I love working with ‘reactive’ dogs. This is something I have had to work on with my own dogs so understand the emotional roller-coaster it can be. A ‘reactive’ dog requires management and lots of time to start to change their emotional responses to whatever their triggers are, such as other dogs or people. You need to overcome your own embarrassment (from the looks of other dog owners when your dog does bark), feelings of guilt (it must be all my fault) and frustration of not having the dog you dreamed of having (the free running, social dog). It requires planning: taking high value food reward with you on your walks, going to places that you know will have enough space for your dog to keep under their threshold, and perhaps using different equipment like a double ended lead and harness. All this can feel daunting to start with.
The question I get asked a lot is “will it get better”? The short answer is “yes”! You will start to anticipate what your dog needs, read their body language better and in doing so, start to build a better relationship with your dog as they trust that you aren’t going to put them in a situation that they cannot cope with. You will automatically make ‘good’ decisions on behalf of your dog such as increasing their distance from potential triggers.
As you both increase in confidence on your walks, your dog’s recovery from an event will also improve and something that may have taken them several days to come down from the ‘high’ of adrenaline and cortisol after a reaction, take a few minutes and they can continue on their walk without any fallout.
Will your dog ever become a social butterfly that can free play with all dogs – probably not! You need to have realistic expectation and each dog is an individual. I know many dogs that have become very sociable, however I would not have that expectation at the start.
What I can help you with is getting your dog to the point where they are manageable in public, being able to walk down the street without reacting and you both having a more enjoyable life together. Using rewards and managing the environment may be something you always have to do. However, we aren’t trying to change your dog into a robot; life will get easier and you will see improvements. Training will build your dogs confidence (and yours!) so I want to encourage you to start your journey and let’s get training!