Training Our Reactive Puppy

It’s that time of year when more people are getting out with their dogs for walks and exercise, fun and travel. Many dogs have not done much for months if they live in a cold climate. Sometimes, dog who live in hot climates also do not get out much during the day due to the heat.

Not doing or seeing things for so long can make a dog excited or even reactive towards things that he has previously been OK with – depending on the dog.

I am experiencing something like that with my puppy Ira. He is reactive to men when he sees them on the street when we are out on a walk and to other dogs when they are within a certain proximity (especially a dog on a leash within about 1/2 a block).

This is something I have worked on with him since he was small to avoid.

We had people over to visit him, took him to several dog shows, have taken him for many, many walks in our neighbourhood and introduced him to many other dogs here in our home and as well as away. Nevertheless, he is now a teenager and is alerting to everything.

The weather has been acceptable for walking and training for about a month now which we have been doing, but the reactivity has still shown up.

I feel quite embarrassed that, as a dog training professional, I could not prevent this from happening. I did everything I could. This is my second Kuvasz, and the timeline of when certain behaviours appear seems to be basically the same for both dogs. The Australian Shepherds I have had did not develop reactive behaviours the same way or of the same type.

So, in order to slow, reduce and hopefully eliminate any further reactivity, I am putting training into serious overdrive. Below are a few things that I have started doing.

Working For The Food

Ira now works for every piece of food he gets. This is important because the reactive dog needs to learn to default to you in situations in which he becomes reactive. Working for all his food will help to do this.

This does not have to happen for the rest of his life, just until the behaviours you want are installed as a habit in his mind.

I am using a mixture of foods. What you use is going to depend on your dog, how bad the reactivity is and how much you can train.

I would prefer to feed raw and real food to my dog. However, right now, I need to make sure he is getting enough nutrition at the same time as making training him in public easy to do. I obviously can’t carry raw meat with me in a treat bag. So I am using cooked meats mixed with high quality dry dog food.

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Stay Calm

Before you start a training session, make sure you do some deep breathing or meditate for a bit and remember to stay calm yourself during the session. When a dog is reactive, it can get the adrenaline flowing in both you and the dog. This kind of defeats the purpose when your are trying to keep things calm and teach your dog to be relaxed in different situations.

When you start out a session in a calm state of mind, you will likely be able to stay calm longer and help prevent getting your dog wound up before you even start.

I remind myself to speak quietly and move slowly during sessions. This helps both me and Ira to stay calm while working. If you see your dog’s trigger before he does, try not to anticipate a reaction from your dog by holding your breath, inhaling quickly, or making quick movements. He will notice and likely be on alert.

Getting Help

If your dog is extremely reactive and you are unsure about using written directions to help you address the problem, please consult a force-free, positive reinforcement dog training professional.

It is important to avoid using corrective collars (choke, pinch, e-collar) when working with reactivity, because they will increase the amount of stress hormones in your dog – which, is exactly the thing you are trying to reduce.

When you reduce these hormones with food reward training, you actually change the dog’s emotions towards whatever it is that he fears and is reactive towards.

I will be posting regular updates on Ira’s reactivity and how we are doing in reducing it, throughout this summer.

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