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You decide to take your pup for a walk. It’s a beautiful summer day, clear skies, birds singing, and a delicious coffee in your hand.
You look down at the end of the leash and your pup has stopped moving and is staring intensely at another dog down the street. You can tell something’s off.
As the dog gets closer your dog begins to growl and tense up. Things only get worse as they begin to bark, start trying to lung, and totally lose control.
Your perfect walk has now turned into a nightmare.
Dog reactivity isn’t uncommon.
In fact, 1 out of 3 dogs have an issue with reactivity.
The good news is calming a reactive dog can be done with a few simple strategies.
In this post we reveal:
- 7 simple strategies you can use to completely eliminate reactivity in your dog
- The dangers associated with having a reactive dog and how to prevent them from happening
- A dog reactivity chart to help identify your dogs mindset
- And much more
Let’s dive in.
The 7 Simplest Strategies To Calm A Reactive Dog
1) Identify Triggers & Desensitize Them
There are a number of reasons a dog can be reactive.
The key with calming your dog when they get reactive is to first understand what’s causing them to behave this way.
This could be another dog, the mail man, fear of thunder, your pup may have experienced a traumatic event, etc. The list goes on and on.
There are so many different causes for reactivity that the first, most important thing to do is identify what their trigger is/are.
Here’s an easy system to follow:
- Closely watch your dog and write down or take a mental note of what seems to always be their trigger.
- Pair their trigger with something your dog enjoys. This can be high value treats (cheese, chicken, meat etc.), toys, or even something like the jingle from another dog’s collar.
- Depending on the severity of your dog’s response to the trigger you’ll need to prepare in advance. This means training them first before bringing them into an environment where their actual trigger may appear.
- When you’ve identified your dog’s trigger, work to desensitize it. For example, if your dog is scared of thunder, quietly play thunder sounds then simultaneously give them a high value treat or something else they really like. Over time this will help desensitize your pup to the sound that causes them to act out. This process is the same for any trigger.
*If your dog is reactive to other dogs, socialization with other dogs will help desensitize them. Make sure to still pair this with something they enjoy.
2) Set Up A Routine
Now that you have the training structure down, it’s time to set up a routine to complete your training. This will take time, patience, and consistency.
For any successful training strategy a schedule and routine is the ultimate key to success.
Dogs thrive on consistency so make sure to set up a routine and stick to it.
A good idea is to create a plan to train your dog every day for at least 10 minutes. If you’re not consistent with this nothing will change.
No schedule is completely fixed, your dog will grow and learn so things may change and should be shifted as often as needed.
For example, when your dog starts to become more desensitized to the trigger it might be time to move your training into real world scenarios.
3) Get The Right Equipment
When dealing with a reactive dog you want to set yourself up for success with the right tools.
The right equipment allows you to better control your dog and their emotional state when triggers present themselves.
Depending on how your dog responds to their trigger will depend on what tools you will need to help.
These items help control your dogs pulling on leashes and give you better control.
When dealing with reactivity in your home you can use a crate.
Not only will a crate help reduce reactivity but it ensures safety for both your dog and any other dog or person that may cause their reactivity.
Dogs with proper crate training treat their crate as a safe space.
So if you know your dog is reactive when other people visit or when traveling to the vet, you can use a crate to put them at ease and reduce reactivity.
4) Understand Body Language Cues
One of our jobs as dog owners is to be able to identify when our dogs are signaling stress or discomfort.
The best way to determine this is through their body language.
By understanding different signals your dog gives off, we can better diffuse situations that could otherwise get out of hand.
I have attached a dog reactivity chart below to help you identify when your dog is getting into a reactive state.
When you see a trigger approaching your dog, use this chart to help determine your dog’s state
Keep in mind there are tons of little signals a dog can give off that are not mentioned in this chart.
However, these cover the most common order of responses that are likely to occur for reactive dogs.
5) Control The Environment
One of the most important aspects of dog training is controlling your dog’s environment. This allows you to limit their exposure and self-reinforcement.
That way reactivity decreases because there’s less opportunity present.
This also gives you more opportunity to train them with a better habit and desensitize their triggers.
If your dog is reactive when you take them on walks, try controlling their environment by planning getaways or different paths you can take to avoid scenarios.
I used to do this all the time with my dog Enzo when he used to be reactive towards other dogs and people.
I would just walk to the other side of the road whenever I saw another dog coming, I would even plan to take him out later in the day when I knew less people were around.
Another example would be for those of you with a dog that loves barking out the window at other dogs.
In this example all you have to do is close the blinds so there is no longer anything to look at and be triggered by.
6) Get Professional Help
Depending on the severity of your dog’s reactivity, one of the fastest ways to get this problem solved is to go to the experts.
Although it can be quite expensive to have trainers take your dog it can be one of the best choices for some.
Another option is to get specialized training online. It’s really cheap but requires you to put in the work.
Now I’ll be the first to admit a lot of online programs are not very good. We’ve reviewed a ton of really bad dog training programs.
However, I’ve recently found one that’s actually worth recommending.
If you’re in need of some extra help that is much more in depth and specific to your dog, you may want to consider enrolling in SpiritDog Training’s Tackling Reactivity Bundle.
Steffi the creator has over 32,226 students across her training with 100% satisfaction.
For just $49, you get lifetime access to professional dog trainers, on demand step by step video training, instructional PDFs, progress tracking, all from the comfort of your home.
SpiritDog’s Tackling Reactivity Bundle also comes with a 60-day money back guarantee.
7.) Never Respond With Anger & Frustration
Be patient and tolerant of your dog’s reactivity. They’re emotional and cannot help themselves.
If you get mad and frustrated it’ll often lead to yelling, yanking your dog when they pull on leash, etc.
These things cause the reactivity to become reinforced and only makes things worse.
For example, if your dog is barking and you start yelling at them, your dog has no idea why you’re yelling.
In fact, they might actually think you’re yelling with them which to them means it’s okay for them to be reacting as they are.
Stick to positive reinforcement and avoid punishment. Only reward your dog when they behave the way you want and when they misbehave, stay calm and be patient.
Your dog is not being “bad”, they’re just acting in a primitive way. They are on high alert set off by their fight or flight response.