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Why Is Your Dog Reactive?

If you have a dog that has to respond to every sound they hear outside by dashing from window to window, or if walking is a struggle because they lunge at cars and other dogs, it can get pretty frustrating. Once they get distracted, it’s like you aren’t even there, and all the training you’ve worked on at home just goes right out the window.


reactive dog barking in car

This is life with a reactive dog. Fortunately, it doesn’t have to be a never ending cycle of barking, whining, and jumping. Learning why your dog is reactive, identifying their triggers, and training might seem daunting. It takes consistency and understanding, but it’s easier than you think. Let’s learn a little more about reactivity in your dog and the steps you can take to calm it.



What Is Reactivity?


The first step to working with a reactive dog is to understand exactly what reactivity is. Reactivity is an overreaction to a stimulus. If your dog barks and lunges at other dogs, if every sound outside causes a frenzy of barking and growling, or if a loud car engine causes them to run up and down the fence line, then you most likely have a reactive dog.


reactive dog at fence

This behavior frequently gets confused with aggression. While it might appear similar, very few dogs who exhibit reactive behaviors are acting out of aggression. But if ignored, reactivity can eventually lead to aggression… and a whole new set of problems. Here are a few common issues that often lead to reactivity:


  • Poor socialization

  • Trauma from a bad experience

  • No training in self-control

  • Overstimulation or excitement

  • Genetics



What Is Your Dog Reactive To?


If you think your dog is showing signs of reactivity, the next step is to figure out what triggers the behavior. Some dogs are reactive to other dogs while on leash, others may be set off by people in hats, loud noises, or men in trench coats. Observing your dog and what has changed in their environment when they begin their reactive behavior will help you pinpoint what is setting them off.


reactive dog on leash

Getting to know your dog’s body language will help you identify their reactive behavior before it starts. Sudden tension, focus in one spot, and pulling forward are signs that your dog has alerted on something and may possibly go into a barking and lunging frenzy. As you observe your dog, you will start to see your dog’s individual “tells” that something is triggering their reactive behavior.



Handling Reactivity


Of course you don’t want to be stressed out every time you try to take your dog for a walk. That will only add to your dog’s reactivity problem… since your dog will be tense if they sense your tension. You can make day to day life a lot calmer… and quieter. It’s going to take time, and training, but training sessions are a great way to bond with your dog!


Routine


You can start getting your dog’s reactivity under control by establishing a daily routine. Dog’s thrive on routine; it helps them feel more comfortable in their environment. Once they know what to expect in their day, your dog will be more relaxed, and a relaxed dog is less likely to be reactive.


Puppy Yoga


Puppy Yoga is an excellent training tool for every dog, and it’s especially great for reactive dogs. It helps teach your dog how to ignore distractions and center themselves. Learning to ignore distractions is an important part of training reactive dogs, since reactivity can be the result of over stimulation.


A lack of self control is another factor in many reactive dogs. Puppy Yoga gives your dog the tools they need to learn self control and relaxation. Your dog starts by learning a relaxation pose and should eventually be able to hold this, even if you are at a distance. Holding this pose requires focusing on you and controlling the impulse to bark at paper or to run after the cat.


Socialization


Socialization with other people, and eventually other dogs, will help you gain control of reactivity. Start in a neutral place that your dog does not feel territorial about, then as they have more and more positive experiences, you can slowly start introducing your dog to people at home. Don’t throw your dog into crowded situations right away. Walks with a friend, slowly working to going to a dog friendly restaurant, and eventually, gatherings at home can help your dog get used to a variety of people in different situations.


barking reactive dog on leash

Dog parks aren’t the best way to get a reactive dog to start getting used to others. This is just setting them up for failure. Dog parks can be very high energy and overstimulating for even the most well rounded of dogs. Planned leashed meetings, always starting in a neutral place, walks together on leash, and slow exposure will start getting your dog the socialization that is necessary for their mental well-being.


Location Training


Take your basic obedience training sessions outside. Once your dog has mastered commands at home, a change of scenery can be beneficial. Going outside gets your dog used to performing commands in an environment with new smells and sounds. They will get used to focusing on you… instead of fixating on distractions like sounds or other dogs. Start slowly in a low traffic area, and slowly move these sessions to different places.


Whether you are working with a puppy to prevent reactivity, or an older dog who already has reactive behaviors, consistency is what will make the difference. Maintaining schedules and teaching your dog manners and boundaries all play into how comfortable they are in navigating the world.



Reminder: you don’t have to go it alone! If you’re in the New York or New Jersey area, and you need some help navigating training (or maybe you want to learn more about Puppy Yoga), check out our services page. We have virtual and in-person options to help you and your dog live the best dog friendly life.


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