What is a reactive dog?
First things first, ‘reactive dog’ is a frequently used term but what is a reactive dog? I define it as a dog that is worried about something in its immediate environment.
The challenge of the worried dog
Living with a reactive dog is not easy. I know this first hand as I live with multiple reactive dogs, who due to my history in animal rescue ended up joining my family.
What makes living with a reactive dog so challenging? Is it the emotions attached? The embarrassment, frustration, guilt, disappointment, fear, mental exhaustion … Often I think it is these emotions that drive us to want the behaviour to be fixed or just stop! Wouldn’t it be lovely to just go for a walk without worrying!?
Maybe this is why using certain training methods appear sometimes more appealing than others? Superficially they can appear to miraculously ‘fix’ the behaviour … or do they?
The following is a fabulous blog that really struck a chord with me, not only as a person who lives with and trains my own reactive dogs, but also as a professional trainer who works with clients and their reactive dogs.
The fairytale of the ‘quick fix’
We all want what appears like a ‘quick fix’, however, there is truly only one method of training that has been scientifically proven to work time and time again … And yes, it is the method of training that I use with my own dogs, and that is positive reinforcement.
I also understand that sometimes (okay often!) the training journey can feel like a long one that is filled with potholes and other setbacks! However with the guidance of a great trainer, the results of using this type of training method speak for themselves.
Educating any species takes time. How long does it take us to ‘educate’ our children? Do we start them in Kindy and expect university levels the following week? Of course not.
Education and training is a journey that should be enjoyable for both the student (dog) and the teacher (owner) and the training methods used should improve the human animal bond. My goal when working with any team is that the dog WANTS to work with their owner and trusts their owner to guide and support them.
Training should never be based on intimidation, bullying and behavioural suppression… no one wants to work with a teacher like that.
My boy Donut
So back to my own dogs … I take great pride in our successes!
This is my boy ‘Donut’ – aptly named as if you drop the ‘u’ you end up with DON’T!
When he first came to me this is certainly what I felt like saying most of the time, as Donut has what is referred to as social anxiety toward dogs and people; in other words he does not like unfamiliar dogs or people…
Recently he won the title of State Masters Agility Champion as well as runner up Masters Jumping Champion. For those not familiar with the sport of dog agility, it means that there are many excited and unpredictable dogs running in other rings and waiting to line up, as well as lots of people being very animated to and some that have to come quite close! It’s a very challenging environment for a dog like Donut!
Although I don’t need my dogs to win any titles to prove their worth, and neither do I, this does prove how effective the training I have done with him has been and how strong we are as a team.
He loves working with me and trusts me completely.
So when a client asks me what is the first thing they need to teach their dog my reply is always the same: The first thing you need to teach your dog is how to trust YOU.