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Helping Your Reactive Dog: A Guide to Understanding and Supporting Your Furry Friend

23/08/2023 - Dog Behaviour

Having a dog is a wonderful experience, but some dogs may struggle with reactivity, which can make walks and social interactions challenging for both the owner and the pet. Reactivity in dogs can manifest as barking, lunging, or aggressive behaviour towards people, other animals, or specific triggers. If you have a reactive dog, don't despair – with patience, understanding, and proper training, you can help your furry friend overcome their reactive tendencies and create a more harmonious and happy relationship. In this blog, we'll explore some effective strategies to help your reactive dog become a well-adjusted and confident companion.

Recognise the Signs of Reactivity:
The first step in helping your reactive dog is to recognise the signs of reactivity. Common signs include barking, growling, pulling on the leash, raised hackles, and excessive panting. Understanding these cues will help you anticipate and address your dog's reactions in various situations.

Consult a Professional Trainer/Behaviourist:
Working with a professional dog trainer or behaviourist experienced in handling reactive dogs can make a significant difference. They can assess your dog's triggers, tailor a training plan to your dog's specific needs, and offer guidance and support throughout the process. A positive reinforcement-based training approach is generally the most effective and humane method for reactive dogs. Click here to book a consultation with a qualified behaviourist. 

Very Gradual Exposure to Triggers:
Exposure therapy can be helpful in desensitising reactive dogs to their triggers. Start by exposing your dog to the trigger at a distance where they feel comfortable and reward calm behaviour with treats and praise. Gradually decrease the distance over time as your dog becomes more comfortable, always ensuring they are under their threshold of reactivity.

Use Counter-Conditioning Techniques:
Counter-conditioning involves associating the trigger with something positive. For example, if your dog is reactive towards other dogs, whenever they see a dog, immediately offer a tasty treat or engage them in a fun game. This will teach your dog to associate the presence of other dogs with positive experiences, ultimately reducing their reactivity.

Practice Focus and Recall:
Teaching your reactive dog to focus on you and respond to a recall command is essential for managing challenging situations. Regularly practice focus exercises in a quiet environment and gradually increase the level of distraction. Always reward your dog's attentiveness with treats, praise, or play.

Create a Safe Space:
Your reactive dog needs a secure environment where they feel safe and relaxed. When at home, provide a designated area like a crate or a quiet room where your dog can retreat to if they feel overwhelmed. This will be their safe haven during stressful times.

Exercise and Mental Stimulation:
A tired dog is a less reactive dog. Regular exercise and mental stimulation are vital for a balanced and happy pet. Engage in daily walks, training sessions, or try puzzle toys that challenge their problem-solving skills. A well-exercised dog is more likely to exhibit calmer behaviour. Click here for our online training course, Dogversity, which showcases a range of exercises to train your dogs. If you’d like face to face training, click here to join our Puppy and Dog classes. 

Practice Patience and Consistency:
Helping your reactive dog is a journey that requires patience and consistency. Understand that progress might be slow, and setbacks can happen. Celebrate even the smallest achievements and remain committed to the training process.

Having a reactive dog can be challenging, but with the right approach and dedication, you can help your furry friend become more confident and less reactive. By recognizing the signs of reactivity, seeking professional guidance, and employing positive reinforcement-based training methods, you'll create a stronger bond with your canine companion. Remember, every dog is unique, so tailor your training plan to suit your dog's individual needs. With time and effort, your reactive dog can become a well-adjusted and happy member of your family.

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