I’ve gotten more “Ask A Trainer” questions about reactivity than I can count. Let’s just roll them into on generic post, with specific posts to come if needed.
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Dogs that bark, lunge, snap, or growl at other dogs, people, bicycles, or cars on leash are called “reactive.” It can look very scary. Some of these dogs are fine and friendly when they’re off leash. Others are not.
Getting Started With Reactive Dog Training
As far as dealing with the actual reactivity, there are 3 components that I start teaching for most of my clients.
Your job as a handler is to keep her far enough away from the dog that all this training can happen. If you’re so close that your dog won’t eat or is already barking/lunging/etc, you’re too close. Use awesome treats like hot dogs, lunch meat, or ground turkey.
Basic Steps For Reactive Dog Training
1) A Find-It game. Basically, say, “Find it!” and chuck some soft, stinky treats on the ground when your dog sees another dog. Sniffing is calming for dogs, plus it gives your dog something to do besides barking/lunging/etc. This obviously won’t work if your dog is already freaked out and not eating. Try it without dogs around first, so that when your dog hears “Find it!” she puts her nose to the ground looking for those treats. This isn’t training as much as barking prevention.
2) An emergency U-Turn. Start practicing this inside. Have your dog on leash. Walk a few steps, then say “this way!” “oops” or “with me” or whatever else comes naturally to you. Then turn around. Give your dog treats as she follows you. You can use this when you’re on a walk and see another dog or person. Give your cue and turn and walk away. Make sure you’re giving lots of treats for this, and don’t only do it when you see another dog – do it randomly as well.
3) Look At That! Games. It’s probably easiest to watch the Youtube videos or work with a trainer for this one. Your goal is to teach your dog a few things. She’ll learn to look at something in order to get a treat. In your case, that “thing” is a dog. Using a clicker makes this easier. When she looks at the thing, click then give a treat. If she won’t eat the treat, you’re too close. Repeat this 50+ times in easy situations. I recommend teaching this using a non-threatening person before moving on to dogs. Our goal is thats he learns that dogs = treats. Then she’ll start looking at dogs and then looking back at you for treats. That’s the ultimate goal! She saw a dog and chose to look at you for her treats instead of losing it.
This is obviously a very basic crash course in reactive dog training. There’s a lot to take into consideration and plenty that can go wrong. It’s often best to hire a trainer. I offer Skype training and personalized training plans if you want more guidance.
Kayla is from Ashland, Wisconsin but lives in Missoula Montana. She holds a degree in biology from Colorado College and has spent years working in zoos, animal shelters, and as a private dog trainer. When not working on Journey Dog Training, Kayla works at Working Dogs for Conservation. She is a Certified Dog Behavior Consultant. She shares her life with her dog Barley.