Now, don’t get me wrong. Do I want my reactive dog to lunge and bark? Absolutely not. But will there be times in life that he will? Unfortunately, yes.
Buster is reactive to both people and dogs, but really, our main issue is dogs. When Buster is reacting to someone or something, he typically lunges and barks, as most reactive dogs do. Like I said, don’t get me wrong. My goal as a dog trainer and owner of a reactive dog is to do everything in my power so that we have a nice walk or hike with 0 reactions. I could go into all of the science with you, but long story short, the more that a dog reacts, the more likely he will continue to react in the future. Plus, his reactions would likely escalate and become worse as time went on. Also, if you are actively working on reactivity, a reaction can unfortunately send you backwards in the progress you’ve made.
The thing is, many people don’t understand reactive dogs. They will say things about how a dog should stay home if he can’t behave nicely in public. Let me just put it to you bluntly – that’s a load of crap.
3 Reasons that Reactive Dogs NEED to get Outside and be Active
- Reactive dogs require exercise, just like any other dog.
I would even be happy to argue that reactive dogs require MORE exercise than an average dog. As the old saying goes, a tired dog is a good dog.
- In order to do any sort of training, your dog has to get outside.
How else are you supposed to work on desensitizing your dog to his triggers?
- Reactive dogs are still good dogs.
They are still someone’s pet or family. They deserve to get outside into the world and explore new environments and surroundings with their people. Besides, I’m pretty sure we would call animal control if we knew someone was keeping their dog cooped up inside of their four walls all day every day.
When I take Buster out, I employ a lot of strategies so that we’re prepared and hopefully have as few reactions (the goal is always 0) as possible. (And spoiler alert – at this point in the game with all the hard work we’ve put in, Buster is usually the quietest dog around.) It can feel like a lot of work. It can be overwhelming and stressful at times, but that’s the cross I bear to make sure that I have a well-trained dog.
8 Tips for Walking a Reactive Dog so he doesn’t Lunge and Bark
- Always carry high value treats on you.
Leave the kibble and “healthy” treats at home. Bring the good stuff – cheese, freeze dried liver, boiled chicken, etc.
- Walk at “odd” hours.
You obviously want to beat the crowds to limit your chances of incidents, so usually very early mornings or very late evenings are best.
- Scope out the area.
Are there a ton of cars? Does the trail have 500+ reviews on AllTrails? The more people, the more you have to worry. Maybe try to find a quieter place.
- Stick to trails and parks with wide open spaces.
This way, even if you do encounter an off leash dog, you’ll have plenty of space to move so there are 0 reactions.
- Always scan the area.
You don’t have to look like a scene out of the Exorcism or anything with your neck constantly moving, but beware of the area and the people in it. Are there people coming up behind you? Are there people approaching ahead of you? Do these people have a dog?
- Teach your dog an emergency U-turn.
If people are approaching but there is no one behind you, great! Do a U-turn and go back from where you came until the coast is clear.
- Use proper desensitizing and counter-conditioning techniques.
Reward your dog for looking at his trigger and not reacting. Always remember to give your dog more space than you think he may need, just to be on the safe side.
- Lastly, if all else fails, and a reaction is imminent, just hold onto your dog and get him out of there as quick as possible.
Do not yell at him, because I assure you that will do nothing. Once you’re safely out of the situation, take a few minutes to stop and breathe. Both you and your dog need it!
Unfortunately, there will be times that your dog will react. You’ll be on a narrow path with no where to go. You’ll run across a loose dog that the owner can’t recall (oh how I could go on for DAYS about how much this annoys me). You’ll run across a dog that escaped from his harness. The sad truth is that while you do everything you can in your power to protect your dog, unfortunately, the people you are passing may not know or understand reactive dogs, or worse, they may truly not care.
So I’m here to tell you to get outside with your dog. Do your absolute best to be prepared so your dog doesn’t react. Work with a trainer so you can learn tools and skills to help manage your dog in a bad situation. But, if the unavoidable happens, it’s okay. If he lunges and barks, it will be okay. You will be okay, and your dog will be okay. You did the best you could, and I’m sure that walk or hike that you just get finished was still well worth it for both you and your dog’s health.
Does your dog bark and lunge? What are your best tips for avoiding those incidents? What do you do if you feel like a reaction is unavoidable? Tell me in the comments!