How to manage a reactive dog
Behavioural modification or behavioural management?
When dealing with reactive dogs we often have the dilemma of which training method to use.
There are many different methods and ways to modify behaviour and most trainers will have a few under their belt. I like to look at both the dog and the owners. We often worry so much about the dogs but forget to look at what also works for the owners. If a method doesn’t suit our lifestyle we tend to give up easier. Just like our dogs, we do what works!
Behaviour management is something I like to encourage clients to do with their dogs, even if they are doing the modification simultaneously.
We work with the dog and find ways for the dog to co-exist with the trigger. Some dogs and owners have reasons why we may use management instead of fixing the problem completely. To put it bluntly, it may also just be that some dogs simply do not like other dogs. Just like humans... We don’t always like every human we meet but we have to act civil to function as a good member of society and that is what we teach these dogs to do.
It is a safety net in a lot of ways. If you are out in public, you can’t avoid the trigger but have management techniques in place so you can avoid an embarrassing and dangerous situation.
An example of behaviour management is if you are walking down a busy street and notice a dog and owner coming towards you. You cannot avoid passing this dog closely so you ask your dog to leave it and focus on you. What you will find is your dog will start to automatically look at you when they see another dog. This is proof you are correctly performing a counter conditioning routine. This is great as you won’t have a dog lunging, growling or making a scene. You can choose if you want to take it further (Behaviour modification) or if you are just happy with a dog who can be around other dogs but not too close to them (management).
Behaviour Modification is essentially changing the way your dog feels about the trigger. What we want to achieve with this is changing the dog’s emotional response to the trigger. So if the dog sees the trigger they feel happy instead of fearful or defensive.
We slowly break down the wall until your dog starts to feel like they are getting something positive out of being around the trigger. Eventually, they may even want to interact with their trigger. This is the end goal.
There are many different types of Behaviour Modification techniques for a reactive dog - too many to talk about here.
Counter Conditioning is the most popular way to get a dog used to a trigger and it’s a basic way that most owners can start. The training can be used to counter-condition your dog for other dogs, lawnmowers, strangers etc. It’s all done in the same way.
The most important thing with any behaviour modification and really any training, in general, is taking it slow. If you rush forward you can take your dog 10 steps back. This is a common mistake.
This all sounds scary but Behaviour Modification techniques really are the kindest and best way to deal with your dog’s reactivity. Once that fear is gone and they see their trigger as a good thing, their life and yours will be so much less stressful. Professional help with reactivity is always suggested as there is a risk of handling it incorrectly and inadvertently making things worse.