Do you have a reactive dog?
Listen up! You need to nail these three things.
1. Training Your dog won’t get over it, trust me. They need to learn new coping mechanisms and need basic obedience. Reactive behaviour can be driven by fear and it can also be driven by frustration. Seek out help from a professional behaviourist and trainer.
The methods you choose are up to you, but I myself am a reward-based trainer trying to solve the root cause rather than suppress the symptom. Things that can be worked on:
2. Management If you have perfect training and awful management, you’ll be stagnant. Management is your best friend. Management for a reactive dog is mostly keeping enough distance from another dog to avoid reactions. This distance is variable and will decrease over time if you do it well.
Management also includes muzzle training if advised, as well as equipment used to handle your dog so that you’re in control, especially with big powerful breeds. If you aren’t managing your environment and your dog is reacting (failing) every day, you’re doing something wrong. Change it.
3. Lifestyle Okay, so you have fantastic training and management. Surely that’s it, right? … No! Lifestyle is important.
Type of Exercise. Especially if their reactivity is driven by frustration. If you have a large highly strung dog breed and the majority of their exercise is on a short lead, it just won’t cut it. Energy has a lot to answer for in reactive dogs. Time allowed to be a dog and follow breed outlets is hella important. Some breeds or personalities will be fine just bumbling about on a short lead, but some dogs won’t be and NEED time off lead to run, roam and have fun! Invest in a long line and make an effort to take them somewhere and do this daily. It will take you more time, but cutting this corner will delay your success and increase your dog’s internal frustration (and yours!)
Play. If your dog likes chasing and biting things, give them an outlet for that behaviour in play. If you don’t, your dog will find their own way to express this desire… usually whilst they’re on lead and frustrated. If your dog likes to herd, give them something to herd. If your dog likes running, run with them! There’s so much more to a walk then an amble, and reactive dogs need a way to get rid of their nervous or frustrated energy.
Diet. Gut is heavily linked to the brain. Unhappy gut, unhappy brain! Make sure what you are putting into your dog is contributing towards your progress, not hindering it.
Enrichment. Get your dog foraging and problem-solving with enrichment activities, both in the home and on walks. If you want to try scentwork training, enrol in my UK Sniffer Dogs class.
Reactive dogs need dedication and commitment. You can’t choose convenience with a reactive dog, it’s a second job. I’d be lying if I told you otherwise. Can you tick off everything in this list?