Reducing Reactivity on Your Dog Walks
One of the most common dog behavior problems is reactivity on leash. “Reactivity” refers to a dog barking at people, other dogs or other things (cars, bikes, etc.) while on a walk. This can be especially problematic when living in a city high rise building or apartment complex where there is a great deal of hustle and bustle. While working with a certified trainer is the best way to combat and correct reactive behavior, there are lots of easy training techniques you can use to prevent it!
Encourage Focus on Walks
One of the best ways to prevent reactivity is to keep your dog’s focus on you during walks. This can be achieved by teaching your dog from an early age to regularly look at you while on walks. This can be accomplished by starting to give your dog a treat every time they look at you while on a walk. After time only reward them occasionally. This will encourage your dog to regularly “check in” with you (which is also quite adorable).
The “Look” Command You can also train your dog to look at you with a verbal commands such as “Look” or “Watch Me”. It’s recommended you begin the exercise indoors where there are few distractions. While they’re in a sit, you’ll want to hold a treat in front of your dog’s nose and slowly draw it up to your eyes. Once they look into your eyes you want to say “yes” (or click if you’re using a clicker!) and give the dog a treat. You’ll want to continue this exercise by “fading” (ie, no longer using) the treat and just drawing the dog’s eyes up to yours with the command “Look” or a similar one. You’ll want to extend the time the dog looks at you until you give them a treat, so they learn to look at you for a longer period of time. With more repetitions and your dog improving with each step you can increase the distractions around your dog while you practice, and work on it while walking on leash as well. This way, if your dog looks at something you think they might bark at, you can say “Look!” and they will look at you instead of barking at the triggering person, animal or object. If you struggle with this, it’s best to seek out a trainer to give you hands-on lessons and guidance.
Discourage On-Leash Greetings While it may be difficult, especially when you have a puppy, try not to allow your dog to go up to strange people and dogs unless you choose to do so first. While on the surface this might appear to be good behavior, it takes the dog’s focus off you, and may cause them to continuously be searching for new friends and create rowdy behavior. A friendly dog looking to charge up to other dogs or people to say hello can also turn into a dog that, once they are not allowed to say hi, becomes frustrated and begins barking. The dog will then associate other people or dogs with frustration and then increase into more and more intense reactivity.
When You Already Have a Reactive Dog
It can be frustrating, embarrassing and even scary if you have a reactive dog and never dealt with one before. People can be judgmental and think or say your dog is aggressive, when that may not be the case. If this is the case and the reactivity is causing you and your dog a great deal of stress, we strongly advise you seek out a trainer to help you and your dog. Countless dogs who had previously been wildly reactive have successfully be trained to be well behaved and even receive compliments on their manners from neighbors. So don’t worry, there is hope!
If you live in a Bark Building, feel free to reach out to your Pet Concierge for more tips on preventing reactive behavior - or check out your property’s Recommended by Bark Buildings section for trusted trainers in your area.