How To Help Your Reactive Dog

Reactive Dog Training Edinburgh Tips To Help Your Pooch

Living and working in Leith, Edinburgh is hard work when you have a reactive and anxious dog, I should know I live with my own barking lunctic Ally in the heart of Leith. Ally is a 3 year old, Old English Sheepdog who looses her calm whenever she sees a bicycle ride past us, so living and walking in this cycle friendly area can be an absolute nightmare.

The shame that falls over you when your dog transforms into a barking, lunging nightmare on the end of the lead is awful and embarrassing, I know the looks and stares we get, you can practically hear people thinking that your dog is dangerous, or that you must be a bad owner with no control over your dog. I swear Ally has even brought traffic to a stand still with her oh so loud barking.

monochrome photo of border collie barking
Photo by Candid Shots on Pexels.com

Let me tell you how to help your reactive dog even if its dogs, bikes, runners, skateboards or something else they react too. Before I let you know how I helped Ally, I want to quickly cover what you MUST avoid doing.

Punishing your dog – This means no shouting, pulling/dragging and hitting your dog. It may seem like a natural thing to shout at your dog, especially when your dog is kicking off at that bike, but it gets you nowhere. You will end up stressed, and your dog will end up more stressed at best and scared of you at worst, both options just make the original problem worse.
Body Blocking – You can see a dog your dog reacts to walking in your direction, so you decide to body block your dog from being able to look at it. This may seem like a sensible idea, but all you achieve is you constantly sidestepping to block your dog who is moving side to side to get a better
look at the dog in question. You’re getting frustrated and so is your dog, so either of you wins.
Tense Up – Easier said than done, but you need to relax especially in front of your dog’s trigger. Your dog knows when you’re tensing up and getting stressed, even when you think you’re hiding it, dogs are masters at reading our body language. Take deep breaths, relax your shoulders and loosen the death grip you have on your dogs lead, over time this becomes easier. The more you can relax, the more your dog will be likely to relax.

Look At That.
This was the game-changer for me and Ally, this is the game I used with Ally, and after lots and lots of practice, she can be around bikes with no issue. 98% of the time she won’t chase or bark at a bike going past her, even when she is off lead… amazing or what! OK, 2% of the time she looks like she is considering chasing but this usually happens when she is already over-excited after playing, so I can forgive her that.

First of all, you need the really high-value treats and plenty of them. You also need to make sure there is a lot of distance between your dog and his trigger. Distance is always your friend.

  1. Stand with your dog, with their trigger in the distance. (If your dog starts immediately reacting then you are too close, you need to add more distance. Walk away)
  2. You should be quiet and doing nothing to indicate to your dog the trigger is present.
  3. The SECOND your dog notices his trigger say ‘Good’. Your dog should look back to you, so give him a treat, try to feed it in your treat spot.
  4. Your dog will most likely turn back to look at his trigger, that’s fine just make sure you say ‘Good’ as soon as he looks at the trigger. Repeat until the trigger moves away out of sight or if you’ve set up his trigger, then walk away with your dog after 3 to 5 looks by your dog.
  5. Every time your dog sees/notices his trigger, make sure you say ‘Good’ at that second. Your dog is learning its OK to look at his triggers because he is being rewarded.
    Ideally, you should try and create practice set-ups for you and your dog to practice looking at his trigger at a safe distance, and I can appreciate that real life will get in the way before your dog has LAT mastered. This means that whenever you go for a walk with your dog, and there is a possibility he might see a trigger, then you must be super alert to your surroundings at ALL times.

What to dog what a trigger just appeared in front of you and your dog.
Even with all your head turning and obsessive looking around to watch for a trigger appearing, one can still appear out of nowhere in front of you. Stay calm and do an Emergency Turn, see below. This lets you get out of doge straight away, then you can adjust your route or wait for the trigger to pass while you’re at a safer distance.

Emergency Turn
Practice this on your walks first, then when you need it, you can use it without effort.

  1. With your dog walking alongside you, say ‘Let’s Go’ and do an about-turn (180-degree turn). Ensure you keep walking, ie don’t stop to say let’s go.
  2. As your dog follows, you say ‘Good’ just as soon as your dog is facing the new direction and give a treat in the treat spot.
  3. Be really enthusiastic, so your dog will follow.
  4. It’s fine to give a gentle tug with the change of direction but avoid pulling/dragging your dog.
    Let’s Go should be a happy sound, avoid saying it in an angry/stressed manner. You must always practise this move. If you only save it to use when there is a trigger up ahead, then your dog will learn that ‘Let’s Go’ means his trigger is coming. Dogs are smart like that.

This is the long game.

Helping and training your reactive dog means playing the long game, there is no quick fix for your dog but using these reward based methods you will get long lasting results. My Ally a full year after starting training is off lead and running around while there are bikes going past, she doesn’t react to them but she does still get praised for looking at them, you see look at that is life long technique. There maybe days where all you say is good to your dog and its enough but then there are odd moments you find yourself saying good and treating until you run out. Whatever happens make sure your approach is the same, positive and consistant.

I specialise in helping humans who have reactive dogs, I will show you how you can train and help your dog become calm and remain calm. So if you need further one to one help get in touch by email me at contact@edinburghholisticdogs.co.uk

Take care

Suzanne aka The Rescue Dog Ranger®

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