Last week, we discussed what reactivity is and isn’t. This week, let’s talk about what to do if your dog displays reactive behaviors.
First, remember that practice makes perfect. This old adage applies to behaviors you train your dog to do, but have you ever considered how it applies to unwanted behavior? Simply put, the more your dog engages in any behavior, whether you approve of that behavior or not, the better your dog will get at performing that behavior.
This means that one of the very first things you need to do if your dog is displaying reactive behavior is to figure out how to prevent that behavior from occurring. If you spend 30 minutes a day training your dog (which is a lot more time than most people do!), but your dog spends 8 hours every day barking at people and other dogs walking past your window while you’re at work, consider which behavior your dog is polishing up more. No matter how hard you train, you’re not going to be able to make much progress, because every day your dog undoes all of your hard work.
Preventing your dog from practicing reactive behavior can be as simple as blocking access to certain rooms, having him ride in a covered crate in your car, or walking him at less busy times of day. Sometimes, though, the answer is less clear. At first, it may seem hopeless to manage all of the situations where he tends to be reactive. This is where creativity comes into play.
When Dobby started barking out the window at passers-by, I had a hard time keeping him away from my windows. I rent a small house with a very open floor plan, which meant that I couldn’t just block access to the front of the house. Closing the blinds didn’t work either, since he just pushed them aside. Covering the windows with cardboard or dark construction paper would have solved the problem, but I wasn’t keen on the idea because I like to let lots of natural light into my house. My solution? I covered the windows with waxed paper, which prevented Dobby from looking out but still let all of that wonderful sunlight in. As Dobby’s training progressed, I was slowly able to remove one sheet of waxed paper at a time.
Being creative may mean changing your dog’s exercise routine, toileting him on leash instead of letting him run out into your fenced yard, purchasing some additional management tools like ex-pens, Calming Caps, crates, or a Gentle Leader, or no longer taking him to the dog park. Regardless of what it means for your dog, the more you can prevent him from engaging in unwanted behaviors, the faster your training will go.
Management is the first step in solving reactivity, but management alone is not enough for most dogs. Next week we’ll discuss training for reactive dogs. In the meantime, which management tools and tricks have you found the most helpful for your reactive dog? Please share your tips and stories in the comments section below!