The best way to go about caring for a reactive dog is through lots of training. This takes a lot of patience and may seem like there is no light at the end of the tunnel on some days. You have to remember that it does get better with the more effort and time you put in.
From our experience raising a reactive dog, we can say that the triggers start to fade away and your dog will be much easier to handle. There are some sure-fire ways to handle a reactive dog’s behavior.
Reactive Or Aggression
It is critical to understand the difference between a dog that is aggressive or reactive. They are two completely different behaviors that can sometimes show themselves in a similar fashion. The main difference that sets these two behaviors apart is a dog’s stress triggers. A dog that is reactive is obedient and gentle, but will start to shows signs of aggression when it is being stressed by very specific triggers. This is a very common sign in any scared puppy that doesn’t feel in control
Every dog is different, so their triggers will vary. It is important to make keen observations when your dog begins to show signs of reactivity. It helps to take note of the environment and what could have triggered your dog. The sooner you can catch it, the sooner you can work on training them to more calm about being around these triggers.
Reactive Dog Training
Always Carry Treats With You
Positive reinforcement is one of the best ways to work on reactive dog training. By making sure you are always equipped with the right tools means progress is sure to happen. Let your dog know that good behavior is being rewarded today, and he will be happy to work with you.
Identify Your Dog's Reactive Triggers
Understanding your dog’s triggers is critical to training it out of them. By knowing what they are, you can prepare yourself with treats or avoid the trigger altogether. One of the biggest tells for a dog’s triggers is when it has raised hackles(hair standing up on it’s spine).
A good way to start reactive dog training is to avoid the triggers once you’ve identified them. During the earliest stages of training, every single interaction can make or break the entire process. By avoiding your dog’s triggers, you can give them some time to themselves to remember what it feels like to be calm and peaceful.
Highly Reward Your Dog For Not Reacting
This is a huge step in the right direction. You just encountered a known trigger and your dog was calm and collected. Give him the biggest high five in the world, followed by his favorite treat(or even a handful of them). This is exactly what we’re looking for, and it should be celebrated every single time.
Your dog might be showing signs of progress, but this is no time to quit while you’re ahead. In fact, this is a good time to review his progress. As soon as you forget about your dog’s reactive behavior, it can come back to haunt you. Many dog owners have felt like they fell all the back to the first day of training when they didn’t keep it up.
You can slow down on the reactive training eventually, but you don’t want to slow down if your dog is still at risk of being set off by his triggers.
Plenty Of Exercise
Dogs that get lots of exercise are incredibly obedient. They don’t argue because they simply don’t have enough energy left in the day. The same applies to reactive dogs. They seem to forget all about their triggers if they’re too tired to even acknowledge them.
Increase Your Dog's Food Drive
Skip one or two meals for your dog to make them more food driven. This will make your treats far more effective. Use your best judgement for how much food your dog needs. Take out only enough to make them food driven. You will know how much is enough when they are paying attention to their treats instead of their triggers.
Get A Streak Going
If you follow all the steps above, you will find yourself on a hot streak. This is great news! The longer your streak, the easier things will be. With every passing day, your dog will react less and less to his triggers. Eventually, you will forget they even existed.
Where To Walk A Reactive Dog
Depending on your dog’s triggers, you may want to walk somewhere that you can avoid these triggers entirely. If you are looking for a peaceful walk that you don’t need to focus on anything intense, you can simply try to find a new route that your dog enjoys. This may take some trial and error, but you will eventually find something you are both comfortable with.
Some dogs just love being in nature. Running through tall grass or jumping into a lake can make your dog very happy. Be cautious for other dogs and their owners.
A very busy city can be so distracting. For a dog that can be very reactive, an extremely busy environment may be just the kind of stimulus they need to wear themselves out. They can’t react to every little thing going on, so they may just not react at all.
You should only do this if you are sure your dog is comfortable with it first.
Riding Your Bike With Your Dog
This fast paced activity can have your dog focused like never before. Whether on a leash or not, your dog will need to hurry up if they want to stay with the pack. No time to sniff or study the environment, just go go go! We found that riding a bike is a great way to make your dog forget about triggers entirely.
Bringing A Reactive Dog To A Dog Park
This is something that we consider to be a huge no-no. If your dog isn’t comfortable with being around it’s triggers, then you shouldn’t be taking it to a dog park. More over, other dog owners may be bring their reactive dogs to these dog parks as well. This is a cocktail for disaster.
If your dog has a traumatic reactive experience at a dog park, it may take months or even years to be able to confront another dog with a calm attitude. For socializing and playing with other dogs, we recommend you schedule a play-date with an owner that has a dog you’e met before.
If Your Dog May Be Aggressive
There is a clear difference between aggression and being reactive. To tell if your dog is reactive, you should pay attention to their cues within certain environments. Reactivity is almost always brought on by some feelings where the dog is in an un-controlled environment and is nervous about what could happen to it.
Where as aggressive dogs will always be in a “reacted” state, no matter the environment. If you think your dog may be aggressive, consider seeking professional help to get your dog to a healthier state of mind. It may require a lot of patience and training, but inside that dog is something that wants to calm and happy. We highly recommend looking for positive solutions.