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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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You might also want to check out our latest posts about canine aggression here.
Dogs that bark, lunge, snap, or growl at other dogs, people, bicycles, or cars while leashed 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
Reactivity can be really hard to deal with. I always suggest starting with some impulse control exercises and getting plenty of mental and physical exercise.
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 Tricks 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 founded Journey Dog Training in 2013 to provide high-quality and affordable dog behavior advice. She is a Certified Dog Behavior Consultant who’s worked with hundreds of private clients, thousands of shelter dogs, and dozens of working detection dogs. Kayla’s dog and cat behavior advice has been featured in NPR, the Chicago Tribune, and Pet MD. She’s an avid adventurer who is currently doing #vanlife on the Pan-American Highway with her two border collies and a cat. Aside from running Journey Dog Training, Kayla also runs the nonprofit K9 Conservationists, where she and the dogs work as conservation detection dog teams. You can get 1:1 advice with a Journey Dog Training team member here.
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My rescue dog I have had for almost 4 yrs. Has recentlt become reactive to my other dog and dogs we meet while walking. How do I get this under control.
Joanne, I’m sorry to hear that. Reactivity can be so frustrating and confusing. What have you tried so far? For now, try to avoid other dogs and bring treats on walks. If you see another dog, feed your dog treats. He doesn’t have to sit or look at you, he just gets treats for seeing other dogs. We can tackle the next steps after you start there!
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My dog barks and wants to chase other dogs if she sees them running around in agility class. I don’t have any other dogs that I can work on this behavior with, but what are some ways I can help her from reacting in class?
Great video, going to try this for my 6 month border terrier. I. was wondering how you would play this game for barking at noises. Sometimes in the house my BT will bark at something he hears.
Yes, it might help there! Give it a try!
Hi. We have a 1 and a half year old German Shepherd mix dog and she’s very reactive to almost everything and when we try to correct her when she’s in such a hightened state, the energy is redirected on us, which results in her trying to bite us. We are at a loss and have no idea how to deal with her. We try really long walks or even multiple walks a day to wear her out but she’s still so hyper. Our vet said that she is a reactive dog and because of her biting, she is a liability. We need help but have no idea where to start.
Hi Stacy, I’m so sorry you’re struggling with this. Would you be up for scheduling a call to see if I can offer more specific pointers? https://journeydogtraining.com/product/1-15-minute-behavior-help-call/