Reactive dog training tips

Reactivity in dogs is often and understandably confused with aggression. In actuality, these are two very different emotional responses. (Aggressive dog training involves a different process.) 

A dog becomes reactive due to factors like genetics, a lack of socialisation, or trauma. Reactive dogs overreact to certain situations or things in their environment. These reactive behaviours can include: 

  • Barking
  • Lunging
  • Hiding
  • Growling
  • Intense staring
  • Erratic movements

Read on to learn how to train your reactive dog and keep them calm, so that social situations can be more enjoyable for both you and your furry pal.

Tip 1: Create a routine for your dog 

If there is one thing that dogs both love and crave, it’s routine. Your dog actually studies your routine, from what time (roughly – They can’t read clocks!) you wake up to the part of the afternoon for a walk. 

setting a routine with a reactive dog through regular jogging

Routines make the world more predictable for your dog, which in turn, can help reduce any anxiety. With a simple yet effective routine, you can calm your pup and keep them focused in what could otherwise be a stressful situation. 

Start a routine in and around your home, then build it out in the real-world park with walks or a trip to the dog park.

Tip 2: Make sure you have the right training equipment

You can reduce reactive tendencies with the right equipment. Here are some helpful tools for reactive dog training. 

A head halter

reactive dog wearing gentle leader head collar

Head halters or Gentle Leader head collars are great for dogs that are reactive while on walks. This tool will help you carefully redirect your dog’s head when they’re unresponsive to your verbal commands. 

Such head halters or collars sit high on the back of the dog’s head and remove pressure from the throat.

An Easy Walk Harness

reactive dog wearing easy walk harness across its chest instead of throat

This type of harness clips in front of your dog, discouraging them from pulling on the leash. When you pull on the harness, your dog is steered sideways, directing their attention towards you without choking or gagging your dog. 

A crate 

Effective crate training reduces reactivity, allowing you to safely introduce your dog to new settings. The crate becomes a safe space for your dog and can also be useful when in the car. The crate must be big enough so your dog is comfortable. It should never be associated with punishment. You can read our full guide to crate training your dog for specific steps and tips. 

Tip 3: Try counter conditioning

Counter conditioning changes your dog’s emotional response to a specific “trigger.” There are two critical steps in counter conditioning a reactive dog: 

  1. Identifying the “trigger”
  2. Associating the trigger immediately with something positive, like food or a toy 

counter conditioning a reactive dog with a treat

Give your dog a reward immediately before a situation triggers unwanted behaviour. In other words, activate counter conditioning as soon as you notice your dog is getting uncomfortable. This way, your dog will soon learn to associate the “trigger” with something positive. 

Tip 4: Redesign your home layout

Suppose you are experiencing dog reactivity at home, like the very common window reactivity. In that case, your house may require a new layout. 

Window reactivity is a common issue with reactive dogs. For example, your dog may constantly bark at a person walking by the window to make them go away (or so your dog thinks). 

reactive dog looking out the window at passersby

  • Use a tie-down to teach your dog to stay in a certain spot away from the window. Baby gates can also keep your dog away from windows or fences if the same issue happens in the backyard.
  • Establish good recall. You can do so by getting your dog’s attention and calming them down when they get riled up. This is similar to counter conditioning, associating treats with certain verbal commands to get them away from specific areas in and around your home.

Tip 5: Sign your dog up for behaviour classes

If the training options above aren’t working for you, you may need help from a professional dog trainer. A behaviour rehab course can teach both you and your dog to handle reactivity and keep calm. 

reactive dog being trained in behaviour classThe “you” part is essential as many owners fail to realise their pets take cues from them. Suppose a situation at a dog park heightens, and you react in an uncontrolled or frightened manner. Your dog may mirror your behaviour. This is why dog behaviour classes can benefit both you and your fluffy companion.

ultimate guide to dog care Also read: Your Ultimate Guide to Dog Care – Everything you need to know about caring for a dog, from grooming to training 

How do I train a reactive dog on a leash?

The best way to train a reactive dog on a leash is to get your dog’s attention before you go out. Say your dog’s name and reward them when they look at you. Always start this training in a low-distraction environment, in or around your home, then gradually move to busier areas. 

The goal should be to get your dog’s attention no matter what distractions occur around you.

Our guides on leash training and clicker training can give you more tips on training your reactive dog on a leash. 

Trips to the park can be a walk in the park! 

Having a reactive dog can be stressful, as you never know what could happen when you leave the house. For this reason, it’s essential to curb this behaviour as soon as possible with the tips above. 

As you settle your dog’s reactive tendencies, you’ll be able to enjoy more social situations and events with your furry best friend. 

happy and calm dog in the park looking up at its owner

If you need a little help with training your reactive dog, you can find local dog trainers on Airtasker. We also put together a handy dog training cost guide to help you budget for getting your dog trained by a professional. 

With a bit of patience and the proper training, you and your pup will be able to adventure, explore, and have plenty of fun together in no time!