Ready for real training?

Whether we’re your first choice or a last resort, Koru K9 will ensure that your canine companion is the perfect addition to your pack.

Table of Contents

Simply put, there’s no quick fix for dog reactivity.

You can read advice on how to stop your dog from barking on walks or find tips for calming your dog when they’re lunging at your neighbors, but they won’t solve the problem. They’re only band-aid solutions.

The reality is that properly addressing dog reactivity takes time, patience and expertise. It takes the guidance of a professional dog trainer.

What is dog reactivity? We’ve covered everything you need to know in Part 1 of our series on dog reactivity. This is Part 2, where we’ll explain how we train reactive dogs so you can get a better understanding of how challenging it is.

A quick reminder: every dog is different, so our training approach varies from dog to dog based on each animal’s needs and the behaviors we’re addressing.

Assess the dog’s entire situation

As we laid out in Part 1 of this series, there are many different factors that contribute to a dog’s reactive behavior and the causes are often difficult to pinpoint.

In most cases, everything in the life of a reactive dog needs to change so their behavior can be managed correctly and safely. It’s a job that’s too big for typical dog owners.

So, the first step we take with a reactive dog is examining the whole picture of how they live—typically during our Initial Onboard Training Session. We pull back all the layers of the dog’s life to evaluate everything, including the habits of their owner, and identify the root causes of that dog’s reactivity.

That helps us to get a full understanding of their situation from a neutral point of view and determine the areas that have the potential to be leading to the reactivity.

Then, based on what we see, we work with the owner to develop a training plan based on the needs of their dog. Typically, this plan is put in place during in-home training, a board and train, or a combination of the two.

Establish clear communication

Once we’ve developed a plan, the next step in training a reactive dog is establishing clear communication.

Dogs want to be told what to do, and they look to us for guidance. If a dog’s owner isn’t providing leadership or properly communicating expectations, that dog can get anxious. Anxiety often leads to behavior like reactivity.

Clear communication ensures owners can tell their dog what to do, and the dog understands what the owner is asking.

The path to better, clearer communication begins with creating structure in a dog’s life.

We start training a reactive dog by using a combination of the four quadrants to build a solid foundation of basic obedience and commands, including sit, heel and place.

We also enforce what’s called a “no free lunch” policy. Simply put, enforcing the “no free lunch” policy means that every time a dog gets something (a treat or to fetch a ball), they have to do something (sit) to earn it. Nothing comes for free and anything good comes from their owner.

Over time, through solid structure and clear communication, the dog begins to understand what they’re being asked to do. They also learn to be handler-focused, as opposed to externally focused, for direction and rewards which is crucial to ignoring distractions around them.

As a dog demonstrates they understand what we’re asking and starts to consistently follow our commands, we overlay training tools like training tools like an e-collar or prong collar to reinforce good behavior and give us another layer of communication.

When introduced safely and properly, these tools help us reward or correct in a way the dog understands and are effective for enforcing commands in high-distraction situations that cause reactivity.

Precise timing is crucial here. Studies show there’s just 1.3 seconds to reward good behavior or correct unwanted behavior after it happens, otherwise there’s a risk of a dog misunderstanding what’s being rewarded or corrected.

Once the reactive dog has a foundation of training and shows they understand our commands as well as the meaning of a reward or correction, we can move to the next step: teaching structure on a walk.

Teach structure in a controlled environment

When a dog is reactive toward other dogs or unfamiliar people during a walk, it’s often because the owner isn’t in charge of the situation. Structured walks are key to training a reactive dog—they put the owner in charge and give the dog a job to do.

What is a structured walk? A structured walk keeps the dog working the entire time. That job is to always be focused on their handler and ignore the distractions around them.

Everything we’ve taught a reactive dog up to this point comes into play when we’re training structured walks. The dog understands basic obedience commands like heel and sit, they’re more handler-focused thanks to the “no-free lunch” policy, clear communication has been established, and the right tools have been properly introduced.

It all comes together to help teach the dog how to ignore distractions that normally spark reactivity and stay focused on what they’re being asked to do.

While every dog and situation are different, here’s how we typically train a reactive dog to walk in structure:

1. Start in a Controlled Environment — We start training the dog for a structured walk in a controlled environment with few, if any distractions, where they can learn to focus on their handler and not worry about the usual things that cause reactivity.

2. Add Pressure and Distraction — As the dog learns to focus on the handler while walking, we incrementally introduce pressure and distraction to the environment. Over time, the dog’s reactive response to distractions decreases as they learn to work within structure, focus on their handler, and ignore what’s around them.

3. Introduce Pack Walks — Next, we introduce the dog to pack walks, where another dog is walking in the general vicinity (on the other side of a parking lot, for example). We close the distance between the two dogs slowly and begin to walk the dogs in circles around each other.

When the reactive dog pays attention to their handler, they’re rewarded with a treat. When they look toward the other dog, they get a correction. Eventually, the dog begins to understand that their handler is in charge, and they don’t need to worry about the other dog. They begin to relax, and their reactive behavior begins to decrease.

This process takes multiple training sessions—just how many depends on the dog. Like most things in dog training, teaching a dog how to behave on a structured walk isn’t a linear process; there are ebbs and flows, and progress often comes slowly.

That’s why the knowledge and experience of a professional balanced dog trainer is so valuable. We understand the ups and downs of training and are always ready to pivot if things aren’t going to plan (which happens a lot).

How to get effective training for your reactive dog

There’s no two ways about it: training a reactive dog is challenging.

Properly training a reactive dog requires in-depth knowledge, clear communication, expertise with training tools, precise timing, and the experience to take on any surprises that are thrown your way.

Without those things, your dog’s reactive behavior won’t go away no matter how hard you try. In fact, it will likely just get worse. 

It’s a big responsibility—one that the balanced dog trainers at Koru K9 are equipped to handle. We can teach your reactive dog to ignore distractions, help them control their impulses, and set them up for a life of success.  

More importantly, we’ll teach you skills that set you up for success as a dog owner so you can enjoy stress-free walks and build the relationship with your pet that you’ve always wanted.

It takes hard work and commitment, but we promise it’s worth every second.