Why it’s Happening:
Reactivity is either due to frustration from not getting to engage or the dog is perceiving a threat from the thing it’s reacting to and attempting to ward it off with a big display.
The protocol to address the behavior, regardless of the motivation for it, is the same. That said, the dog is likely to be more persistent in the behavior should it be based on a perceived threat. You’ll also notice some similarities to The Walk which you should be implementing with all reactive dogs as well.
If the dog is beginning to place his focus (ie. hard staring, tall or creeping posture, closed mouth, prowling gate) on a known temptation or perceived threat, immediately provide feedback without stopping your walk to do so. The idea is that we communicate that bratty or hostile mindsets themselves should be avoided, and as an added benefit we will cut off most, if not all, of the misbehavior that is born from those attitudes.
The form of feedback that works best for your dog will have been discovered and discussed during your session (leash pop, finger snap, foot touch, air-tool, e-collar stim, etc.). The goal is for the feedback to be at a sufficient level to interrupt the misbehavior in the moment, allowing you to redirect your dog’s behavior appropriately. Should you fail to interrupt the misbehavior in real-time, see our messy moment example below. The more determined the dog is to commit the misbehavior, the stronger the feedback will need to be to break through that determination. A go-to redirection (post feedback) for more challenging situations is to get the dog to simply walk away* from the temptation or perceived threat without constantly looking back*.
Advanced Redirection Guidance: As your dog improves and can manage his behavior in closer proximity and longer duration without messy moments you’ll want to provide more sophisticated redirection guidance. Instead of simply walking away from the temptation/perceived threat, you can invite your dog to remain in place or near the temptation while maintaining composed behavior. You might even move closer to the temptation (assuming it’s safe and won’t be harmed by your dog) to show him that his behavior was the issue rather than the temptation itself. If the misbehavior rears its head during these attempts, interrupt with feedback and guide the dog away again. When attempting again, do so in a way that reduces the temptation slightly (work a little further away or with a weaker temptation).
Tip: You need to be aware of your environment so you can anticipate potential temptations and misbehavior so you’ll be ready to provide interruptive feedback and redirection guidance.
- Refusing to move (aka Anchoring) – If your dog is refusing to move, lying in wait instead of lunging and barking, we can address this too. We want to show the dog that this stubborn refusal to move is no fun, and they’d be better off letting us guide the walk. As your dog goes to lie down to resist walking, often avoiding moving further from something he wants, provide immediate feedback. Then invite the dog to come along in a friendly manner, saying “let’s go” and putting gentle tension on the leash in the direction you want the dog to go. Don’t yank the dog up or drag them, this must be your dog’s choice. With clear valuable feedback on the table, the choice will be evident. As soon as your dog starts to move with you, immediately praise him. If they are really stuck sometimes it can help to crouch down like you’re calling a puppy to you. Being down on the same level as the dog tends to function as a natural invitation.
- Lunging/barking/snapping – Should your dog start to escalate because the earlier feedback timing was missed or wasn’t valuable enough (potentially tipping the scales in the direction of the misbehavior), then we forget about correcting the mindset alone and we actually correct the behavior (and the mindset). At this point, the dog is acting out on the frustration or perceived threat. His determination is much stronger in the act than it is while the act is being conceived, and so it will almost always require a stronger interruption to snap them out of their current state. If using the air tool, squeeze the trigger a little more than usual, and direct the airflow towards the dog’s haunch closest to you. The sensation will often get them to instinctually reorient to see what it was. If using an E-Collar, quickly dial up or use your boost or rising button, holding it down until you see your dog both feel it, stop, and mentally release. The chance of a flinch or a vocalization in these moments is higher, but that’s because your dog is pushing itself through the lower levels of discomfort. A yelp when the dog has stopped the behavior is a mix of the dog signaling their discomfort and their intent to yield. Yelps do not ruin your dog or your relationship, but we also do our best to minimize their occurrence to necessary learning moments. Should you successfully interrupt your dog and they are willing to take direction, (i.e. walk away without starting up again) you should reward them with praise and/or a treat.
- Interruptive feedback fails – Dogs may sometimes do their best to push through the feedback you are providing to get their way. This is where we may see a messy moment. Should you experience this situation where your feedback fails, you have two simultaneous goals. The first goal is to prevent a dangerous situation. So hold on to your leash and pull your dog away if needed. The second goal is to provide valuable and interruptive feedback if possible. If using an air tool, squeeze the trigger a little more than usual and direct the airflow towards the dog’s haunch closest to you. The sensation will often get them to instinctually reorient to see what it was. If using an E-collar, quickly dial up or use your boost or rising button, holding it down until you see your dog both feel it, stop, and mentally release. If your dog vocalizes but does not yield (the definition of a messy learning moment), it is often a cry of determination, protest, and discomfort – and you did not ruin your dog. The dog may actually have a positive take away and show less inclination to behave the same way in the future, especially if the feedback was clearly received. When you practice the same situations in the future, you should work with less temptation in play until the dog is less inclined to fight through, and you should also anticipate the use of stronger corrections (leveling up your E-Collar significantly as you approach high levels of temptation). If you are regularly having uninterruptible reactions, despite following the above protocols, then we likely need to assess tools. Air tool users may need to consider an E-Collar [link why we love E-Collar blog] and E-Collar users may need to unlock upper levels, increase their boost or ramping speed, or upgrade their system to one with more buy-in power.
- Leash Aggression – See our aggression protocols