As professional pet sitters and dog walkers in Milwaukee, we experience a lot of different scenarios. Many of us on the team own reactive dogs ourselves, and are well versed in dealing with the reactivity.
Reactive dogs are triggered by and react to common neighborhood distractions. Reactive dogs can be difficult to walk when they lunge and pull towards other dogs, people, and cyclists. If you have a reactive dog, there are steps you can take to regain control and teach them proper walking etiquette.
1. Understand your dog’s behavior
It is important to understand why your dog is behaving the way they do. Your dog isn’t vindictively trying to be a menace and cause disturbances. Dogs respond to triggers and stimuli in the environment because they are fearful and upset. Being on a leash can be stressful for your dog because they feel constrained and unable to escape to safety.
Each dog will react to various stimuli differently so it is important to observe the specific triggers that bother your dog and cause them to lunge or bark. Common triggers include passing dogs, people, bicycles, skateboards, and loud cars.
2. Find a good walking environment for your dog
Once you have identified the specific triggers that cause your dog to behave reactively, it is initially best to avoid them. Aim to walk your dog in quiet areas of the neighborhood during a time where there is likely to be minimal traffic. Avoid off-leash dog parks where other dogs may run up and startle your dog.
It can also help to recruit a family member or friend to join you and your dog for walks. A second person for assistance can help to maintain control of your dog as well as keep your dog focused with treats.
3. Keep your dog focused on you
When approaching potential triggers or distractions, reward your dog for calm behavior. Ideal walking behaviors include sniffing, relaxed body language, and focusing their attention on you. Say your dog’s name, get them to focus, and ask them to perform a basic command such as sit. Reinforce the correct behavior with lots of positive praise and treats.
Dogs should not be punished for their reactive behavior. Remember that your dog is scared and uncomfortable – punishing their fear can make the problem worse.
Walking a reactive dog can be an uncomfortable experience. Regaining control of your dog starts with understanding their behavior, creating a positive walking environment, and encouraging correct behaviors with positive reinforcement.