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  • Writer's pictureThe Dogzbody

Handling a Reactive Dog: Tips for Harmony.

Introduction


Dog on a leash
Coping with dog reactivity

Dogs are beloved companions, offering unconditional love and loyalty. However, some dogs exhibit reactive behaviours that can be challenging for both the dog and their owner. Reactive behaviour can manifest as barking, lunging, or snapping in response to specific stimuli such as other dogs, strangers, or unfamiliar environments. If you have a reactive dog, don't despair! With patience, understanding, and proper training, you can help your best friend become a more relaxed and well-adjusted companion.


1. Identify Triggers


The first step in managing a reactive dog is to identify its triggers. Observe your dog closely to understand what situations or stimuli cause them to react. Is it other dogs, new people, bicycles, or something else? Once you know their triggers, you can better prepare for encounters and gradually desensitise your dog to those triggers.


2. Positive Reinforcement Training


Positive reinforcement is a powerful tool when dealing with reactive dogs. Reward your dog for calm behaviour and redirect their focus away from triggers. When they remain calm in the presence of a trigger, offer treats, praise, and affection. This conditions them to associate positive experiences with potentially stressful situations, encouraging them to remain composed.


3. Counter-Conditioning


Counter-conditioning involves changing your dog's emotional response to triggers. For instance, if your dog is reactive towards other dogs, gradually expose them to the sight of other dogs from a distance where they remain calm. Reward their calm behaviour consistently to create a positive connection. Gradually decrease the distance over time as their reactions improve.


4. Desensitisation


Desensitisation involves gradually exposing your dog to their triggers in controlled and manageable stages. This process helps them become accustomed to the trigger's presence without triggering a reactive response. Start at a distance where your dog remains calm and gradually decrease the distance over multiple sessions.


5. Use of Visual Barriers


Using visual barriers like trees, fences, or parked cars can help reduce your dog's reactivity by blocking the direct line of sight to triggers. This can create a sense of security for your dog and reduce the immediate trigger response.


Dog standing on a tree
Tips for managing dog reactivity

6. Calming Aids and Tools


Consider using calming aids such as Thundershirts, which provide gentle pressure and can have a calming effect on some dogs.


7. Seek Professional Help


If your dog's reactivity is severe or you're finding it challenging to manage on your own, seeking professional help is a wise step, that's where we can help :) Trained behaviourists or experienced dog trainers can create a tailored plan to address your dog's specific needs. They can offer guidance, support, and structured training sessions.


8. Practice Patience


Dealing with a reactive dog requires a lot of patience. Progress might be slow, but every small step forward is an achievement. Celebrate the victories, no matter how minor they seem, and understand that setbacks are a natural part of the process.


9. Provide Mental and Physical Stimulation


Engaging your dog's mind and body can help reduce reactivity. Regular exercise, interactive toys, and puzzle games can keep them occupied and content, which can ultimately lead to a decrease in reactive behaviour.


10. Consistency is Key


Consistency is crucial when working with a reactive dog. Follow the training routine diligently and ensure that all family members are on the same page and all doing the same thing with the dog. Inconsistent reactions can confuse your dog and hinder their progress.


Conclusion


Handling a reactive dog requires commitment, understanding, and a well-structured training plan. With proper reinforcement, patience, and the right techniques, you can help your furry friend become more comfortable and relaxed in various situations. Remember, every dog is unique, and progress may vary. By working together and celebrating even the smallest successes, you can create a stronger bond and a happier, less reactive companion.


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