3 Tips for Reactive Dog Owners

Reactive dog

Having a reactive dog is hard! Triggers are everywhere and even just going for a simple walk can be completely out of the question. Dog ownership on hard mode for sure. 

The devil is in the details for any reactive dog, and there are a few common mistakes that I see owners making often, which don’t help! 

Parking the Dog

Uh oh, a trigger appears! Your grip tightens a little on the leash you and look for a place to pull your dog over on the side of the path. You try to ask your dog to sit, sometimes having to physically restrain them, all the while waiting for the trigger to just pass by (why are they taking so long??!). 

Finally they’re past you and you can take your dog out of the parked space on the side of the path, only to have to do it all over again when the next trigger shows up. And so your walks go. 

Why isn't this Recommended?

In short this stretches time out for everyone waaaaaaay too long. It allows a reactive dog to focus on their trigger and slowly builds stress, not to mention it removes the dog’s ability to create distance. By removing the dog’s ability to flee and then prolonging an uncomfortable situation, we actually make reactivity worse!

So parking a dog like this without support is really not a good tactic to use when you’re trying to help your dog through these events. 

Patrolling

You’ve finally found your neighborhood route with the least amount of triggers!! Hurray!! Or is it really something to celebrate?

After a few times of walking this route you notice that your dog isn’t really that interested in sniffing and they instead are walking around looking for things to potentially react to. Yes there aren’t a ton of triggers, but your dog is still on alert, ready to explode at the next opportunity. 

Your reactive dog is patrolling, not exploring or decompressing and sometimes it seems like they are getting even more sensitive to things. 

Why We Avoid This

Walks for reactive dogs are important to help them practice normal dog behaviors like exploring, but that can’t happen when a dog knows a route like the back of their paw! Novelty is important to help dogs decompress and shed stress they have, especially for reactive dogs. The last thing we want to be doing is cultivating sensitivity, or teaching a reactive dog that the walk we take is one that they should patrol. 

This inevitably happens with routes that are too familiar to a reactive dog.

To Treat or Not to Treat?

Let’s dispel a myth right here. Giving a reactive dog a treat DOES NOT reward bad behavior or make them more likely to react later. To put it into human terms that’s like saying giving a sad person 50 bucks would make them sad more often.

Reactivity is purely an emotional over reaction, they are reflexive and for the reactive dog they are often not at all a choice. Use of treats will not make the situation worse. Punishment on the other hand will. 

We don’t want to increase the amount of stress that a reactive dog is feeling around their triggers, so it’s not a good idea to be using punitive tools with a reactive dog, things such as prong/choke collars or e collars, they will not help rehab the dog and will only add more stress to the problem. 

Treats can be a very powerful tool to help desensitize a dog to their triggers, and have a plethora of ways to be used with a reactive dog. It can be a little more tricky than it seems, but used correctly they are the best option to getting success with your dog.