaviour became more bizarre and unpredictable. PS Silas is still SO cute!


    1. Silas would *love* to live on acres and acres in the country. I grew up that way, and have complicated feelings about going back. We might yet.

      Trail needs to get used to country living. He’ll figure it all out.


  5. What a brilliant idea! Seriously, I’m so blown away by the simplicity but also all the possibilities! Thinking I may devise scales for Lucas and Cooper… Thanks so much for sharing this.


    1. Yay! It was such a breakthrough for me to realize that I could, in fact, quantify how well his days were going. It takes away that whole element of “well, today his barking bothered me more.”


  6. Agreed – the scale really helps you evaluate, when not in the middle of an “event”, how things are trending. It helps you see progress over time, when the progress comes in unimaginably small steps and many backsteps.

    If it’s any help, six years on (and still on Prozac), Habi gets a surprising number of “What a good dog she is!” comments from strangers. What they don’t realize is that the real miracle is that she’s now happily out and about on walks. Just as with you and Silas, this was beyond our wildest dreams – yet here we are!


    1. I’m glad Habi is doing well!

      The behaviorist was fairly chipper about the prospect of taking Silas off the Prozac, but, seeing him on it, I’m not sure it will ever happen. And that’s okay. He’s so much happier.

      Today I brought in a four x six x 1 cardboard box, and Silas ran right over to check it out. This is the dog who was scared the day I brought home a different size grocery bag than normal.


  7. I don’t have a scale I’ve numbered, though it’s worth considering. A lot of the time, Elka doesn’t escalate to barking, but will huff/grumble/mutter/whine for an excruciatingly long time. Those are the instances where I never know what she was reacting to in the first place (though this week I finally did catch a squirrel on the porch, so I guess some of it was that. I almost nailed it with a frisbee, but would’ve had to then go in the neighbor’s yard for said frisbee).


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