How to Train a Reactive Dog
Updated: Feb 22
How to Train a Reactive Dog
It's important to understand reactivity is a symptom, not the root issue. Dogs react because they feel the need to. This is generally related to fear, insecurity, over-excitement and frustration. Yes, reactivity is reactivity but you need to figure out where it's stemming from in order to address the cause.
Take inventory of the day-to-day
I have found it extremely useful for owners to really take a hard look at their day to day interactions with their dog to consider what behavior they reward. For example, do you feed, leash or let your dog out when they're excited? Do you practice any consistent rules in the house? Is everyone on the same page?
Get clear with your communication
We can't help a dog if we're not clearly communicating what we want and what we don't want.
• Teaching proper pressure and release with a leash (usually a slip lead, transitional lead, gentle leader, prong collar or starmark collar)
• Marker word (yes or clicker)
• Energy and body language
are all necessary components to your foundation to address why your dog is reactive make sure they have a clear understanding of leash pressure and your marker word.
Focus on calm & invitation
I understand calm can feel cryptic in the dog training world, so check out some of my videos on what that looks like. You can condition dogs to only get what they want when they're more relaxed by doing that in every single situation. If they want to go back inside? They can't pull you. If they want to get their toy? They can't bark at you and be pushy. They want to go outside? They need to calmly wait at the door for your release Everything needs to be on your terms for a period of time.
Address reactivity in the home
Every reactive dog that I've ever met who reacted on walks to dogs/people/scooters etc was practicing reactivity in some way in the home. There are so many triggers in the home to work through before expecting your dog to not react outside. Door noise, seeing people /animals outside, people coming home reactivity etc are all areas to address with your dog immediately. You can't let your dog react to other things in the home where they spend most of their life and then expect them to ignore things outside.
You can't have whatever you want whenever you want it. Your dog must learn to wait for things and offer calmness before getting to do what they want or eat what they want. Most times dogs can't even leave a treat on the ground but you want them to ignore another living moving thing? That's a weird expectation. Teach your dog to come when called, stay in an area when you tell them, leave things like food, toys, people or animals when you say
so start small. We have plenty of videos on this on Instagram.
Confidence building fixes 95% of my reactivity cases. Dogs just want to feel safe with their handler and they want to know what's coming next. If we're not working our dogs through things that stress them out, we're pretty useless to them in reactivity situations. Take note of the things at home that make your dog even slightly uncomfortable and get them comfortable with them. Start adding in structure, rules and consistency in your message to build your dogs confidence.
Hire a Trainer and Breath
Find a trainer who focuses on relationship building and not obedience only. Obedience is not going to address most of these issues. Someone who has a proven track record of rehabilitating reactivity and not just suppressing or avoiding it all together. Reactivity is hard but there is a light at the end of the tunnel. It comes from you addressing your day to day interactions with your dog and changing how you make them feel in the world around them. I believe in you!
By Brianna Dick
Owner & Behaviorist