Hi everyone! Happy National Walk Your Dog Week! Today I want to talk to you about a few simple things you can do to PREVENT reactive behavior while out on walks! These tips are for dog owners who have a dog that ISN'T reactive yet, they are also good for dogs with mild reactivity. These are great tips if your dog is sensitive like mine are or you have a young puppy who's a little nervous about things.
The first tip I have is if your dog is sensitive, avoid scary situations in the first place. Don't put them into situations they are not able to handle. This might mean that you need to skip the dog park and just play games in your yard with friends your dog already knows. If you don't have a yard then find a quieter park or use the school yard during off hours with a long line attached to your dog's harness. Maybe you need to take a different route on your daily walk to avoid a house with the "scary" dogs. If your dog is worried about strangers don't force interactions. Let your dog decide if she wants to interact with someone or not. It's okay to say, "No. You may not pet." Always set the dog up for success!
It only takes one bad experience to create a reactive dog and the next tip I have for you is something I've been using from the beginning with my two dogs. When we got Phoenix she was extremely skittish and very fearful. I had to use a lot of counter conditioning to get her used to her new world. When we went for walks in the park, I would give her treats every time someone passed us, dog or no dog. I would make sure she had enough space to feel comfortable and I would feed her until the oncoming person or dog was gone. Every time she saw something new she got a treat, no matter what she was doing. Every time she decided to be brave and check something out, she got a treat. She was never forced into doing anything she was uncomfortable with and we let her decide if she wanted to check something or someone out or not.
Recently, I've found that I needed to go back to counter conditioning both of my dogs because of our living situation. All the dogs in our apartment complex are reactive. You can't go out the door and down the street without someone barking and freaking out at you. I began noticing that my dogs were starting to get upset on walks when they would see other dogs because being barked at can be very scary.
|The Demon Dog represents everything your dog finds scary!|
I started taking my treat bag with me on every outing, even if it's just running out for a quick pee. My bag is filled with tasty treats and every time we end up passing a barking dog, I say "YAY!!!" in a very cheerful voice and I begin treating the dogs while also moving them away from the barking dog. If you need help teaching your dog to move away and come with you, please see this kikopup video: How to stop your dog lunging and barking- Train 'Let's Go!'
The last thing I do, is if we see a dog (or other scary thing) in the distance and that dog is not barking or otherwise acting scary, if we have enough space, I also treat them for it and we play the "Look at that Game". I say "that's a dog!" or "that's a person!" and when they look I feed treats. We do that for a few minutes and then I move them away from the dog in the distance. I make sure that I am mentally prepared for training and I keep my voice even and happy. So that they know I am confident and everything is fine.
By giving treats, we are pairing a scary thing with something the dog loves, hoping to create a positive association and change the dog's emotional state. By moving the dogs away from the scary thing, we are helping the dog to feel safe. Doing these two things together, my dogs are starting to feel better about walking around our apartment complex.
Recently as we were out walking, we passed someone with a cattle dog. The cattle dog instantly hackled and began barking his head off at them and lunging aggressively. Before I started my "YAY!" thing that I do, I noticed that Zoe was just watching him with a curious look on her face and her tail even began to wag. She wasn't upset at all! Phoenix was a little worried but they both got their treats and we moved away from the dog. I continued to feed until the other dog stopped barking.
I will be continuing this training until we move away from this complex. I never know what scary thing will be around the corner so it's important that we keep it up.
The training works if you are consistent! Don't forget your treats and don't be stingy with them either! If you're worried about the dog gaining weight you can use some of their daily diet mixed in with the treats and subtract it from their bowl at meal times.
What do you do with your dogs to prevent reactive behavior?
If you have any questions be sure to leave them in the comment section or you can always email me. I also have a lot of training resources in my training page.