Social Distancing With a Reactive Dog (pt2) – 3 Important Foundation Exercises For Reactivity

Welcome to the next part in this social distancing series, today we are going to be discussing important foundation exercises for reactivity. If you haven’t checked out the previous post on exercising a reactive dog then do so for information to keep your dog physically and mentally stimulated through these though times. This is the perfect time to be working on these skills, firstly because you have the time to brush up on them, check if your dog really knows what you are asking and secondly with less people currently outside, it is a great time to gradually proof these behaviours. I have provided you with 3 very powerful skills that when strengthened and developed properly by you and your dog, shall make it easier to manage this problem (from a distance of course).

foundation exercises for reactivity

What Are Foundation Exercises For Reactivity?

Foundation exercises for reactivity are crucial when it comes down to overcoming this issue. These are a set of skills that you and your dog constantly strengthen and develop until they can perform outside even when around distractions and triggers. This can be as simple as getting your dog to sit facing you while a trigger walks past or to disengage from the trigger to look at you.

Sounds simple right?

Many owners struggle to develop and strengthen these foundation exercises for reactivity, they’ll practice at home a few times and expect their dog to comply, and when they don’t they resort to the yanking of a leash and shouting to try and stop a reaction. Even though distance is a big factor (the closer a trigger the harder it may be to get your dog under control), if you don’t proof behaviours it doesn’t matter how many times you practice at home, they will only be useful at home!

The Proofing Is In The Behaviour

Why is it you can ask a dog to sit at home and they’ll do it straight away, but you ask them outside in a dog park and they don’t blink an eye? The simple answer is proofing, proofing helps the dog understand that no matter what is going on or the location, when asked to do something they know it so shouldn’t be a problem.

Proofing is training behaviours and adding gradual distractions or adding duration before you reward or by increasing the distance you ask your dog for the behaviour. Food and toys are great distractions to start with, different environments and around people as well will help proof a behaviour.

This is a key factor to why some dogs struggle to listen outside, regardless how many times the trick is done inside the house, without proper proofing in different environments, your dog will always struggle in real world situations where there are distractions everywhere.

You vs Distractions and Triggers

Both distractions and triggers are rewards for our dogs. Take a squirrel for example, one runs past in the line of sight of your dog, chances are they will want to chase it, this is the prey drive. This can happen with cyclists, runners and even running kids, the prey drive kicks in and the dog self-rewards by giving into natural instincts.

This does too work for triggers even if they scare your dog. Let’s say your dog is fearful of other dogs, when one approaches, your dog self-rewards by barking, lunging and pulling on the leash. The reward is the distance created, the dog think it’s managed to keep the other dog out its space and when this is repeatedly done it becomes a default behaviour for your dog.

Although there are numerous distractions and opportunities for our dogs to self-reward, it is entirely possible to become more rewarding than the majority of everything in the environment.

High Value Treats and Engagement

Before we get started with these  exercises for reactivity, let’s take a moment to talk about becoming more engaging for your dog.

Firstly, engagement. You can’t complain about having a distracted dog if you aren’t engaging with them. Owners feel that they have a distracted dog, yet some don’t even talk to them on the walks from point A to B. If you aren’t going to engage with your dog then chances are they won’t engage with you, they’ll find reward from the environment (get ready for pulling on the leash and constant sniffing).  This doesn’t mean you have to talk to your dog for the whole walk, even doing something as simple as rewarding and giving a treat every 20 steps can build engagement! Watch how your dog starts to pay more attention to you during the walk!

Secondly, high value treats! Obviously a lot of these foundation exercises for reactivity are going to be done indoors and you can get away with using things like kibble or normal treats (be careful though, if your dog has kibble for breakfast and dinner you might want something a bit more of value to teach these skills with). When you move on to training outside, you will want to start bringing out the big guns! You want something that makes your dog forget about the world around them – hot dogs, cheese, chicken etc.

By being more engaging and having an incentive for the dog to choose you that is positive and high value, you can start working on strengthening and developing your foundation exercises for reactivity.

reduce leash reactivity

Foundation Exercises For Reactivity

  • Targeting

Out of all 3, this happens to be a favourite of mine and Jasper. It requires you and your dog to engage with each other and in unsettling situations this can do a lot of good. Targeting just requires putting up hand signals where your dog will aim to touch their nose to your palm. You can do a series of these when you have to walk past a trigger or to regain engagement in high distracting areas, anytime you’d rather have your dog focus on you than the environment.

Start this in a low distracting area in the house before you start working on this outside

  1. Have your dog sit in front of you
  2. Hold a treat between two fingers such your ring and middle finger or your second and middle finger
  3. Hold your hand out to your dog, the aim is for the nose to touch the palm of the hand, but start small, reward for sniffing with the other hand
  4. Go slow, you may need to repeat numerous times until you get a ‘touch’
  5. Give a jackpot of treats when they start to understand
  6. Remove the treats from in between fingers and try again, if this is too hard for your dog then go back a few steps, they will learn better through what they get right than what they don’t!

You can string multiple targets together to keep your dog distracted, change direction, switch up your pace, be engaging. Your aim is to provide enough engagement and distraction that your dog simply isn’t phased by whatever triggers them.

  • Focus

The focus command is where you get your dog to look and focus on you during the walk. This is a bit more complicated especially when you require them to hold that level of focus as a trigger passes by.

If your rewards aren’t a high enough value or you simply deliver the treat too late, you increase the risk of an outburst from your dog.

  1. Start with your dog sitting in front of you, have  bunch of treats in both hands
  2. Make fists with your hands and either stand or sit in front of your dog
  3. Your dog might paw, muzzle and lick your hand to get to the treats but don’t say anything
  4. Once they stop AND look to you – reward from one of your hands
  5. Repeat from step 2 until ready to add a verbal cue

Repeat this as much as you can, wherever you can, the trick is being able to break your dogs attention away from something else. Practice sitting, standing, while your dog is on a leash etc.

  • Leave it

A powerful command when fully understood, it tests your leadership skills and the impulse control of your dog. Really useful when your dog starts a sniffing spree or is rummaging for something in the grass, but also great for when walking past distractions and triggers. You are literally teaching your dog to choose you over their own reward that is right  in front of them!

Once again start in a low distracting area such as the house and slowly progress to more difficult and distracting areas.

  1. Start with your dog in front of you
  2. Drop a treat between you and your dog
  3. Your dog should attempt to get up and grab the treat
  4. Stand on top of the treat if they attempt so
  5. Ignore any pawing, nudging and licking for the treat under your shoe
  6. Wait for a sit, praise, then move back
  7. Wait for eye contact
  8. Praise and reward with a separate treat than the one on the floor

Repeat this process until your dog picks up the skill, then add a verbal cue that they can start to learn, in this case ‘leave it’. When approaching a trigger, as soon as your dog notices, tell them to “leave it” and then quickly change direction before they can react and reward for following.

helping a reactive dog find calm

You don’t have to use these 3 foundation exercises for reactivity, you can find your own set of skills, every dog and owner are different! Whatever you choose, use this time wisely to work with your dog in calm and non-distracting areas. Make sure every experience is positive and most of all just enjoy this extra time that you have with them!

Stay Safe!

Social Distancing With a Reactive Dog (pt1) – Exercising a Reactive Dog

The first thing that came straight to the front of many dog owners when told about self-isolation was “how do I go about exercising a reactive dog indoors?!”. Exercise is an important part of a dogs life, so with having to self-isolate and spend less time outside what does this mean for reactive dogs and dogs in general? Thankfully there are many options when it comes to exercising a reactive dog indoors which can fall under two categories, mental and physical exercise.

exercising a reactive dog

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Physical vs Mental Exercise

It is a popular myth that to exercise a reactive dog or any dog in general you have to get them running around by throwing something repeatedly for them to fetch. Running a dog around like this will tire them out and yes, a lot of physical exercise will tire out a dog but after a while that dog is going to adapt and develop more energy to keep up. In the end the more physical exercise a dog gets, the more his body will adapt.

Mental exercise and stimulation is an untapped goldmine for many unknowing dog owners. There ware various ways in which you can stimulate and challenge a dog mentally, getting them thinking and exercising the mind which is very powerful in tiring out a dog!

Even though we both love being outside, I found that the best way to exercise Jasper focuses a lot on indoor work. This doesn’t mean I’ll keep him inside all day and not take him out at all, it just means that we balance structured exercise with unstructured exercise and then mental exercise with physical exercise.

Dogs store energy for time they’ll need it the most, when you encounter a trigger and your dog reacts, that is one of those moments. Exercising a reactive dog both mentally and physically before going for an actual walk will work on depleting these levels and help give you a smoother walk.

Indoor exercise has many benefits to exercise a reactive dog, firstly it’s a safe zone with little to no distractions (or at least ones you can control), secondly there are no triggers inside the house to work your dog up and you can control the length of them too without having to go all the way home.

Alternative Ways to Exercise a Reactive Dog

Ideas for physical exercise

When we think of exercising a reactive dog we think of the physical, but little do people know that this can be too overstimulating for the dog. Activities such as fetch or tug that activate the prey drive can work up the dog. If using these methods, relax your dog after or split it up with self-control and obedience to keep your dog thinking instead of just running around back and forth.  Below are a list of exercises you can go through with your dog for physical stimulation.

  • Stair running

If you have this option then this is a great way to burn some excess energy off your dog at any time during the day. It doesn’t have doesn’t have to be long and can be done before a walk as a “warm-up” for the dog.

  • Tug of war

I love anything that I can get involved with when it comes to Jasper and tug of war is at the top of my list.

You can incorporate some basic obedience and impulse control skills such as sitting and waiting patiently and even more advanced skills before rewarding with a game of tug which starts to use up more of that mental energy.

Your dog may growl during play but this is a pleasure sound “I’m loving this”. The only thing to keep in mind is that you need to use impulse control and have your dog wait before you are ready, this calms them down between games and once again reduces accident rate.

  • Targeting

Targeting is getting your dog to touch their nose to the palm of your hand…like a target. So how does this fit in with exercise? This is another activity I love doing with Jasper because it’s interactive. You put up a hand like a target and then you switch hand. Slowly increase difficulty until you are running to the other end of the room while your dog tries to keep up.

  • Flirt Pole

Probably the most useful for burning energy in the physical exercise category. The flirt pole is a pole with a long piece of string and attached is a rag, toy or object. You can easily make one yourself and it’s so easy to use.

All you have to do is swing it around and watch your dog chase, you can change the height speed and direction in an instant, getting your dog to do the same as it tries to win this game.

Although it is a great energy burner, this is another one that stimulates the prey drive so keep an eye on your dog and when they get too excited either calm them down or stop the game altogether.

Ideas For Mental Exercise

The mental exercise front is more the exercises used to work the brain. These are exercises that rely of the natural instinct of the dog and for the dog to think and figure things out for the reward. Mental stimulation is actually very tiring for the dog, multiple short sessions through the day will do wonders for the overall energy and behaviour of your dog. Below are exercises for a reactive dog that you can use toward mental stimulation…

  • Obedience

Obedience and agility not only exercise a reactive dog but give your dog a job, giving them self confidence too. A dog will use a lot of mental energy when learning a new trick , trying to figure out what they need to do to get the reward.

You don’t have to teach a million complex tricks to your dog, I recommend just learning one new trick a week, one you can practise for 5-10 minutes, several times a day with your dog.

  • The Power of Cardboard

Cardboard will be your dogs new best friend (yes you will have to take 2nd place here). If your dog is anything like mine, the process of ripping cardboard is satisfying and calming and works a lot on mental stimulation.

Hide treats in toilet and kitchen roll tubing. Fold the ends in so your dog has to rip through them to get at the treats inside.

  • Scent work

Scent work is honestly an incredible way to add enrichment to a dogs life. Dogs love to sniff around, its how they find out more about the environment and food and even information about other dogs from the urine left. Scent work uses 1/8th of brain power for dogs which can lead to a pretty tired dog if done correctly.

Spend some time hiding treats around the house or in a certain room and then let your dog sniff them out. You can make it harder by putting them in weird places and shoes and under sofas etc.

  • Scent work (Foraging)

Foraging is the process of hunting for food in the wild. You will notice your dog naturally foraging, sniffing under leaves when they catch the scent of something. It is simple to replicate this natural behaviour and it is also a great way to stimulate the mental side of the dog. All you have to do is use a towel or blanket, start by dropping the towel on top of treats and getting your dog to find them but then advanced to folding that towel up around the treats or putting it in a box etc.

  • Obstacle Courses

Creating an obstacle course is a fun way that you can interact and engage with your dog whilst also building up their self confidence. You can create your own in the house using tables, stools, chairs, blankets etc. It doesn’t have to be fancy but if you can create a challenge for your dog this is a fun different way to mentally stimulate your dog.

  • Feeding toys

Do you struggle with your dog wolfing down food? You put it down and as soon as you sit down it’s gone? Food toys are a great way of exercising a reactive dog at dinner time. Using feeding toys such as a Kong can increase the time your dog is eating and you make it slightly more tasking for them.

Using a Kong for example, you can stuff in anything that your dog fancies and they have to work to get it out, you can even freeze it for added difficulty. We have a couple, sometimes we use them for both his feeding times but currently we’re using them more during the day when I’ve got things to do.

Toys like Kong and lick mats are great for keeping a dog preoccupied for a length of time especially if you are busy as it stops them being bored in the house.

  • Puzzle Toys

If you really want to see a dog tick, then get some puzzle games! These are great ways for exercising a reactive dog mentally and there are many you can get as well! You put treats in them and your dog works out how to get them, there is a huge range but this is where you can see your dog work. This doesn’t require any input from the owner so being able to watch the dog at this point can be pretty satisfying, watching them try a whole load of different ways to get to the treats.

Indoor Exercise and Stimulation Can Relieve Boredom

Even though we are at a worrying time and making the most out of being at home and self-isolating, we still have to think about our dogs. Just because we have to stay indoors doesn’t mean that they can’t get any exercise, lack of exercise and boredom are the last things you want from a dog, that is exactly how behavioural problems start to creep in.

Take a look at the list again and see what you can start fitting into your days with your dog to keep them entertained, exercises and happy during these times. Most of all make the most of your time with your dog and loved ones!

“Social Distancing With A Reactive Dog” Series

I hope everyone is staying safe and indoors during this crazy time we seem to find ourselves in. I don’t know about you but I didn’t see any of this coming, I wasn’t prepared for it at all. Having to stay at home now I’ve had to find some way to keep myself preoccupied and the best way to make the most out of this situation was through this “Social Distancing” series.

Over the course of the next week I will submit 4 different posts on things you can be doing with your reactive dog over this period of time to keep you busy.

Over the next few days you’ll find out:

  • Alternative methods to exercising a reactive dog indoors
  • Essential foundation exercises for your reactive dog
  • How to train relaxation and calmness
  • How to create solid leash skills

This is a perfect time to build a solid foundation of skills and behaviours that you want to see more of outside of the house. This is also a perfect time to just enjoy chilling out with your dog, keep these experiences positive!

Trigger Stacking In Reactive Dogs – Could You Unknowingly Be Part of The Problem?

Trigger stacking in reactive dogs is a very common term when talking about reactivity issues. It can affect the most calm of dogs and turn them into a barking and lunging mess if we don’t recognise the signs our dogs are subtly giving us. If not managed correctly, trigger stacking in reactive dogs can lead to a reaction over the smallest of things or in the worst case scenario a bite. Continue reading and find out more about how trigger stacking and long term stress can be an issue for your dog.

trigger stacking in reactive dogs

Trigger Stacking in Reactive Dogs

Trigger stacking is the accumulation of stress in the body, whether it be dog, animal or human. Think of stress and trigger stacking like a volcano, on one hand some volcanos can disperse of the build up of gasses before it becomes a problem. Other volcanos struggle to get rid of the pressure and build-up of gasses that they accumulate and instead can’t cope but to explode, violently most of the time, expelling lava, rock and loud noises!

Many things can be considered as triggers to dogs, from other dogs to skateboards, to screaming kids and men in hats etc. A trigger is anything that causes stress and fear within your dog.

With leash reactivity in dogs, when encountering a trigger your dog doesn’t like, they have 3 options when on leash; fight, flight and accept. Most dogs want to run away at this point but we put them in situations where they end up having to try to fight or just accept the situation and the fact they can’t escape (can be very dangerous).

How trigger stacking works

Various things out in the environment can be considered a trigger for your dog. Imagine a scale from 1-10, 1 being the calmest side of behaviour and 10 being erratic and uncontrollable, with that in mind, here’s an example of trigger stacking in reactive dogs…

  • Your dog starts off calmly at 1 in the morning, you play around in the house before heading out the door for you morning walk
  • As you leave the house a cyclist whizzes past you ringing the bell which startles your dog – they go from a 1 to a 3 on the scale.
  • On your walk you there is a dog on the other side of the street, you manage to keep the attention of your dog but they are now a 5 on the scale.
  • Returning from the walk a group of small children run past screaming and shouting which puts your dog up to a a 7 on the scale.
  • You return home where they get the chance to relax down to a 5 on the scale.
  • The next day you go out and your dog is at a 5 on the scale and because of this they pull on the leash and  are a bit more alert of their surroundings, looking for an invisible threat. They are now closer to threshold and could have a bad reaction even to something they never would before.

Even going on a short walk with an unaware owner can leave a dog a lot more stressed out when they return from a walk, compared to when they left a walk in the first place.

A short video to visually explain the concept

Stress In Dogs

Stress in short bursts is good for dogs, it is used for survival and it also helps towards learning (to a minimal degree). In longer periods, stress and fear can be detrimental to a dogs health and mental wellbeing.

Cortisol, along with other hormones including adrenaline, are released in situations of high arousal. This is a survival instinct where the dog is preparing for fight or flight (run away), a series of changes occur in the body such as heightened senses, increased blood pressure and sugar, increased blood flow, and more.

It can take up to 72 hours for a dogs body to eliminate stress! That’s 3 days to get back to a calm base level, could you imagine being incredibly stressed for this amount of time?! You’d be a mess right?!

Reactivity and Prolonged Stress in Dogs

Have you ever wondered why one day you may have a good walk but the next your dog seems agitated and seems to be on alert? A dog that goes up and down the scale like a yo-yo will give inconsistent walks every time. If not properly addressed you can experience a number of issues when taking a stressed dog for a walk or walking an already stressed dog which can include:

  • Hypervigilance

This is a heightened state of mind, the body goes into high alert and is anticipating danger. You may notice your dog repeatedly scanning the environment, pulling ahead as if on guard, sniffing, staring into the distance or at people and maybe even stopping. The body is in fight or flight mode here, expecting an unseen danger, which for reactive dogs can be problematic.

  • Ignore you and won’t listen

I used to think Jasper ignored me when we were out and he was in a stressed state however I realised that in this state he was taking in all the environment, assessing whether anything approaching was a threat, trying to make sense of everything important and ignore what didn’t matter. If I can’t get his focus and engagement in this state then there is no way I’m going to even get him to sit.

  • Inability to learn

The higher up the scale a dog goes, the harder it is for a dog to learn. With cortisol, adrenaline and other hormones flowing through the body (plus the increased focus on the trigger), a dog is less likely to listen to commands especially if it goes over threshold.

  • Quicker to react

Dogs that are already stressed are quicker to react, those that are already expecting an issue won’t take the time to stop and think when one arises. Dogs that are more stressed are also more likely to react to things they may normally not react to, due to the underlying stress.

How To Prevent Trigger Stacking in Reactive Dogs

It’s easy to be unaware of trigger stacking in reactive dogs or dogs in general, until it is too late. Below are 5 different things you can do to prevent trigger stacking in reactive dogs…

  1. Know what triggers your dog
    The first thing I recommend to do is to find out exactly what triggers your dog, you want to be as specific as possible. For example, if your dog is reactive to other dogs does it matter the size, gender or the colour?  If your dog is reactive to people is it gender, skin colour or things like hats? If you can identify everything that triggers your dog then when you are out you know exactly what to avoid. Write these down for further reference!
  2. Improve leash skills
    One way to avoid trigger stacking is to be able to get out of sticky situations before your dog has the chance to react. By developing solid leash skills and maneuvers, you can work with your dog to move to a safer location.
  3. Practice engagement skills
    Engagement skills such as teaching your dog to focus or teaching them targeting can be great for when you have to pass triggers. Having strong engagement skills will help reduce leash reactivity and make these experiences less stressful for the dog.
  4. Understand your dogs body language
    Dogs speak a lot through body language, whether it is to other dogs or to their humans, a lot is communicated through body language including leash reactive warning signs. Many people don’t realise that our dogs give us signals as we take them for a walk, we notice them pulling on the leash or stopping to sniff but we don’t notice the change of the ear position or tail position or how tense the body has just become.
  5. Take your time!
    The final thing is to take your time! You want this process to be as stress free as possible for you and your dog, you don’t want to drag them into situations that neither of you are prepared for, it’ll be detrimental for progress and your dog will doubt your leadership skills

helping a reactive dog find calm
Discover the importance of teaching focus and engagement on walks

Reducing Stress in Your Dog

As I’ve said before, prolonged stress can create big problems for reactive dogs if not managed or controlled properly. As the guardian for our dogs, it is up to us to keep an eye out for stressful experiences and work on reducing them. Below are 5 methods you should consider to destress your reactive dog.

  1. Reduce/Eliminate Stress
    Now that you know what triggers your dog, you want to avoid experiences that will have a chance of exposing your dog to stress. Options for this include going a different route for your walks or going somewhere a bit more quiet if you have the option to drive somewhere, even cutting out dog parks can be ideal if your dog is currently having issues with reactivity.
  2. Physical Contact
    Physical contact can be very calming for dogs.  Meaningful touching such as massaging and TTouch are great examples of using physical contact to calm dogs. Making time during the day to massage and destress your dog can be very beneficial for overall behaviour. When on walks, after a stressful situation, putting your dog in a tuck or safe zone while you calm them can help soothe them.
  3. Enrichment
    By allowing a dog to use their natural skills you can help enrichment and making them feel more calm. Sniffing for example can be very calming for a dog, hiding treats around the house, the garden or even in the grass off the path and asking your dog to find them can help them reduce stress. For example, the ability to use the nose for finding treats, toys and even keys can be very rewarding and highly satisfying for dogs, it can also provide a lot of mental stimulation. You can wrap treats in a towel or you can be more creative and put said towel in cardboard box and let your dog work out the best way to get to those treats. Get creative, stuff a cardboard box with paper and more pieces of card and add a few treats to find.
  4. Calm Walks
    You want to make walks as calm as possible. This means you want to avoid any triggers that may approach and you don’t want to arouse your dog with running or playing fetch. Take this time to enjoy walking with your dog and build confidence with a bit of obedience or getting them to put paws up on a log. Keep stress levels down on these walks to help bring your dog back to a calm base level.

    (Find my 4 top tips for calm dog walking here)
  5. Taking time off
    Sometimes the best thing to do is take some time off. If it takes 3 days for the body to eliminate stress, don’t walk your dog for 3 days. By avoiding any stimulation from the external environment your dog will easily be able to destress and restart. This rehabilitation period is used for exercising your dog mentally, building confidence and relationship and also for strengthening skills for when you get back outside.

exercise a reactive dog
Other ways you can exercise your dog that doesn’t involve just going for walks.

Be Patient, Be Better!

You must be patient with your dog especially when stress is the issue, an uncontrollable outburst from you will just show you can be unpredictable and add unneeded stress to the situation. Keep an eye out for trigger stacking in reactive dogs, learn the body language of both a relaxed and stressed dog, keep an eye out for bad situations and avoid where necessary, if you ignore the signs your dog is giving you then they will take matter into their own hands (or paws).

Understanding more about your dog and reactivity in general can fast track you and your dog to success! Check out the rest of my blog, starting from the beginners guide to leash reactivity in dogs which is a great starting point for those looking to understand more about managing this issue.

I found a lot of useful and more in-depth information on trigger stacking reactive dogs here – How we Set Our Dogs To Fail

7 Ways To Exercise a Reactive Dog Mentally and Physically

7 Ways To Exercise a Reactive Dog Mentally and Physically

To exercise a reactive dog and those struggling with behaviour issues is crucial. But how do you exercise a reactive dog when it’s hard enough to walk one?

Exercising a dog doesn’t have to feel like a chore, below are several fun ways to mentally and physically exercise a dog both in and out of the house. Discover the importance and benefits of regular and consistent exercise below…

exercise a reactive dog

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Benefits of exercise

  • Health benefits

The health benefits alone should be reason to give your dog plenty of exercise. Whether your dog is reactive or not they will gain advantages with a good exercise routine :

  • Low blood pressure
  • Stronger heart
  • Better joints
  • More energy
  • Self confidence
  • Less chance of obesity

These will make sure your dog stays hearty and healthy and as young as possible!

  • Behaviour benefits

Believe it or not, a lot of bad behaviour stems from the issue of lack of exercise. Without exercise both mental and physical, a dog gets bored. A bored dog with a lot of energy stored needs to find ways to release this; barking, chewing furniture, running riot, digging, whining etc.

If you have a dog that may have behaviour problems, even as simple as pulling on the leaah, then they could benefit from some more exercise. Less energy leads to a calm state of mind, a calm state of mind allows the dog to process all information about the situation properly and make less mistakes, basically if you exercise a reactive dog, you are more likely setting them up for success. This can be through obedience, shaping behaviour or even in areas like leash reactivity in dogs.

leash reactivity in dogs guide

  • Creating a calm state of mind

If you exercise a reactive dog constantly and consistently every day, from the start to the end of the day, you will get a very calm dog.

Creating a calm state of mind as a default setting for your dog requires your dog to not be filled with energy. With a lack of exercise your dog will always be at a level of unrest where they might seem “happy” but they will make mistakes and seem like they are “all over the place”.

I believe in dogs having a default setting of calm and I think as the owner we should be able to create excitement and then quickly be able to settle the dog when we are done. This can be done through exercise, you can start at any point, build up excitement, get the heart pumping and then stop, put the dog in a sit of place command until they’ve cooled off.

Once your dog understands “chilling out”, you can give the behaviour a command and work on it to quickly get your dog to stop what he is doing and chill out.

  • Easy to add to your daily routine

It doesn’t take much to exercise a reactive dog, you don’t even need that much space. Below you will find a variety of different ways to exercise a reactive dog, a few which you can do inside with a little to know equipment. Some of these are so easy you can just start them up when you have a quick 5 minutes. Unlike for us, when we think of exercise we think of painful and uncomfortable exercise but when it comes to exercise for dogs, we can make it so much more fun and it can easily slip into our day.

  • Creates and strengthens the bond with your dog

If you’re reading this then chances are you have a pretty good relationship with your dog, but exercise can make it better. Even for those who feel that your dog is stubborn or doesn’t listen, spend some time exercising and training them and just enjoy spending time with them and watch how that bond grows!

Why exercise a reactive dog?

So why is it important to exercise a reactive dog in particular? Common behaviour problems on the leash such as pulling and lunging etc can all be solved with a bit of exercise (or at least reduced).

Proper exercise before a walk will reduce the overall energy of the dog, this leads to more calm behaviour on the actual walk.

Dogs can store energy for times when they need it, such as fight or flight moments, moments of reactivity. If your dog isn’t getting enough exercise then they call on this reserve of energy when they encounter a trigger. I’m not saying that a fully exercised dog won’t react, I’m just saying an exercised and calm dog can think more clear than one on edge.

Try to raise the breathing for a good 15-20 minutes when you play with your dog. It doesn’t have to be anything too intense, just get them moving!

Make multiple short slots in your day to play with your dog, just because they are reactive doesn’t mean you can’t have fun! This helps keep energy low through the day.

Once you have finished a play session it is always important to calm your dog down after. If you are going on a walk after these sessions make sure your dog is calm before leaving the houses. If your dog leaves the house with that excited and hyper mindset after play, they will find it harder to focus outside and you will end up with a completely distracted dog. Get your dog to wait while you put your shoes on and don’t leave until they are calm.

Ideas for physical exercise

  • Stair running

If you have a set of stairs then this is a great way to burn a bit of energy either at random points in the day or even before and after a walk.

All you have to do for this exercise is as follows…

  1. Stand at the top of the stairs with your dog by your side (your dog might feel more comfortable starting from the bottom and running up the stairs instead of down)
  2. Take a treat and lure your dog and throw it to the bottom of the stairs (your dog should follow)
  3. Once they’ve got the treat, call them back up the stairs
  4. Praise and repeat

I love doing this before a walk as it’s drains some energy before going out, giving me the advantage of calm dog walking.

calm dog walking

  • Tug of war

This will never be an outdated method to not only burn energy but to also have fun with your dog.

You can incorporate some basic obedience and impulse control skills such as sitting and waiting patiently and even more advanced skills before rewarding with a game of tug.

All you need is a good sturdy tug toy that gives you enough space to avoid any accidental biting/mouthing (set your dog up for success).

  • Fetch

There’s nothing more easier than rolling a ball down the hallway and letting your dog chase it. You can use tennis balls but sometimes maybe a lighter toy that can’t break anything is a better option.

You may need to teach a “retrieve” command or “bring”, Jasper loves to play fetch but sometimes he doesn’t bring the ball or just runs away.

Mental Exercise

  • Chew Toys

The use of chew toys can mentally stimulate a dog and give them something to do. There are many different products that offer dog chew toys. First determine what kind of chewer your dog is, Jasper is a power chewer, he’ll literally destroy most toys immediately. For this reason our number one recommendation is the use of a Nylabone. These strong “bonelike” toys are made of nylon and encourage your dog to chew and bite while also maintaining the teeth too.

They can provide short to long bursts of preoccupation depending on the dog (you can get different flavours to boost the want of the toy).

  • Scent work

Do you have a dog that constantly wants to stop and “smell the roses”? You can reduce this while also exercising your dog mentally and instinctually.

Dogs have 300 million receptors in their nose and love to smell, imagine what one sniff brings in! Dogs should be allowed to sniff and explore but only when given permission. That’s why I love scent work as a method to exercise a reactive dog, you give your dog a command word and you can control the actions out in public!

Here’s how to get started…

  1. Start with some treats, sit your dog in front of you and let him sniff the treat
  2. Place it somewhere your dog can see
  3. Give a command word such as “find it” or “lost” “sniff”
  4. Praise and recall your dog
  5. Repeat and put in a slightly harder area (still let your dog see but put it behind something)

As you continue make it slightly harder; use tables, chairs, speakers and then move to putting your dog outside the room (when you do this put the treats back in easier spots until your dog gets comfortable with this transition).

When out in public find a nice grassy area, get your dog to sit and then throw a treat in the grass somewhere and give your chosen command. Slowly phase out the treat and just give the word for your dog to enjoy a good sniff!

  • Feeding time

A great way to exercise a reactive dog mentally is through food. A lot of dogs are used to getting the food given (and some even have bowls out all day), either way making feeding time slightly harder will reward your dog vastly. Here are a few great options that I’ve used with Jasper to keep mealtimes interesting!

Feeding toys

This is a great way to make feeding time more fun and stimulating for the dog. Instead of easily being able to eat out of a bowl give them a challenge. Using feeders such as those in the Kong toy range give the dog more of a reward by fulfilling instinctual needs. You can fill it as you wish and even freeze it for a longer lasting challenge.

Dogs that get bored and bark and undergo other behaviour issues such as digging in the yard or chewing furniture can benefit from this kind of stimulation. Giving the toy at times of bordem will entertain the dog and help avoid these unwanted behaviours.

Teaching impulse control

I believe in rewarding a calm state of mind and what better way to have a calm dog than around food. Now this might be difficult to start with as your dog doesn’t normally have to wait for food but once mastered feeding time will be smooth!

  1. Get your dog to sit in front of you
  2. Either stand with the food bowl or go toward the floor depending how excited your dog is (if your dog jumps for his bowl start standing for now)
  3. Wait until your dog is calm and looks towards you
  4. When they take a glance, mark and lower the food bowl
  5. Repeat until at ground level
  6. Reward by releasing your dog

This teaches that being calm and looking at you,  leads to food and it also shows you as a leader, it shows that you provide the food.

Once your dog is comfortable at this point you can move onto the next level and give the behaviour a command, “focus” or “look at me”. At this level keep lowering the bowl for eye contact but once broken you pause until eye contact is given. Eye contact is a great technique that you can use when out in public to help a reactive dog find calm simply by ignoring the distraction at hand and looking at you.

reactive dog find calm

If your dog really struggles them start off simple, wait for a calm sit and reward with the food. You don’t want to make feeding time stressful for them at all.

  • Obedience

Obedience and agility not only exercise a reactive dog but give your dog a job, giving them self confidence too.

I try to teach Jasper a new trick every other week and spread a few 5-20 minute training sessions throughout the day. This not only strengthens the bond by giving us something to do together but it helps burn energy through the day.

If you haven’t yet, check out the previous two posts that are part of this free mini-series: