How do I deal with a reactive dog? Here’s What to Expect

Reactive Dog Training: Tips To Help Your Dog Get Better

Having a reactive dog can be a huge burden. Not being able to walk him without worry because he is showing leash reactivity, not being able to go to the park, not being able to take him to a fun group training class; and always having to watch out for potential critical encounters is wearing and stressful. Maybe your dog is actually really good at training and you would love to participate in dog sports, but the reactivity is holding you back. And you wonder: How can you introduce your reactive dog to another dog?

Modern dog training has given us the tools and knowledge on how to reduce and at times even eradicate reactivity in dogs. By understanding dog behavior and where it stems from, we can devise a training plan.It is not too late to start training your reactive dog!

Read on to get to know my opinions and solutions for reactive dogs – and why I think they do have a chance for recovery!

I have used the methods described many times with fantastic outcomes on my clients’ dogs. Many went from being quite reactive dogs and having to be separated at all times to being able to peacefully coexist. Sometimes they even form friendships with other dogs.

Here are the top 3 reasons your dog can and will get better!

A lot of reactivity originates in discomfort. Even though it may look like our dog is “protective” of us (likely not) or “dominance-aggressive” (also likely not), the most plausible and common reason for his behavior is that he is not happy to be where he is, stressed and (very often)scared.

Like humans, some dogs choose to retreat, and some choose to just go for the outright confrontation when faced with a situation that makes them anxious.

This does not mean he actually wants to attack the other dog in front of him – it just seems the only viable option for him.

Especially if your reactive dog is on a leash, it is likely that he will decide on what appears like a dominant-aggressive charging of other dogs, when in fact he just perceives it as the last resort solution to take care of a threatening situation. Your dog reacts to it in the best (and only way) he knows, by choosing to be the first to attack.

We cannot cure this discomfort by scolding our dog. In fact, scolding him for showing his stress through barking, lunging or growling is only going to make him more anxious. In his mind, if you scold him, then the situation probably is really critical!

Instead, always maintain a calm and collected attitude when your dog gets scared and reacts unfriendly. Just take his leash and move away from the situation until he is more relaxed and happy again.

But, of course on the long run we want to not only prevent our dog from lashing out at another dog – we want to change his reaction all together!

And here is how we do it:

Identifying triggers

The first thing to do is to identify the specific triggers that set your dog off. Houpt says that trigger is anything that acts as a stimulus to make your dog react dramatically. This might be a strange person, other dogs or both. Classic scenarios involve things like someone wearing a funky hat, men with beards, other dogs and children.

Some dogs are reactive to these stimuli in all situations, while others might only be reactive in certain contexts. Some dogs are fine with other dogs off-leash, but become reactive when they are on a leash (this is referred to as leash reactivity). Other dogs might be more likely to show reactive behavior in congested or crowded spaces, or when out walking at night.

After you’ve identified triggers, try to avoid them while you work on a training plan. You don’t want the behavior to become an ingrained habit. “Walk your dog when others aren’t out, and avoid the dog park,” says Houpt.

Protect your dog

Immersing your dog in situations that where they are not comfortable will increase their fear and may make their behavior worse. When you’re out with your dog, be vigilant. If you see a person or dog who is likely to upset your dog, avoid them if possible. Give your dog a chance to have some walks and calm outings, so you can praise them for being a good dog and they can start to relax.

Remember that your dog does not have to be friends with all people or every dog. Houpt says the assumption that all dogs should love all other people and all other dogs is mostly an American phenomenon.

“In Italy, dogs go everywhere, but they keep them away from other dogs, and people aren’t constantly coming up to pet them,” she says. In this regard, they treat their dogs more like people by respecting a dog’s personal space.

You need to be your dog’s advocate. For example, protect them from a stranger looming over them to keep them from feeling like they need to defend themselves. If the person continues to approach your dog or tries to pet them, calmly but firmly tell that person that your dog is working, shy or in training. This usually will help most people understand the need to respect your space.