The barking, the lunging, the chaos that ensues when your dog sees another dog, a new human, a bag blowing in the wind, that squirrel running up the tree! Man it can all start to feel to overwhelming, exhausting, and sometimes even just out right frustrating!
Many times I hear dog owners who just feel like they have hit the end of their rope and have no clue what they can even do with their reactive dog. This sweet, best friend, they absolutely adore, but can't seem to do any of the things they had planned to do together. For more information on what reactivity is and how management techniques can make it easier on both you and your dog, be sure to see the last two posts in this series on the blog!
So let's explore some great ideas for what you CAN do with your reactive dog.
Shift your mindset and change your focus!
Hear me out, I know this is so much easier said than done, but try to focus on the things that your dog enjoys and doing more of those together. So maybe long walks around the neighborhood aren't working for you right now because its too overwhelming for your dog and creates lots of big feelings instead of enjoyment. Instead find what your dog loves and do that together. Try to focus on the things that do bring the both of you joy! Still work on your training in short sessions to keep it successful and positive, but make intentional time to enjoy the little things in life with your pup!
Look for alternative options!
Find some alternatives when you can. That walk maybe wasn't successful but you notice your dog does really enjoys the chance to sniff and explore, so maybe you find an empty field and go super early when no one is around. Or perhaps, you
rent a SniffSpot in your area so that your dog can have some freedom to move, sniff, and explore without the risk of the things that trigger them. Maybe you take a hike and explore a low key trail or take a drive and get those sniffs in on the move! Hit that lakeside pathway at sunrise or sunset when it's calm and you can use a longline to get their wiggles out. Finding ways to still enjoy the activities in a more low-key and less stressful way can bring both dog and human some joy.
Make sure you are meeting your dogs needs!
We all want what's best for our dogs and we try so hard to dive into the training and to push our pups to make progress and learn, but it's equally important that we take some time to focus on truly meeting their needs. After all, we want our dogs to live happy and fulfilling lives together with us AND help them to be in place where they can make training progress. It's truly imperative that we check in and make sure we are truly meeting their needs.
Provide Adequate Exercise and Mental Stimulation: Regular exercise and mental stimulation are important for all dogs, including reactive dogs. Providing regular physical exercise through walks, runs, or playtime, and mental stimulation through puzzle toys, training sessions, or sniffing games can help reduce stress and anxiety in your reactive dog. Meeting those mental stimulation needs can be a key piece to the puzzle. Try using puzzle feeders, snuffle mats, hide and seek games, scent work etc.
Provide a Safe and Calm Environment: Creating a safe and calm environment for your reactive dog is crucial. Dogs thrive in a calm and predictable environment, so establish a routine and stick to it. Provide a designated space for your dog where they can feel safe and comfortable, with access to food, water, and a cozy bed. Minimize stressors such as loud noises or open access to windows that may be triggering for them. You can even use a white noise machine like this https://amzn.to/41Ry9W2 to help block out sounds if you are struggling with neighboring apartment noises or reactions to sounds from another room.
Find outlets for their natural behaviors that they exhibit. Maybe your dog really loves to shred things, consider offering them things that they can shred til their hearts content. Things like heads of lettuce, packing paper, long scrap fabric pieces tucked into a holly roller ball like this https://amzn.to/44eSDKD they can pull the large strips of fabric out over and over again (as always be sure to supervise and make sure nothing is swallowed). If they like to dig, consider adding a kiddie pool filled with sand or creating a section of the yard where digging is allowed, or an indoor dig option like this https://amzn.to/3L0OT6u . The idea is simply to find the things your dog wants to do naturally and encourage appropriate outlets for those.
Remember that your reactive dog is still an amazing dog and just needs some adjustments and some positive reinforcement in order to live their best life and thrive with you! You CAN do this and you and your pup can find the joy in the little things, but also know that you are not alone and it does get better! Let us know what your favorite things to do with your dog are. Find what brings joy to both you and your dog and never forget to Just Love The Dog!