So your dog is reactive, now what?
Audrey and I have been there too! When you bring home your sweet, adorable, dreamy puppy and you have such big plans for all the really awesome things you two will do together... and then while out on your walk, it happens.... You go to pass by another dog (or human) and your sweet (still adorable) pup starts pulling on the leash and barking or whining despite your best efforts to refocus them. It can be over excitement, it can be fear, or you may not even know the why in the moment (and that's ok!) but deep breaths, we are here to help break it down a bit and arm you with some knowledge to help.
Reactivity doesn't make your dog "bad" and it certainly doesn't make you a bad owner! Your dog is struggling with big feelings (hey man aren't we all) and just needs some help and guidance to learn how to work through those feelings. They truly aren't giving you a hard time, they are actually themselves having a hard time and there are ways to help make it a bit easier on the both of you!
As we discussed in the previous article reactivity can have a wide variety of causes and even look differently for each dog, for more details and examples be sure to click on over to the What is Reactivity blog post here: https://www.justlovethedog.com/post/what-is-reactivity
So what can you do to help?
There are several strategies that can help you and your pup to make some progress and set the two of you up for solid success. It's also important to remember though that reactivity is a process and not an over night fix, but rather a journey of helping to shift your dogs emotional response and develop a more desirable skillset.
Picture the thing you're most scared of, or that would 100% startle you. Maybe it's snakes, spiders, fire, or any number of things. Now imagine if someone tried to get you sit still in the middle of a room full of that thing you are most scared of and didn't allow you to move away from it.... That probably wouldn't help you to feel super safe and secure, and even more so wouldn't really help you to get over that fear. It would likely make you super uncomfortable, maybe even push you to the point of screaming or crying in response. That's not a feeling or situation we would ever want to intentionally put someone in, yet so often when our dogs are reacting to things, it can be instinct for us to try to get them to do something like a sit. After all, we are human and want to feel more in control of the situation, because let's face it, the barking and lunging is overwhelming. By asking for a sit and trying to force our dogs to quietly sit in the presence of their trigger, we are essentially forcing them to sit still in the middle of the room filled with snakes and being mad at them for not being able to do it, when really neither could we!
Shift Your Mindset!
Instead, if we can try to shift our mindset to focus on how to keep our dog successful, how to add movement, implementing management, and creating small wins for them, we can actually create a ton of progress. This is a lot of words to say, let's break it down in baby steps and create a plan that helps our dogs!
Management is key to success!
So what does it mean to use management? If your dog barks when they see people walking outside your window, you know you can't always catch that before your dog starts to bark in order to work on reducing that frequency, so instead you can help yourself and your dog out by using something like a frosted window cling to block visibility. Something like this https://amzn.to/3MXGlA7 can really help you to manage the environment and allow you time to focus on shaping the response.
If you know your dog tends to react to the sound of the school bus dropping off kids at 3 pm every day, then maybe you set up an enrichment activity that they get to do during that time frame or utilize a sound machine and some white noise to block out the bus sounds. You could even consider freezing some food puzzles so your dog has something amazing to do while the bus comes and you run out to get your kids. Here's one of our favorites: https://amzn.to/3MFcmwk (stay tuned for our post on food puzzle filling ideas!)
Management can look different depending on the dog and the particular issue, but it is simply how can you set the environment or your dog up to help your dog be successful.
There are also active management strategies that can be used when your are out and about if the reactivity struggle happens to be while on a walk. Working on engagement, fun tricks, moving away from triggers, and other active strategies that you implement when you see another dog will help prevent the reaction and give you time to work on changing those emotional responses. This might look like you being super silly and fun and running an opposite direction with your dog, it may look like doing a fun trick to keep your dog engaged and create movement, or it can also look like feeding consistently while moving past a trigger to give you the distance needed to move into another skillset like an engagement game.
You can try changing when you walk and aim for super early or super late when there are fewer triggers. You can try changing where you walk, find an empty field or rent a sniff spot to keep tons of space and allow your dog get get needs met with little to no triggers which will allow decompression and enrichment.
The idea here is that we want to make sure we are setting our dogs up for the best possible chance at success and minimizing the probability of them rehearsing the barking, lunging, whining, etc. The less opportunities they have to practice the behavior, the quicker we can move through it and instill those skillsets for great choices.
If you need help or ideas on how to implement management strategies don't hesitate to reach out so we can come alongside you and create a plan! As always, our goal is to equip you with knowledge, skills, and information so that you can focus on building an amazing bond and Just Love The Dog!
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