Monday, October 5, 2015

Three Simple Ways to Prevent Reactive Behavior! Positive Dog Training

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.


  1. It sounds like counterconditioning works super well for you. As you know, Shyla was a very fearful dog - too fearful to take treats when around barking dogs or unknown people. So, our trainer taught us BAT, which essentially gives Shyla the choice, every time, about how she wants to handle a scary situation. I follow her lead, and I reward her after she thinks about it and makes her choice. I've found this technique works great for her!

  2. Sounds like a great plan! That complex will help you and the girls up your game!

  3. That demon dog is so scary! wth! I'm a big fan of the avoid and evade technique. Just yesterday, I had to tell a homeless man asking about Sniffer Dogs when he saw Riko doing agility to stay back. We were probably 75ft from him and Riko was still mildly nervous. In situations like those, I can't use food with Riko (he gets too high and spits it out lol) so he got tons of toy play instead. :)

  4. This is great! Thanks for this!!
    ღ husky hugz ღ frum our pack at Love is being owned by a husky!

  5. Wonderful advice. Luckily Khloee nor Wynston are reactive. The only thing I struggle with sometimes is children running up to them. Wynston is very scared of kids so typically I just swoop him up into my arms. There have been several occasions where I've had to tell kids "no, you cannot pet them."

  6. What great advice! I have finally gotten in the habit of always having treats with me when we go for walks. That's even when I have Sheba who is not afraid of people or other dogs, but can occasionally be timid about different things. Now I see a way I can even help her when those things happen. She is my one dog that is not reactive at all, and I'd like to keep it that way! :)
    Jan, Wag 'n Woof Pets

  7. We also play the LAT game a lot and I try to avoid triggers if I think they're going to be too much for him. We're very familiar with all the houses that have barking dogs out all day.

  8. Great advice! Behaviour can be changed! The science shows it, people and animals just need time, practice and reinforcement!

  9. That's fantastic advice! LAT is a great game in my pups' minds.

  10. I counterconditioned every dog as a preventive measure when we first got Nala, too! To this day, one of her strongest behaviors is checking in with me when she sees a dog and after she greets for a few seconds. It's awesome.
    Good girl, waggy Zoe! It sounds like your apartment complex is really hard for your girls. I hate being yelled at too, so I can empathize! But I'm sure that the good work you're doing here will help them feel more comfortable, which should, in turn, improve their leash walking skills (since I know that's been frustrating you lately). With Nala, there was no discernible change for weeks--and then she was suddenly better, like something just clicked overnight. It's really interesting.

  11. I just learned about that Look at That game and I think it's wonderful. Will be trying that one out for sure.
    --Wags (and purrs) from Life with Dogs and Cats

  12. That's so awesome about her reaction to the Cattle Dog - interestingly enough the last few 'not so nice' dogs we've encountered were ACDs or Border Collies. (just glad it's not a German Shepherd for a change)

    I love doing the "look at that!" method with Laika - it really does work. Especially when - as you said - you don't rush into things & go too far too soon. I know it's tempting when you make progress to up the ante all the time, but as I've learned slow & steady seems to win the race - at least when it comes to counter conditioning.

  13. Wow, looks like you're having some wonderful success with all your hard work. Congratulations!

    It is so helpful to find calm situations to practice with. Because I've had 3 reactive dogs, I've been very happy to volunteer with Honey to help other people with reactive dogs practice walking by Honey without making a big fuss.

    Maybe we should go on the road? :)

  14. Thanks for these tips! I will definitely start using them.

  15. We're thinking that all the dogs in the apartment complex are reactive because they live in apartments and don't get enough exercise. So we are glad that someone like you is responsible enough to make sure the dogs are well trained and exercised. Thanks for joining #DogWalkingWeek!

    1. Hi Dolly, Reactivity is not a result of being under exercised. Reactivity is fear based, or dogs who are over stimulated and unable to get to the thing they want. You could exercise a dog to death, until they drop and they could still be reactive and find energy to be reactive. Too much exercise in Phoenix's case causes her to be more reactive, impulsive and unable to think clearly. Exercise is not the answer to reactivity based behavioral problems. Training and working with impulse control is the best thing, along with counter conditioning and desensitization.

      In my experience, dogs who live in apartments actually get more exercise than dogs who live with people who own houses and yards. Most dogs just go out into the yard and wander around where people who live in apartments actually have to walk their dogs.

      Thank you for your comment.

  16. I am so, so late to the commenting party on this hop - sorry about that! These are great tips. Although I have not made much progress with Ruby's leash reactivity, one thing I have improved is my own attitude. I stopped worrying what other people think, so I can usually just get us away from the situation with a cheerful "Let's Go!" Our other main challenge is that Ruby won't really take treats outside. She is so overstimulated just by the sights and smells, everything is a trigger.


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