training a reactive dog

Training a Reactive Dog

Dogs are being called “reactive” when they lunge, bark, snap or growl at people or other animals.

Reactivity in dogs should not be confused with aggression. The difference here is that these dogs are hypersensitive towards their environment and overreact to certain triggers.

The behavior may look like aggression but it’s not. Reactive dogs are mostly driven by fear and feel trapped on a leash. That doesn’t mean that should take your dog offleash!

Dogs can also be reactive by being overstimulated or too excited. My dog is very excited when seeing people or other dogs, she loves them and would pull herself to death to be petted by them. She would never snap or bite anyone but this is also a form of reactivity. But we are getting there.

Impulse Control

If you haven’t already implemented impulse control exercises into your daily routine that you should definitely start with it. Teaching your dog to control its arousal and instincts is key. Because that way he might think twice next time before snapping.

A few basic exercises would include laying a treat on the ground in front of your dog and keeping him from getting to it by putting your hand above it. Then command him into a “sit” and “look at me” to release the treat for him.

You can also try to make him “sit and stay” and then throw his toy a couple of meters away and praise him if he doesn’t move. If your dog has problems with that, decrease the distance and start with a little wiggle of the toy in from of him.

Keeping Distance

You should write down the triggers your reactive dog has, like men with hats or children on bikes and be sure to avoid these for the first few weeks as much as possible. You can encounter these again once your dog has been trained.

If you come close to a person or another animal and your dog is only focusing on them, stop immediately and ask for a simple “sit” or “look at me”.

If this doesn’t work or your dog won’t take any treats then bring distance between you and the trigger until your dog can focus on you again. I am currently in training with my own dog and she becomes really good at encountering people now but dogs still don’t work.

I will simply put her into a “sit” between my legs before the dog is too close that way I have much more control over the situation so she cannot lunge and pull towards the dog to play. Then I will wait until the dog passes and quickly start walking with her again.

Providing a Normal and Calm Environment

In this situation, there is not much talking involved because on a “normal” day I would simply walk down the path. You have to give your dog the illusion that when a person or animal walks by this is normal.

Become aware of how you walk with your dog. If you say “come” when they stop then do that. If you praise them often then you should also do that. Keep the same pattern even in trigger situations.

I know that owners with reactive dogs tighten up and get nervous when they know that their dog will start lunging or snapping in a second.

But try to stay as calm as you would on a normal walk because your dog can sense any difference in your mood and emotions. If you are confident and standing straight, this will provide your dog with a solid base and support.

Try to not stand still for too long because that gives the sensation of a “special moment” that your dog will remember.

Distracting a Reactive Dog

Before a trigger occurs start distracting your dog with maybe a stick on the ground, his favorite toy or a special treat and give your best to be really exciting.

I sometimes start to jump a bit and my dog thinks “heck, what are you doing?” and the people surrounding probably too but it helps.

Start with a great distance between you and the trigger and try to distract your dog. If it doesn’t work then increase the distance to the point where you can get your dogs attention.

You will have to be really consistent with this training to establish the environment as not exciting. I will keep on training my dog to just ignore other dogs walking by because not every dog wants to play.

If your dog starts to ignore or look away from the person or animal, quickly praise him for doing that even if it was only for a second.

What are your tips on training a reactive dog and what are the problems you have encountered? Let me know in the comments.

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