The Basics of Dog Training for Reactive Dogs

Does your dog bark, growl, or lunge at other dogs, people it doesn’t know, or vehicles passing by? Then you might have a reactive dog. 

We understand how difficult it is to handle reactive dogs. You can’t take them for a walk or to public places without worrying that they might make others feel scared or uncomfortable with the way they behave.

If you feel that having a reactive dog is becoming a huge burden, or you’re stressed and tired of always having to watch out for potential critical encounters, you might want to consider dog training. 

In this article, we’ll teach you the basics of dog training for reactive dogs so they’ll remain calm and you won’t be forced to live with having one.

What is Reactivity in Dogs?

Before we discuss the ways to manage reactivity in dogs, first things first, what is reactivity? Simply put, reactivity is when a dog seems to overreact to things in their environment, especially those that are new or unfamiliar.

The most common reactions you’ll notice in a reactive dog include barking, growling, and lunging. This behavior is commonly mistaken as aggressiveness, but they’re not the same.

Reactivity in dogs is not uncommon. It can be caused by genetics, inadequate social experience, or a specific scary experience in the past.

Manage your dog’s reactive behavior through counter conditioning.

A reactive dog may be challenging to manage, but there are ways to help your pet to cope with its environment. The first step is to identify its triggers.

Take note of all the stimuli that cause your dog to flip out. Is it your neighbor’s cat or dog? Is it cars or people passing by? Whatever the triggers are, make sure to have a list of these.

For some dog owners, preventing access to these stimuli by changing the reactive dog’s environment through blocking its visual access or moving it to another part of the house may be enough. However, if you want to totally change your dog’s behavior and not merely prevent it from being triggered by putting in place some precautionary measures, you need to implement a behavior modification program.

One of the most effective ways is through counter conditioning. Basically, this is the process of changing the behavior or the way your dog responds to specific stimuli or triggers. 

There are two important factors to make this successful– 1) the trigger must be noticed by your dog, and 2) the reinforcer or reward in the form of a treat or a toy must be given immediately after the trigger occurs.

Make sure that the reward comes before your dog even gets a chance to perform an unwanted behavior. This is so your dog will not think that it’s being rewarded for the negative behavior that you’re trying to erase.

So as soon as it exhibits the first few signs that it’s getting uncomfortable, you should take this as an opportunity to modify its behavior. This also means that you have to pay attention to your dog’s body language and learn the different meanings. This is important so you’ll be able to recognize when your dog is uncomfortable, threatened, anxious, or scared.

For instance, happy dogs are wiggly, nervous dogs have a tense body posture, while alert ones have a forward body posture and seem undecided on how to react.

When counter conditioning is done right, you’ll be able to convince your dog’s brain that the presence of triggers will actually cause something good to happen. At some point after consistent training, it will no longer feel the need to react negatively towards these triggers even without treats or a reward.

Setting up a routine for your dog. 

Many dog owners are not aware of this, but dogs love routine– they even crave it. Sometimes, dogs become reactive when they’re feeling uncertain. So by establishing a routine, the world becomes much more predictable and less scary for them. 

Through routine building, they can become calmer and feel safe even during stressful situations. You can even teach your dog a trick routine so when a situation is out of its control and starts to make it feel anxious, it will always have something it knows by heart. 

You can teach your dog some fun tricks such as spinning, hand touch, paws up, and jumping over your leg and practice them in a particular order until it can do it flawlessly. Always keep the tricks in the order that you practiced ensuring that your dog always knows what comes next. 

Over time, you can also teach your dog more tricks and add them to your existing series of tricks.

Hiring a professional dog trainer.

If all else fails, the sure-fire way to address your dog’s reactivity is by seeking the help of professional dog trainers. With their expertise and experience in handling different breeds and personalities, no dog is too stubborn to learn. They know exactly what steps should be taken to stop these unwanted behaviors.

Aside from managing your dog’s reactivity, these certified trainers can also conduct obedience training, teach basic and advanced tricks, and ultimately make your relationship with your dog run more smoothly. Plus, they can produce positive results or changes considerably faster compared to when you do the training on your own.

So if you want to enjoy a more rewarding experience as a dog owner, take the first step in regaining control of the situation and hire a professional dog trainer. 

Final Thoughts

Having a reactive dog is not easy. However, as a dog owner, you can definitely do something to help your dog work on its reactivity and make life easier for both of you.

With a little more effort and some know-how on dog training for reactive dogs, you’ll be able to improve the situation. However, if you’re still struggling or don’t have the time, the most convenient route to take is to hire a professional dog trainer

So if ever you have a reactive dog, remember that there are many different ways to manage your pet’s behavior. Don’t lose hope– good luck and happy training!