Having a reactive dog can really affect your vacation or camping trip. In order to make your time away with your reactive dog more enjoyable, and so that you don’t have to always go away without him, try doing some specific training in advance of your trip.
Training for reactivity issues goes hand in paw with other things that you do to reduce or prevent reactivity, but for now we’ll discuss the main things you should work on with your dog to help make your camping trip , or other vacation location better.
One Is Not The Other – Properly Identify Reactivity
When I first started working with dogs, I had not only a reactive dog but a human and dog aggressive one as well. It is important to note that reactivity and aggression are not the same thing, but often go together. Currently in my case, all my dogs are reactive to something, but not all the same things. And only one dog is what you could call truly dog-dog aggressive. If you have a dog with true aggression, you cannot use any of the information here. It is crucial that you seek help from a force free dog training professional for that issue.
If your dog is normally friendly, but reacts to squirrels, people walking down the street or birds etc, you can modify the behaviour somewhat to make it less embarrassing and less stressful on you and your dog.
Training is done in order to help reduce a dog’s stress level. Stress can cause reactivity.
Now we will discuss TWO simple but important things that your dog will need to learn well to help reduce reactivity.
Make sure your reactive dog has really good name recognition. This is actually the most important thing you can teach your dog even if he is NOT reactive.
For example, your dog’s name usually precedes the recall word “come” or “here”, so it is therefore a way to get your dog’s attention, and it can be used to put a positive tone into a reactive situation. When you train your dog to respond in an instant to his name by practicing over and over again, you are giving yourself a way to manage behaviour when the reactivity happens, but also a way to help PREVENT reactivity in the first place.
Teaching name recognition is no different from teaching any other behaviour to your dog. You don’t go to a highly distracting environment where you dog will be reactive and try to get your dog interested in food rewards or start badgering him by calling his name repeatedly.
Any behaviour you want you teach your dog you will need to start training in a place of NO distractions.
You will need to be vigilant about knowing what is happening in the area you are staying. This way you will know what potential reactive situations will be coming up, often before your dog does. It might become a little tiring to alway be alert, but with really good name recognition, you should be able to get your dog’s attention and then divert it to something other than barking BEFORE your dog notices what is coming. By doing this repeatedly, your dog will get better at paying attention to you and you will get better at training your dog.
Walking On A Loose Leash
Keeping the leash loose is crucial to keep a dog’s stress level (and yours) under control. Walking a reactive dog should always be done on a body harness unless your force free professional training instructor has asked you to used a head harness. Some instructors don’t like head harnesses and some do. It is a choice.
I personally use a harness for all dogs no matter whether they are reactive or not. My two choices are the Hurtta harnesses and the Sensible or Sensation harness. These are just my choices out of all the harnesses I have tried. I don’t get paid by these companies to promote their products.
Either way, a harness is what you need for proper walking on loose leash.
To train proper walking on loose leash you will again need to practice A LOT and start by working inside your house in a place on NO DISTRACTIONS.
Below is a link to my Loose Leash Walking videos. This explains everything in detail and demonstrates how to do this with dogs who are not fully trained to walk on loose leash so you can see the process. Yes, it can be boring to watch but if you want to really learn, watch them.
In The Meantime…
While you are training these two behaviours to a high level of reliability, you must try to limit the number of times your dog becomes reactive to the things he is reactive to. When a dog practices a behaviour – even barking – he is creating a stronger habit of that behaviour.
If you have to exercise your dog, do it in a fenced in yard where your dog can’t be as reactive to things. And do a lot of training. Training tires dogs out mentally and physically. Don’t rely on walking your dog for his exercise. If you have to walk your dog make absolutely sure you will not come into contact with what your dog is reactive to.
Training these behaviours alone will not necessarily reduce or stop reactivity, but it is a start. I will address other training needed in future blog posts, so you’d better get started!