Category: Reactivity & Aggression

Dog choke collars, chains and shock collars used for reactive dog training laid out on a table

We are in the age of social media and opinions galore, and it can be overwhelming to try to wade through the mounds of advice on various tools and products to help us “fix a problem”. Reactive dog guardians are not immune to this! It seems like every day there is a new tool or gadget that promises to have a magical effect.

While I know that no one tool is going to work for all dogs in all situations, I certainly have my favourites. As the co-founder of our Cranky Canine program (est.2011) and a Certified Professional Dog Trainer, I’m happy to share them with you.

Here are my top 10 tools for handling a reactive dog:

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Drooling Dog

Now that we know why our dog is barking at other dogs/people on walks and we have an idea of the best tools to use, let’s talk about what we actually need to DO to make it stop. Because the root of your dog’s reactivity is most likely fear (if it’s not, it’s frustration and that’s a bit of a different story), we have to get to that root, that emotion and change it before the outward behaviour can change.

This is where Pavlov comes in. It’s so simple, you might read this and smack your hand to your forehead.

What is it?

Counter conditioning is a simple, effective training technique to change a dog’s association with an object, animal, or person from a bad feeling to a good feeling.

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A white and brown spotted dog laying on the floor looking up at someone point at the dog and scolding the dog.

Picture this: you’re walking your dog on a typical day and everything is going just fine. Suddenly they spot a trigger and the explosion can be heard three blocks in every direction. The lunging, barking, snapping, thrashing about – it draws attention from passers-by who watch in horror or walk away quickly, avoiding eye contact. You feel a surge of heat as your blood starts to boil and you tighten your grip on the leash.

Our first instinct as humans, is to punish what we don’t like. Make it stop, and make it stop fast. We yank the leash, we holler at our dog to “stop it”, we force them into a sitting position by pushing down on their bum and pulling up on the leash, we try to force them to look at us to see that we’re serious. It’s all about control.

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A dog wearing a green bandana around it's neck.

When we talk about reactive dog behaviour, we often think about the stuff that happens when they’re on leash, at the park, or when they’re fence-fighting. We don’t often think about the reactive behaviour that happens at home as being connected to the outside behaviour.

With a reactive dog, we must remember that these dogs are often chronically stressed (experiencing outbursts towards their triggers on a daily basis, sometimes multiple times daily) and we have to find ways to reduce their stress in general, rather than trying to “fix the problem”. It’s all part and parcel. You cannot “fix” reactivity on leash if the dog is barking at dogs and people all day in the front window. One behaviour fuels the other.

Let’s explore some tools that are really helpful in reducing your dog’s general stress level or situational anxiety:

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A reactive German Shepherd dog growling on a grassy field.

Regressions are normal. You’ve likely heard this before and you’ll hear it again.

When changing behaviour, there are no guarantees. Nothing is written in stone, nothing is 100% predictable. You might change one behaviour and another one pops up, like a game of whack-a-mole at the carnival.

It’s discouraging, no doubt. We trainers are used to it and we’ve even come to expect it.

We run multiple reactive dog classes every week, and even more private cases focusing on modifying reactivity. Every trainer we have on staff has (or has had in the past) a reactive dog. We feel your pain more than you can imagine. We have been in your shoes so many times.

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Finn and Molly in front of a Christmas tree.

We love sharing success stories with you! Let’s take a look at Finn – a potcake who came to us in 2015 after being adopted by two active, fantastic humans. Finn is a rescue dog who was showing signs of reactivity toward people and some dogs. We worked together for seven private lessons where we used good ol’ science to change his emotional response.

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