Now that we’ve discussed why your dog might be reactive, let’s talk about some training exercises that you can do to help alleviate your dog’s frustration!
One note before you start training: make sure you do several practice sessions before taking your training to the streets. If you begin teaching these exercises in a highly distracting environment, your dog may be too frustrated to learn. Practicing in a calm setting like your living room or your front porch first will offer your dog the best environment to learn something new. Then as your dog begins responding more reliably, you can begin working in more distracting locations.
Teaching your dog to focus can go a long way towards curbing reactivity. To teach, begin with your dog in a sit position by your left side. Using a treat, trace a line from your dog’s nose to your eyes. When your dog’s eyes shift from the treat to your eyes, mark the correct behavior with a verbal “yes” and reward with the treat.
Have your dog ‘learn to earn’ by asking him for a focus before anything that he finds rewarding. For example, focus before you throw a toy, before you walk out the door or before crossing the street. If your dog learns to focus on you every time they want something, you will be able to control his excitement in many situations (like when they see another dog!).
Sometimes you need your dog to turn away from a frustrating situation and look to you for guidance. Front will help with that. With your dog leashed, say the word “Front” and take several steps backward. When your dog turns toward you, stop and reward him for sitting and making eye contact. From here, you may choose to have your dog hold a stay and focus on you, proceed forward or change direction to give yourself some space from the frustrating situation.
If your dog looks like he is going to react to a trigger on a walk, you might be able to intercept it by giving him something else to focus on. For this exercise, you’ll need a high-value treat (think chunks of cheese or hot dog). Loudly call out “Find It” and toss a handful (between 5-15 chunks) of treats onto the ground directly in front of your dog. Make sure he sees them being dropped even though he might be distracted. Praise your dog for foraging around on the ground instead of reacting to the other dog. If your dog finishes the treats before the other dog has a chance to pass, toss some more down or try to refocus the dog on you.
And remember, while leash reactivity can be scary, it is modifiable in many instances. Don’t be afraid to reach out to a Certified Professional Dog Trainer for help with your precocious pooch if you feel like you are struggling!