5 Training Activities and Games for Reactive Dogs | Pupford
February 23rd, 2023
Filed under Training
Some dogs are really great at regulating their emotions and responses to stimuli in their environment. They stay calm, cool, and collected for the most part regardless of what’s going on around them.
That’s not the case for all dogs, though. Some dogs are thrown into hyperdrive by people, animals, cars, bikes, sounds, etc. – leading them to bark, chase, lunge, and seemingly forget all the manners they were ever taught.
For the latter, reactive dogs, it can be really difficult to navigate experiences like going for walks, having company over, or even just witnessing the mail being delivered without stress or even danger.
Parents of reactive dogs, this one’s for you!
We’re often being asked questions about how to help with leash reactivity, barking, staying calm around other dogs and people, and similar issues stemming from reactivity.
And we get it! It’s really stressful for both our dogs and us when it seems like they just can’t regulate.
Today we’ll talk about some training, games, and activities to help reactive dogs (and their parents) feel calmer and more comfortable in a variety of environments.
A NOTE ABOUT REACTIVITY
Before we dive into this topic, we want to take a minute to clear up some common misconceptions about reactivity.
Sometimes, reactivity is used interchangeably with aggression. That is not the case!
Reactive dogs can be great with people, children, and other dogs. They are not necessarily aggressive – it’s usually an instance of getting excited, or stressed by stimuli they find overwhelming.
We have seen more than a few families be afraid to admit their dog is reactive because they feel a stigma that they are calling their dogs “bad” or having a “problem” which causes them to not take action to correct the issue.
Instead, we should be embracing our dogs how they are and showing them love and care by working with them to make stressful situations more comfortable for them. The end result will be a happier pup who can spend less time reacting and more time enjoying their experiences!
TRAINING AND GAMES FOR REACTIVE DOGS
With all that said, we do want to focus on how to improve reactivity for the sake of our dog’s health and happiness.
Here are five training activities and games you can do to help your reactive dog:
LOOK AT THAT GAME
The “” is a tool developed by Leslie McDevitt, author of Control Unleashed. It’s a way to expose your dog to whatever triggers their reactivity in a controlled way, so over time their large reactions decrease.
Here’s how the Look at That Game works:
- Gather your . You want whatever treat you’re using to be more enticing to your dog than whatever the trigger is.
- Go to a controlled environment. You want to be able to determine how close you get to your dog’s trigger. So if you’re going to the local park to work on a trigger of other dogs, scope out an area that allows you to start out pretty far away from them and work your way closer.
- Start far enough away from the trigger so that your dog knows it’s there without reacting
- The very moment your dog looks at the trigger, immediately mark and reward. (If your dog barks or lunges at the trigger, you may be too close. Increase the distance)
- Once your dog has consistent success with that step, add a verbal cue like “look” or “look at that”
- With repetition, your dog will form the association that “look” means to look at the trigger and not react
- Over time you can get closer and closer to the trigger, but if your dog does react, increase the distance
The goal here is to reward your dog before they react to their trigger. That way, they learn that when they see the trigger, the wanted behavior is to not react.
ENGAGE DISENGAGE GAME
The is another great game for helping your dog manage stress when they’re overstimulated by learning to focus on you instead.
Here’s how the Engage Disengage Game works:
- Find a distance far enough away from the trigger that your dog isn’t reacting at all.
- When your dog looks at the trigger (the “Engage” part of the game!), mark with a clicker or “yes”
- Reward when your dog turns to look at you after hearing the mark.
- Repeat this until you see consistent success, at least five times.
- Next, allow your dog to notice the trigger but give them a few seconds to see if they look at you on their own before you mark (this is the “Disengage” part).
- If they break their focus away from the trigger, mark and reward immediately.
The goal of this game is to get your dog to – on their own – look away from their trigger and at you instead.
IMPULSE CONTROL GAMES
Dogs are impulsive by nature, and that’s not a bad thing in and of itself.
However, when your dog’s impulses are causing them to be reactive in ways that are disruptive or dangerous, you’ll want to teach them how to positively channel them.
There are a handful of engaging and effective impulse control games out there, with some of our favorites being:
- Darting squirrel
- Doorbell place
- Red light green light
For more about each game, including what you’ll need and step-by-step instructions, check out our article .
DESENSITIZATION AND COUNTER-CONDITIONING TRAINING
This may sound like a complicated term, but desensitization and counterconditioning training has a pretty simple goal: to change your dog’s response to a stimulus.
In some scenarios, this means having no reaction (ex: teaching your dog to stop barking when a jogger passes by), while in others it means changing the reaction (ex: teaching your dog to go to their bed when the doorbell rings).
For different desired results, there are different approaches, so definitely take some time to research which would work best for you. A great place to start would be our .
5. PUPFORD ACADEMY= REACTIVE DOG COURSE
Sometimes you need a little more guidance in your training journey, and that’s okay!
The in the Pupford Academy+ features in-depth videos led by Traci Madson, CPDT-KA.
The course covers:
- Why your dog may be reacting
- Dog behavior basics
- How to utilize different tactics to reduce reactivity
All of which you’ll have lifetime access to in case you ever need to brush up on training activities or revisit the course with another dog.
We know it can be overwhelming and even frustrating to try to deal with your dog’s reactivity. But finding the right approach that works with your dog can change everything!
For those who have gone through it, which activity had the biggest impact on your dog? We want to hear your experience in the comments!