5 Healthy Habits For Reactive Dogs And Their Owners

Let’s face it, sometimes owning a reactive dog is just plain hard. Sometimes, the idea of getting up and taking a walk in the mornings, when I know I might end up with a whirling dervish instead of a dog at the end of my lead, makes me want to stay home. However, it’s important that I not give in (too much) to that desire, for Topher’s sake. When the going gets tough, or your dog’s behavior is driving you crazy, it sometimes feels a hell of a lot easier to just give up.

But the end result is worth it, so in teaching your dog proper behavior, you should strive to adopt healthy habits alongside them. Here are just a few that, when practiced regularly, will help you get to the light at the end of the tunnel, even on those days when you’d rather sit down in the street and have a good cry. (Don’t judge me.)

Establish An Exercise and Training Routine, And Stick To It

A thirty minute walk can help you and your dog meet your daily exercise requirements and can also help improve your dog’s behavior. For reactive dogs, being cooped up at home day in and day out can not only be pretty boring, but can exacerbate reactive behavior when they’re out. The key to training your dog away from their reactions is active training and socialization, so many dogs who aren’t exercised or trained daily may have trouble learning not to bark at neighbors or pull their leads just by staying home.

Incorporate the walk in your daily routine. Just like you wouldn’t skip brushing your teeth, don’t skip the walk. Having trouble finding the time? Wake up earlier. Get it out of the way before the responsibilities of the day interfere. It will also leave your dog in a more restful state when you head out for the day.

If Your Training Style Isn’t Working, Change It!

I know I know, I just said it was important to stick to a routine. But sometimes, when repetition isn’t working in reactive training, it’s because your dog has developed routines of their own, or has reacted to the same situation in the same way so many times that it’s nearly impossible to break them out of a certain reaction. We started having this problem with Topher when we were going to larger group classes, and our trainers suggested changing our routine. So that’s exactly what we did. We traded the large group for a smaller class where Topher is learning to go through agility obstacles—he has to concentrate on those obstacles, rather than the smaller group of dogs that are around and focused on their own training sessions. He’s also started going to day camps, where he’s learning to interact (usually via a crate) with a much smaller group of dogs in a more relaxed setting.

If repetition isn’t working for you in training, or you feel like you’re stuck in a rut trying to get your reactive dog to overcome a certain obstacle, it may to time to change things up! Whether that’s seeking out a professional, changing your location, or working on something else entirely.

Make Training Fun

Developing good habits doesn’t mean you can’t add some fun! If you’re avoiding exercise or training with your dog, often it’s out of boredom. 

So change up your walk route, or visit a nearby park. Or skip the walk entirely, and play a game of fetch instead. For training sessions, why not change from treats to toys? Or, make a game out of learning a specific command, like this game to teach the ‘Take It’ and ‘Drop It’ commands. There are endless ways that you can make your relationship with your dog a more rewarding part of your life and family, and your dog will benefit from the increased mental challenge.

Practice Patience

Training or rehabilitating a reactive dog is hard, frustrating work. Work that sometimes makes you want to yell at your dog, or cry, or lay on the floor and give up. We’ve all done it (or wanted to do it). But practicing patience with your dog means trying to get past the frustrating feelings, and keep training. Yelling, hitting, or punishing your dog out of frustration won’t help them learn, so save those feelings for another time. Rant to your friends, your family, whoever. But don’t take it out on your pup. They’re trying really hard to make you happy, just remember that.

Believe In Your Pet

The best thing you can do for your reactive dog is believe in them! I know, it sounds corny, but if you don’t believe that you can rehabilitate your dog, then quitting during those tough times will feel even more tempting. But you should believe in them, when they make progress, and when they’re being a little monstrous. Accept your dog for who they are and set realistic goals, and believe you can achieve them.

Will Topher ever be a canine good citizen? We don’t know. But, we are teaching him to make better choices when he sees dogs on the street, rather than lunging or barking. Progress!

Lucy Bennett

Lucy is a writer, artist, and Hufflepuff currently living in Atlanta, Ga. When not making things, she enjoys costuming, tabletop games, and digging in the dirt.


1 Comment

  • Lara Elizabeth

    Great advice! I have an extremely reactive dog and understand the struggle it can be.

    December 4, 2014 at 10:33 AM

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