Dogs are reactive around other dogs/people, etc. for one of two reasons: either they’re anxious because these things make them nervous and they want to keep them away, or they’re frustrated because they want to get to the dogs/people etc. Some dogs might be a bit conflicted, feeling both of these emotions at the same time and not knowing what to do with themselves.
If your dog is anxious, your goal is to show him that good things come from you when other dogs/people etc. are present with treats and/or toy play, and teach him to trust that you will not let these “triggers” into his personal space. For a frustrated dog, your goal is to make yourself the most fun thing in the world when his triggers are around, also using treats and/or toy play. Consistency is key – If the human is halfway out of treats, time to go home! Another thing to consider is what we trainers call “distance threshold”. You’ll need to work a frustrated dog at a distance that’s far enough away from his triggers so that he can handle the situation; this will also help an anxious dog feel safer. Don’t feed your dog before you take him out because you’ll want him to be hungry, and consider bringing very high-value treats to make interacting with you around his triggers worth his while. If your dog is refusing treats (or eating them but still intensely focused on a trigger), he may be “past threshold” and you need to get him out of the situation as quickly as possible. Click here to learn about “trigger stacking”, which will be important for you to keep in mind when working with your dog.
If you have more than one dog, it’s best to walk them completely separately until they’re fully trained. And for now, it may be helpful to go on different routes for your walks, so your outings aren’t happening in areas where your dog may anticipate the appearance of triggers he’s encountered before.
Over time and with 100% consistency, you can teach your dog a different association with the presence of other dogs/people etc.:
Never allow your dog to greet other dogs on walks. Here’s a link to an article about why we don’t do this, even with calm, friendly dogs: ON LEASH DOG GREETINGS. Even allowing your dog to greet a lot of other people on walks, especially if he is excited and pulling towards them, can create frustration when in public and lead to leash reactivity, too. Use the same techniques outlined above to teach your dog to focus on YOU so he won’t become “magnetized” to other humans and don’t hesitate to politely decline interactions – everyone doesn’t need to pet your dog. And of course, opt out of any contact if your dog doesn’t seem 100% comfortable.
It’s also important that your dog doesn’t practice reactivity at home, and managing his environment is crucial. Make sure that he can’t see other dogs/people etc. passing by your house from inside or when he’s in your yard. For windows, you can use a film that adheres with static electricity (no adhesive needed) to block these visuals but still let in light. You can find window films in home improvement stores, but you’ll likely find a better selection online at http://www.decorativefilm.com/ or Wallpaper for Windows, or simply search “privacy window film” on Amazon.
Click here for an article about using window film including a video and DIY tips.
Blocking visuals isn’t necessarily a “magic” fix but it will help, and your dog won’t be rewarded by seeing other things he wants to keep off his territory move away (or get even more frustrated as the other dogs/people etc. move on). If your dog barks at things passing by your house that he can’t see but can still hear/smell, try to redirect him to a toy or treats. Click here to watch a video about teaching a “positive interrupter” signal.
You can also help your dog by masking sounds he reacts to with “brown noise”. Click here to learn more about this.
If you’re struggling to help your dog overcome his reactivity, please feel free to give us a call at 818-832-9906.