Fitting Training in With a Reactive Dog

When it comes to training a reactive dog for their reactivity, fitting the sessions in can be a challenge, especially if the trigger is something outside of your house. Your trainer will have implemented management which means that your dog isn’t exposed to their trigger(s) too regularly or at a level they are unable to cope with. When it comes to reactivity, regardless of the intensity, you have to consider: 

  • The distance between the trigger and your dog 
  • The duration of time that your dog is exposed to the trigger
  • The intensity of the trigger (a dog sat still or sniffing the ground calmly is easier to work with than a dog running around after a ball) 
  • If your dog is reactive to multiple triggers, you also need to consider intensity in light of the number of triggers on display as well as how intense each of those individual triggers is for your dog

When we work with reactive dogs, we need to ensure that dogs are kept below their threshold. The most common threshold used when working with reactive dogs is the reactivity threshold. This simply refers to the point at which your dog will react to the trigger in front of them. There are other thresholds that can be used, these are discussed HERE. For the purposes of this blog, I’ll be using threshold to refer to the dog’s reactivity threshold. 

Ensuring a dog is below their threshold often means exposing them at a larger distance than they typically experience the trigger. This will often mean that a trainer advises you walk your dog in places where you are either unlikely to see your dog’s trigger(s) or can expose them at a distance well under your dog’s threshold. This is all well and good but it’s not always easy, or practical, to fit this into daily life. And, if you adjust your routine to make your walks accommodate this, often that adjustment can mean you struggle to find time to successfully work on their desensitisation and counterconditioning programme. What follows are some tips on how to change/alter the intensity of your dog’s triggers in a way that can easily fit into a busy schedule. 

1. Combine it with an errand of some description

Stop off at a local playing field on the way to the supermarket/pharmacy/dry cleaners/coffee at a friend’s house (assuming the house has nothing that will trigger your dog and your dog can visit with you). You’re heading out anyway, a quick detour for a maximum 5-minute exposure to something you wouldn’t usually expose your dog to (provided that the exposure is still under your dog’s threshold) is a great way to fit in a training session (or two if you do a visit on your way there and on your way back). You need not even get your dog out of the car necessarily. If your dog is reactive to other dogs, you pull up at the local playing field, let them watch the dogs playing in the distance and feed whilst they do that, that absolutely counts as a training session! Obviously if your trainer has said it’s time to decrease distance between the trigger and your dog then getting them out of the car may be necessary but you need not go far if you park at the right place. 

Please be careful about leaving your dog in the car by themselves, dog thefts are on the rise and it is dangerous to leave dogs in cars in anything constituting warm weather. If you’ll be going out of sight of your car consider asking a family member or friend to come along for the ride and sit in the car whilst you do whatever errand you’re out for. 

2. Ask your trainer!

Your trainer knows you, your dog and the area you live in best, ask them if they have any recommendations on what you could do to combine training sessions with your day-to-day schedule and where they would recommend for you. 

3. Find a way to fit the training Into Daily Life

Training that happens regularly and with ease will become a habit. Once the training sessions have become habitual, you’ll find it easy to develop your dog’s training further! Try finding an activity that you routinely do and tie a training session to this activity. 

4. Keep yourself accountable

There’s lots you can do to keep yourself accountable when it comes to fitting training in. People who write down their goals are more likely to achieve those goals. People who write their goals down and tell someone about those goals are yet even more likely to achieve those goals. People who find someone to partner up with to achieve those goals are most likely to achieve their goals. If you’ve got a friend who is happy to ‘train’ with you, even if they aren’t doing anything in terms of adding to the training, then you’re more likely to make it work! For example, if you have a reactive dog, and your friend has a dog, you could agree to meet somewhere for a walk ‘together’ and use their dog as a demo dog to counter condition your dog to. You could then both for coffee together to reinforce yourself for training! If you’ve got a dog who is reactive of people, your friend could wear unusual clothing, behave in strange ways or otherwise emulate whatever it is about people that your dog is nervous of and you can counter condition to your friend. If your dog is just nervous of the world rather than anything specific, your friend can tag along, help keep you and your dog under threshold by pointing out triggers (or helping to remove triggers that come too close – great tip for anyone who has experienced an off-lead dog with no recall when handling a reactive dog!) and can be the person who sits with your dog in the car when you tick that errand mentioned in the first point off your to do list! 

5. Reinforce Yourself

It’s perfectly normal to not particularly want to do training with your reactive dog. Our own emotions get so tied up with this sort of training that we’re going to start out with a negative view of getting it done, no matter how much we want to help our dog and fix the issue. Get around this by reinforcing (rewarding) yourself after having trained your dog around their triggers. You should reinforce yourself regardless of how the session went (you’re reinforcing your effort to go out and train your dog, not going out and training your dog perfectly). Pick something you really want or an activity you really enjoy to do after your training session. 

If you’ve got a reactive dog let me know your tips for slotting training sessions into a busy life in the comments!

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