Do you want to know how to train your dog to ignore other dogs? Some dogs don’t play well with others. Sometimes even the sight, sound, or smell of another dog can set your dog off if they’re particularly reactive. But what does it mean to have a reactive dog, and what can you do about it?
The answer to this problem lies in counterconditioning! Counterconditioning is a training technique where you praise the opposite of an undesirable behaviour to eliminate it. For example, if your dog is barking, you praise your dog when quiet. With repetition, attention to detail, and good timing, you can break the cycles of reactivity and learn all about your dog by applying these basic dog training instructions.
Is My Dog Reactive?
A simple walk with your dog can turn into a wrestling match if your dog is reactive towards other dogs. For example, when you’re passing another dog on the street, your dog can become agitated, barking and lunging towards the other canine until the cows come home. This can make walks stressful (for you and your dog), unpleasant, and challenging.
But it doesn’t stop there. Dog reactivity can spring up in your home as well. For example, dogs can bark, run, and lunge through your backyard if other dogs pass by your fence; they can do the same at your living room window! In these instances, it’s essential to know which techniques to use to figure out how to curb reactivity with basic obedience training.
Steps to Counterconditioning Reactivity
So what are the most critical steps to counterconditioning your reactive dog? I’ve outlined them below:
- Preventing and avoiding reactive stimuli.In the early stages, preventing or avoiding situations that will cause a reactive response in your dog is vital.
- Focus training.These simple training exercises will keep your dog’s attention focused on you and away from distractions.
- Leash training.It’s essential for your dog to feel relaxed and reassured when leash walking so they don’t panic when encountering another dog.
- Slow introduction of reactive stimuli.Once you’ve got the fundamental focus and leash exercises down, slowly introduce the distraction back into your training time.
- Moving past distractions.When you and your dog are confident in your training, you can begin to avoid reactive situations while out on walks.
The rest of this article will detail each of these points, providing examples, instructions, and sources to guide you through the process of learning how to obedience train your dog by applying basic dog training techniques.
Preventing and Avoiding Reactive Stimuli
At the beginning of your counterconditioning, the best thing you can do for your dog is prevent them from encountering any reactive stimuli or situations. By avoiding exposure to other dogs, your dog can be more focused and calm during the training basics.
You can do a few things in this initial stage of learning how to best train a dog to keep your dog calm. Here are a few tips for leash walking and bark training at home:
Use Window Coverings
If your dog is the type who hangs out by the window and barks at passing dogs, a window covering will suit you just fine. Of course, you can bring in your blinds or curtains to cover the windows, but not everyone wants to keep their windows shut all the time. And I don’t blame you!
Another viable option is a window film. These are large, semi-opaque stickers you can place over your windows that obscure the view, preventing your dog from getting a visual on passersby. Since they only need to cover your dog’s eye level, you can often get away with covering only a tiny portion of the window.
Use Alternate Routes
You probably have a particular route you use to walk your dog. Then again, so does everyone else in your neighbourhood, and these routes likely coincide! Walking in popular spots will expose your dog to more triggers for reactivity, and preventing those triggers is paramount when learning how to be a dog trainer!
Figuring out an alternate route for your walk can save you and your dog a headache. Additionally, you can experiment with walking your dog at different times of day – most owners are likely walking their dogs just before or right after work. Try early morning or late-evening walks to reduce leash reactivity and keep your dog in the right mindset!
As you may have learned in puppy training, treats always put dogs in a good mood, so why not use them more often? Treat rewards can and should be administered quickly and efficiently when your dog exhibits the behaviours you want to teach! Honestly, positive reinforcement with treats is one of the best dog training tips I can give! So how can you utilize treat rewards effectively?
A trained dog will stay calm in the face of a bark-worthy distraction. If your dog is a serial barker at home, quickly hand them a treat during the quiet breath between barking for a bit of dog education. Be careful to avoid accidentally treating the dog while they are barking. In these cases, a clicker or automatic treat machine comes in handy! The treat machine is especially beneficial if you want your dog to go to a specific spot, like away from the window or door.
If you don’t have a treat dispenser (the Treat & Train is an excellent option), keeping treats stashed around the house is a great idea. You want to reward your dog whenever they exhibit the appropriate behaviour, and the treat reward will only be effective if you can promptly administer it.
As hard as you might try, it’s impossible to entirely avoid reactive stimuli if you’re taking your dog on a walk. If you happen to come across another dog on a walk, move as far away as you can (for example, to the other side of the street or into a field) and give your dog a few treats. This will keep them focused on you and not the other dog!
You may be wondering if treating your dog during a situation like this would encourage a fearful response. It’s quite the opposite! Giving your dog treats creates a new positive association to that experience, which is precisely what you want when learning how to get a trained dog!
Focus training is an essential skill you may have learned during obedience training. One of the prime examples of focus training is targeting, which I’ll discuss in detail here. Another excellent focus exercise is the reverse sit, which can be great for breaking away from a reactive situation and changing direction.
Targeting teaches your dog to touch a part of their body, most commonly their nose, to a specific object or point. Dogs are often trained to target their nose to the trainer’s hand, but you can use different tools in target training. For example, getting your dog to follow a wand or target ball on a stick can be an excellent method for pet training. Let’s start with the basics!
- Hold your hand, palm open and fingers pointing downward, in front of your dog’s face. Be careful to leave some space and not push your hand into their nose.
- When your dog sniffs, licks, or touches your hand, click (or use your verbal cue) and treat!
- Repeat the above steps several times until your dog becomes used to this position and target.
- Move your hand into different positions and move further away from your dog’s face as you continue to practice.
- When your dog is reliably performing the targeting action, you can add your command word: say “touch” just before your dog touches your hand, then click and treat.
Easy enough! This fun trick gets your dog focused and can be used to direct them in many situations: through doorways, into our out of the car, into their crate, or even to greet visitors!
Targeting With Distractions
Once your dog has become comfortable targeting in a controlled environment (such as inside your home), you can add distractions. However, it’s essential to introduce reactive stimuli in a slow and controlled way to give your dog the best chance for success.
If your dog becomes overwhelmed or begins to show reactive behaviour, take a step back and reduce the level of distraction to where your dog was previously performing well. Then, stay at that level a bit longer before moving on to more open environments. But where to train your dog next?
First, bring your dog into your yard and practice targeting. Your yard is full of smells and sounds that may distract your dog, but it isn’t too overwhelming. This is a significant first step when moving target training out of the house and perfecting your obedience training techniques.
When your dog is comfortable targeting in the yard and can do so reliably, bring them out into the street and practice targeting on walks! Your dog may still become distracted by other dogs, but don’t give up – this is just one piece of the puzzle, and figuring out all aspects of how to train your dog yourself takes considerable time and effort.
Sit is a command virtually every dog knows, and I’m sure yours does too! So, since we’re considering how to train your pet, how can you utilize this simple action to keep your dog focused? It’s easy – repeat sits moving away from distractions. This training exercise keeps your dog’s attention on you while also serving to move both of you away from another dog.
How Do I Use the Repeat Sit?
If you can already make your dog sit, then you’re most of the way there! Here’s how to train your dog at home by using the repeat sit:
- Maneuver your dog to face you; be sure your dog is facing away from the distraction.
- Give your dog the sit Click and treat!
- Take 3-5 steps backwards at a brisk pace – this will get your dog excited and encourage them to follow you since your body language indicates something fun is happening!
- Stop and give the sitcommand again. Click and treat.
- Repeat these steps until you’ve moved a significant distance away from the distraction. From here, you can turn around and take a different route or move to another side of the street away from the distracting dog. There’s more on this step here! Following these exercises is a significant step forward in how to train your dog.
When dogs are reactive, having them on a leash can increase their fear response because they feel restricted and unable to escape a bad situation. Therefore, proper leash training is essential for making your dog comfortable and secure on walks. So do you want to know ways to train your dog on a leash? Let’s start with the basics: equipment!
Using Appropriate Leads
The type of leash and collar you use can significantly impact dog training, focus, and reactivity. We’ll examine some of those here –all of these are fantastic pieces of equipment that can help you learn how to train your dog easily.
This type of leash would be my (and many dog trainers’) top recommendation for training while on a leash. A hands-free leash allows you to use both hands to click and treat your dog, which we already know is an essential step in how to train your pet. This leash also allows you to hold any targeting objects you may need. Most of these leashes also come with handy treat pouches to store all those yummy goodies!
A harness is an excellent alternative to all types of collars. Unlike collars, a harness doesn’t hurt or squeeze your dog’s neck when they pull. This can be especially beneficial to short-nosed dogs or small dogs prone to collapsing trachea because a harness doesn’t put pressure on their airway. Even so, you have to choose the proper harness for how to retrain a dog!
If you have a reactive dog, they likely do a lot of pulling while on a leash when they see other dogs. If that’s the case, avoid a harness with a leash attachment at the back. These can encourage your dog to pull more because when you tug on the leash to gain control, you are directing your dog’s attention away from you.
Look for a harness with a leash attachment in the front to combat this. These harnesses provide greater directional control and help to prevent excessive pulling. Good control of your dog’s movement is a huge plus when learning individual dog training.
A head halter can be a great option to keep your dog’s attention on you. Since the leash attachment for a head halter is right under the dog’s muzzle, you can easily direct your dog’s attention towards you and away from other dogs, as their gaze will follow the direction their head is pointing.
One drawback of the head halter is that it may require some training for your dog to get used to it. Some dogs take to it fine, but others are annoyed by it! Dr. Sophia Yin provides steps for training your dog to accept head halters here. Once you’ve got it, though, a head halter can be a great addition in your journey towards how to make your dog obedient.
Loose Leash Walking
One step to combatting reactivity is to prevent pulling on walks! While you’re working through basic dog training, you can also train your dog to walk nicely with a few relatively simple exercises. These take time and make your walks longer, but don’t give up!
- Let your dog blow off some steam by running or playing before you attempt loose leash walking exercises. If your dog is too excited by the prospect of going on a walk, it will be difficult for them to focus, and we know their focus is key to training with your dog.
- Alternatively, you can begin loose-leash training in your yard or inside the home if outside distractions are too overwhelming for your dog.
- Reward your dog (click and treat) when walking on a loose leash. As you’ve probably recognized, this is the same training mechanism as counterconditioning barking at home! Once you get the basics, there are many similarities between dog training approaches.
- If your dog pulls, stop walking and take a few steps back. This redirects your dog’s attention towards you. Then, begin to walk again and reward your dog for walking on a loose leash. This exercise teaches your dog that there’s nowhere to go at the end of a tight leash!
A ton more goes into counterconditioning reactivity towards other dogs than I could ever hope to present here. Still, I hope this information got you started down the right path in learning ways to train your dog! For additional resources, check out the links in this article and Dr. Sophia Yin’s blogs about dog reactivity.
If you follow these steps, you’ll be a dog expert in no time! Good luck with your training!