In a previous article, we covered the two core pillars for addressing reactive behaviour in your dog. One; reduce the stress and/or excitement your dog feels then two; teach an alternative behaviour.
Today, we are going to focus on four simple ways to reduce the stress and/or excitement your dog experiences when out on a walk.
1. Getting the equipment right
For most dogs, reactivity is often displayed in a very physical way, like pulling and/or lunging. Because of this, the equipment we use when walking needs to not only be able to cope with this level of pressure but to do so in a safe and controlled way. The last thing we want is for our dog to become injured or to escape and injure someone else.
- Make sure all pieces of equipment are in good repair;
- Use a collar with a buckle not a clip;
- Walk your dog on a harness if possible (you can use a head halter if your dog is comfortable with it);
- If your dog has a bite history or is particularly strong use a split lead so you have two points of contact to your dogs’ equipment at all times;
- If your dog has a bite history consider using a muzzle for safety purposes.
A note on using a muzzle. A muzzle is designed to keep your dog from biting another dog or person. If your dog has a history of biting then you should seriously consider using a muzzle on your dog. If you chose to do so, you will need to train your dog to accept the muzzle happily as a muzzle will drastically impact the way your dog behaves and it also makes it difficult to quickly get food rewards to your dog. If you chose to use a two-point connection to your dog instead, make sure that you have 100% control of the lead at all times and do not drop it. If your dog has been designated a dangerous dog by your shire you must abide by their lead restrictions in the first instance.
2. Choose where you walk wisely
The best place to walk a reactive dog is at a park. This may seem a bit counter-intuitive as parks can be busy places. However, a park offers you multiple benefits over walking around your local neighbourhood streets.
- Multiple entry and exit points (walking on a footpath down a street offers you one or two exits only)
- Multiple options of direction to avoid other people or dogs if necessary;
- Plenty of space and distance from other park users;
- Offers many great sniffing options to help calm your dog;
- Greater visibility of other park users to reduce surprise meetings, no rounding a street corner right into the path of another dog.
I recommend visiting a park at a quieter time of the day so that your dog (and you!) can enjoy a walk together minimising the chances of encountering other people or dogs while knowing you can move away or exit if the need arises.
3. Create a routine
Once you’ve found your park or quiet walking spot, stick to it! Your dog definitely doesn’t need a different walking route every day, in fact, your dog (especially a reactive one) will prefer the comfort of the same route day in and day out.
This will largely eliminate most of your dogs stress and/or excitement as they know where they are going, what to expect and they will learn with repetition that there is nothing to be scared of or overly excited by during their walks. By going to the same walking spot every walk you are creating a stable routine for your dog can count on and they can start to relax and enjoy the environment rather than being on constant alert for danger.
4. Environmental exploration
Encourage your dog to explore the environment of your chosen walking site. This can include;
- letting your dog direct where you walk while at the park (with subtle direction from you, of course, to keep them out of trouble!);
- if they see something let them look to figure out what it is and distract them only if needed;
- encourage them to sniff, sniff & sniff some more!
It goes without saying that at all times while exploring the environment that you do so in a safe way. Don’t let your dog walk towards an item or situation that could be dangerous for them. Instead, re-direct them calmly in another direction. With practice, this can be done in such a way that your dog won’t notice what you were trying to avoid and they even may think the direction change was their idea.
When your dog is exploring the environment they are not scanning for potential danger which can help them to relax and drastically reduce their levels of stress. This alone will make a huge difference for your dog.