8 Tips For Success Using Counter Conditioning In Dogs With Leash Reactivity

8 Tips For Success Using Counter Conditioning In Dogs With Leash Reactivity

Counter conditioning in dogs has been used far and wide by many to help their reactive dogs. Learn how to change your dogs emotional response to triggers!


counter conditioning in dogs 8 tips

This page contains affiliate links which means I receive a commission on anything you decide to buy. I only recommend products that I either have used and/or trust.


The Unpleasant Issue of Leash Reactivity in Dogs

What is Leash Reactivity?

Going for a walk is one of the greatest ways to burn time, energy and spend some quality time with your dog. IF you have a reactive dog however, things can be a bit more complicated than that. What would normally be a lovely walk enjoying the fresh air becomes a walk filled with anxiety, frustration and embarrassment. You rush your dog as quick as possible to get back to the safety of home.

Leash reactive dogs are no less lovely than any other dog, the only issue is they have problems with introducing themselves. In the presence of a trigger they will bark and lunge and growl and bare teeth – all your favourite things to cause embarrassment.

It is a very common issue that many dogs struggle with and many even end up developing. When dogs get older or injured or just want more space this is how they get the message across.

Common Causes of Leash Reactivity

There can be many different causes for this problem.

Fear/Anxiety

Yes! The reason your dog is lunging and barking is because they want to create some distance between them and the approaching trigger. They see the trigger as something scary and revert to trying to scare it away. This starts the bad habit because your dog starts to think that by barking and lunging the trigger will go away. In a way they are right, this behaviour becomes a default and harder and harder to deal with if not careful.

Socialisation problems

You may have got your puppy elsewhere or from a kennel. You may have raised them from a puppy…regardless the situation socialisation is a big factor in reactivity. During a dog’s life they should be desensitized to certain things such as kids, other dogs, other people etc. This helps create positive associations with these and shows them there’s nothing to be weary of.

Bad experience

A bad experience with a trigger can very well change how a dog feels to certain things. If a dog has had an accident with a skateboard then they can start to display signs of fear. An accident with other dogs could cause them to become reactive to other dogs.

Aggression

When talking about leash reactivity in dogs, the lesser are considered aggressive. Aggression can look the same as reactivity although the underlying emotion is different. If you do struggle with an aggressive dog then the best way to manage this issue is through a professional. Aggressive dogs can cause safety issues if not controlled properly.

Excitement

Being over aroused through excitement can be a cause for this behaviour. When seeing a trigger such as another person or a dog gets the dog frustrated. Being on leash restricts the dog from their actions which leads to frustration, which leads to an outburst.

Aversive association

I avoid using aversive methods for the reason that it isn’t consistent.  If your dog only reacts to some dogs he’s going to start thinking getting even more frustrated when he sees a dog. Your dog may even start to associate seeing a dog with pain making the issue more complex.

Dogs that need space

Many dogs end up needing some space at some point in their lives. Maybe they are old or have become injured…or just don’t want to play. A lot of dogs are happy to just walk and spend time with their “human”. When approached these dogs may display leash reactive warning signs telling others to keep away.


leash reactive warning signs of dogs

Solutions to Reduce Leash Reactivity

To make progress with this issue, the best way forward is to create a leash reactive dog training plan. This will include high value treats, a ton of patience and a few different approaches to dealing with this issue.

Many have found success with counter conditioning in dogs. A method of trying to change the root emotional response of the dog toward the trigger. Allowing your dog to figure out the trigger really isn’t that bad!


Take a look at how this technique can be used with skateboards

Getting Started With Counter Conditioning in Dogs

Your basic goal here is to change how you dog feels about the trigger, changing the emotional response. You want to show there’s nothing to be afraid of or you want to show them they don’t need to act in that fashion. A great way to help make this positive change is through counter conditioning and exposure to the trigger. This exposure is also known as desensitization and when paired with counter conditioning is very powerful.

How exactly does counter conditioning in dogs work?

Let’s say that your dog isn’t a fan of skateboards. Whenever they see a skateboard go past they go crazy!

So how would you change the perception?

The goal would be to pair the sight and sound of the skateboard with something positive – normally a treat. This starts to create a positive and calming attitude towards the trigger.

Sounds easy right? This can work with many triggers such as cars, other dogs, livestock, squirrels, kids, men etc.

3 Easy Steps To Counter Conditioning in Dogs

Find Your Reactivity Distance

You want to find out the reactivity distance – the distance a dog can notice a trigger however wont react. This is essential because you can keep your dog ina calm state of mind. Here they find out that everything is fine.

When you find this distance may it be 5ft or 50ft, add another 10ft onto it. This becomes your buffer zone, somewhere to return to safely to avoid an outburst.

Create Positive Association With The Trigger

Create positive associations by rewarding your dog in the presence of a trigger. You want a high rate of reinforcement that helps break up the focus on the trigger. A high rate of reinforcement helps due to when a dog sees the trigger they start to learn that they hit the jackpot with treats. For this to be effective you must only reward them when they are looking at the trigger. Once the trigger is out of sight the rewards stop!

 Dog = jackpot of treats

Dogs  = maybe not that bad

Slowly Decrease The Distance to Trigger

Once you and your dog are comfortable at a certain distance start to bring it in. Over time you should be making some good progress as your dog starts to learn differently.

DON’T rush your dog! Just because you have made progress one day doesn’t mean you are ready to move to the next step. Take your time, see how comfortable your dog is and see how comfortable you are as well! If you are uncomfortable when decreasing your distance then your dog will feel this too!


Check out this video of how you can use counter conditioning in dogs to help with reactivity problems.

Think of Your Goals

By using this technique there 3 goals that are trying to be achieved

  • Teaching the trigger isn’t scary
  • Showing that good things happen when the trigger is present
  • Showing that they can look to you for guidance

You also need to think about the goals that you have in mind. Are you wanting your dog to just be able to ignore dogs that you pass or do you want them to interact with them etc. Knowing your goals helps you make a lot more progress because you know exactly what you want to achieve.

For example, for Jasper I just want him to ignore other dogs on walks. The only dogs he really interacts with are ones he’s close with (his pack as to say). I want to be able to walk cross a dog on the sidewalk without having to cross the road or hide behind a car. By doing this I know what my target distance is going to be and I can work towards that.

Have the Right Equipment

Equipment is a big factor when it comes down to leash aggression. Having a reactive dog can be problematic especially if they are larger in size. Knowing what equipment to use can be very helpful. For example, if you use a retractable leash you are going to cause more trouble for your dog. Your dog learns that pulling is fine and if you have a larger dog, it is harder to stop once they have built up momentum. They may be an easier option but retractable leashes are in fact quite lazy.

When it comes to aversive and punishment causing equipment I recommend avoiding these. Using punishment especially with fear and anxious dogs can cause deeper problems. You could even mask up the issue even though it is there. You may think you are making progress and then your dog randomly snaps as you walk past another dog. Aversion can make the dog see the trigger as a cause to the pain which can create a negative reinforcement.


products fro leash reactive dog training

Read more about what equipment is ESSENTIAL for leash reactive dog training


8 Ways To Achieve Success with Counter Conditioning in Dogs

High value motivation

Finding your dogs motivation is ESSENTIAL to reduce leash reactivity. Whether it be a value treat or their favourite toy or praise. You want to use something that your dog will find focusing on you for. Without anything of high value your dog will become fixed on the trigger, working themselves up to an out urst.


reduce leash reactivity with motivation

Find out more about finding the right motivation to reduce leash reactivity.


Rate of Reinforcement

Along with the treat being one that is high of value, you will also want to reward often. By rewarding often you keep the dog below threshold. Breaking up the focus between you and the trigger helps the dog realise maybe things aren’t as bad. Don’t reward too little, you can ease off the treats later!

Distance

Understanding the “reactivity distance” is important when working on how your dog feels to triggers. You will notice that the amount of focus the dog has on you depends on far away the trigger is. The closer you approach a trigger, the less focus you will get from your dog. Knowing the distance that causes an issue is crucial in coming up with a training plan. Knowing the distance helps you work under the threshold and create positive associations.

Understand your dogs triggers

So what is your dog reactive to? Dogs you say…big or small? Does colour matter? Does breed matter? Knowing what triggers your dog exactly can help you not only make progress but also helps you know what to keep an eye out for.

Slow and Steady

Go at your dogs pace! As mentioned this could be due to fear or aggression based issues. Work on it slowly and don’t progress too fast. Pushing your dog could cause them to snap and this could hinder progress as they fall into bad habits again. Ensure you keep a journal of your progress so you can keep track of how you are doing.

Keep Session Short

It is hard to change such an emotional response. Even if you are making progress keep sessions short. These sessions will be very arousing for your dog with excitement, fear and cortisol. Take it easy, keep it short and end on a high note if possible!

Have Days Off!

Stress will stay in a dog’s system for a while so encountering dogs constantly on walks can be a big problem. An option is to take a day off in the week to exercise your dog from home. Find a way to stimulate then mentally such as find it or start a game of tug etc.

Let your dog enjoy not having to worry about other dogs and try again the next day! Go at your dogs pace!!

Consistency

You need to make sure you keep these sessions consistent. Practicing often will help create a stronger positive association. HOWEVER, if you feel you are not making progress in one area, make it easier for your dog. If there is a dog at the end of the street that sets off your dog, go the long way round. Keep it fair on your dog and always set your dog up for success!


Don’t Put All Your Eggs In One Basket

Yes this is a great way to combat the issue of reactivity. However you may find that it doesn’t work for all dogs, or it will work only to a certain distance.

There are many other methods out there that help with different aspects. For example, Grisha Stewart and Behaviour Adjustment Training teaches your dog how to make the right choices on their own. They figure everything out while you act more as a backseat driver. This technique empowers your dog and can help eventually to make polite introductions.


beginners guide leash reactivity in dogs

Check out the beginners guide to leash reactivity in dogs for more information on the various way how you can help your dog with this issue


Final Thoughts – Patience is Key with Counter Conditioning in Dogs!

It is a hard thing to change the emotional response in a dog. However if you have the time, patience and follow the tips above you can work through this issue with your dog.

It will take some time and you might find you have more outbursts to begin with however, keep at it. Don’t avoid taking your dog out (unless they seem to be struggling with reactivity, have a day of exercising the from indoors)  The last thing you want is having a reactive dog that lacks in exercise, that is just a recipe for disaster!

You Aren’t Alone!

Don’t forget to leave a comment whether to ask a question, give your own tips, give feedback etc and check out the leash aggression training blog for more information and resources on dealing with leash reactivity in dogs. The worlds a better place when people help each other!

Resources

Baskerville Ultra Muzzle Review

Baskerville Ultra Muzzle Review


A quick Baskerville Ultra Muzzle review. You never know when you’ll need a muzzle, let it be a trip to the vet or you’ve got a rescue dog with no history or maybe you just have a reactive dog. Whatever the reason the amount of peace of mind you get is unreal!


Baskerville ultra muzzle review

This page contains affiliate links which means I receive a commission on anything you decide to buy. I only recommend products that I either have used and/or trust.


Making the right choice

It can be a tough decision but dog muzzles prevent biting. A lot of people see it as a bad thing, as the dog is uncontrollable and reactive and that’s the only thing we can do. That’s true, partly. Yes the dog may be uncontrollable or maybe just even unpredictable, they may not even have a bite history but it’s not the only thing we can do!

There are plenty of options to get your dog the help it needs if you don’t have time with the most popular being getting private help from a trainer or undergoing leash aggression training which could be the help you need if your dog is problematic in public.

You might not even have a reactive dog but you don’t know how they’ll do at the vets or when your grandkids come around etc.

A muzzle is more of a responsible choice, not all dogs who wear muzzles are bad, it just means you as the owner as responsible enough to factor in worst case scenarios – it’s better to be safe than sorry for you, your dog and everyone else around you.



Switching To A Muzzle

I got Jasper a few months ago and he doesn’t have a bite history from the shelter but he is a leash reactive dog and with him being a Staffy and me being new to all this, a muzzle was on the list.

It took me some time to get one for him, we didn’t end up in any incidents but what made me switch to a muzzle is the fact that a lot of other dog owners let their dogs go up to anyone without proper introduction. The amount of times I had to drag Jasper away from a dog charging at Jasper to play is silly. An incident may not end up being our fault but it could be prevented!

Introduce the muzzle and we are now able to move from these situations more calmly now which has helped a lot. Trying to escape from those situations quickly would just pump Jasper up more making it more harder to control.

We wore the muzzle about a month on and off, when he needed to socialise of when we went for big walks with animals around and now he’s more accustomed to everything we don’t use it as much but knowing I’ve still got it and he is used to it is a huge peace of mind.

So without further ado- here’s the Baskerville Ultra review!



Strength

The first thing I noticed when unboxing the muzzle was the strength of the material. It does say it needs hot water so that it can soften and mould but straight away I could tell they weren’t messing around.

Even though he doesn’t have a big mouth on him, Jasper could definitely not get through that!

Security

So just how secure is it you ask? There are a couple of safety features that allow more sense of security such as a clasp lock so when buckled in you can lock it into place. You can also thread the back through the collar which refrains it from falling off.

When I was getting Jasper used to it he’d try taking it off with his pays, by dragging it along the ground and without these features, if he could actually take it off then it could be a problem especially if unnoticed!

The Baskerville muzzle ensures that it can’t come off with these added features.

Sizing

The muzzle comes in different sizes, all recommended to a breed as well (or you can get the exact measurements and choose the correct one).

My favourite thing about Baskerville is that you can put them in hot water, shape them to the mold of your dogs nose and then cool them down to take the shape. This allows a more personal and comfortable fit for your dog.

You also have the straps as well to tighten and loosen around the head allowing the perfect fit for any dog.

Overall rating

I can’t fault this product, it does everything you need it to do and provides you the added sense of security behind it. With the numerous variations I honestly think the Baskerville Ultra Muzzle is one of the best muzzle brands out there; it allows your dog to drink, eat and pant and gives plenty of space and doesn’t restrain them from anything but biting.

As mentioned I really didn’t have to use it for long with Jasper but it really helped especially when it came to leash aggression training and socialising in the parks if we had to.

I highly recommend the Baskerville Ultra Muzzle if you are considering muzzle training and I guarantee you won’t regret it!



How Dog Muzzles Prevent Biting and Why You Should Consider One

How Dog Muzzles Prevent Biting and Why You Should Consider One


Dog muzzles prevent biting and serious injuries to other people and dogs. Discover why a dog muzzle is the safest way to prevent biting.


dog muzzles prevent biting

This page contains affiliate links which means I receive a commission on anything you decide to buy. I only recommend products that I either have used and/or trust.


Dogs with Muzzles – Better to Be Safer Than Sorry

A lot of people feel uncomfortable at the thought of having to fit their dogs with muzzles. Many worry about whether it’s comfortable and if they can breathe and whether or not it’s cruel or not and many worry about the image it portrays about your dog to other people.

The truth is if you are thinking whether or not you need to muzzle your dog then there is a chance you do. Dog muzzles prevent biting and if you are looking for a way to nip that possibility in the butt straight away, this is it. There is no doubt that nearly every person will encounter a time when they require to muzzle their dog, regardless for how long.


When Will A Muzzle Be Needed?

The most important thing is safety, a muzzle helps prevent serious injuries from your dog. Your dog actually gives leash reactive warning signs when they are getting uncomfortable. If you ignore these you will encounter an outburst of barking and lunging. Even worse an outburst could lead to a bite. Would you not rather be prepared in case?


leash reactive warning signs of dogs

Some examples of times to put one on are as follows –

Grooming/vets

Leash aggression training is fine when for when you are just on walks or going to the park but when you get out into a situation where you have to take them to the vet or to the groomers then you can prepare for an outburst.

I muzzle Jasper on these occasions purely because it’s close quarters and with all the tight corners the last thing i want to do is get tangled up with another dog.

Dog parks

I don’t know about anyone else but for me a muzzle in these situations is more for being prepared.

When in the field, Jasper is completely fine to acknowledge and ignore other dogs while we run around playing fetch and tug. I don’t find the need to have one from the journey out the house to the field but I will have it in our dog bag just in case another energetic dog comes on the field or if it starts getting a bit crowded etc.

Going to pubs

With more places allowing owners to bring dogs to such venues as pubs and bar and cafes you need to be cautious if you do the same.

You should be fine sitting on different tables if you have a reactive dog that can settle down, however you might find it hard to enjoy yourself in one of the situations with a reactive dog, maybe leave it for down the line.

Socialisation

Socialization is a great way to reduce leash reactivity. If you are going out with the intention to socialise your reactive dog then a muzzle should be your first call of action. Whether you are arranging to meet a fellow owner and their pooch or you are just going to go around the park then a muzzle is made for these situations.

I find it a lot easier to socialise Jasper at the field when he has a muzzle, owners are more understanding of the problem that you are trying to overcome.


reduce leash reactivity

If you feel there’s a chance of bite

It could be a specific occasion like a big walk or seeing a friend and their dog or if you’re walking a dog on a school run (the last thing you want is a reactive dog around school kids).

Your dog actually bites

Silly to be placed at the bottom but one of the most obvious reasons is if your dog has had a history of biting. This is literally what a muzzle was made for and just know it’ll be a temporary fix for you until you manage to find the right training.


baskerville ultra muzzle review

Baskerville Ultra Muzzle – My Recommendation

I use a basket muzzle for Jasper, when I took a look there were a lot of variations like leather and nylon and mesh but I don’t feel like they would do the job.

A muzzle may look like nasty business but you need to realise that you are preventing the possibility of serious injuries to others. The Baskerville is incredibly safe providing safety locks and collar clips.

Many dog muzzles prevent biting but they also make it harder for your dog to pant, eat or drink. Many wrap around the mouth and actually stop the mouth from opening which work but isn’t what you’ll need for your dog.

The Baskerville muzzle allows for drinking, panting and accepting treats plus it has extra security to give you a peace of mind. What I love about this muzzle is that you can mold it to fit the shape of your dogs nose as well which for me and Jasper having a short and fat Staffie nose is an added benefit!


How To Properly Fit A Muzzle


How To Get Your Dog To Accept The Muzzle

You will find this easier to do in low stress situations such as the comfort of your home. If this is the first time your dog has any association with a muzzle it should be relatively easy and should take a few minutes but mind if your dog already has a bad association with them it could take a bit longer but do not take this out on them!

  1. Present the muzzle to your dog and allow them to sniff it. Give them a treat and repeat a few times.
  2. Touch his nose to the inside of the muzzle, remove, treat and repeat a few times again.
  3. Gently put the muzzle on for a couple of seconds and then remove, treat and repeat.
  4. Put the muzzle on and fasten it up wait for a couple of seconds and the remove, treat and repeat.

Do this every day either before a walk where you can walk out with it as well or as a training session if you feel the need to take it slow.


Top Tips For Muzzle Training

  • Get a muzzle that allows your dog to pant, drink water and accept treats. There are muzzles which strap around the nose but if your dog can’t do the basic essentials then you will start having a very grumpy dog!
  • Take your time with training – don’t rush your dog into wearing it straight away, take it slow and let them know this isn’t a bad thing
  • Find a muzzle that fits – it isn’t the most comfortable accessory of choice so you need to make sure you find one that fits properly. Most of them are adjustable with straps but the muzzle I use (Baskerville ultra) allows you to put it in hot water to then mold to your dogs nose shape!
  • Only use for short amounts of time
  • Make sure they are safe – don’t skimp for a cheaper standard muzzle. The one me and Jasper use has a clasp lock so it doesn’t unlock when strapped in, you can thread the collar through it and also a head strap as well!

beginners guide to leash reactivity in dogs

Final Thoughts – Better Sooner Than Later

If you’ve read this then hopefully it’s given you a bit more insight and guidance on being a safer dog owner.

A muzzle is a precaution that you can take to keep your dog safe from others. You may find that a problem that you end up facing is dealing with irresponsible dog owners. Those that allow their dogs to run and introduce themselves to any dog.

Dog muzzles prevent biting, they aren’t a long term fix, they are only temporary so please don’t feel if you do have to get one your dog wears it forever. You only need to get to a point you feel comfortable without having one on.

You Aren’t Alone!

Don’t forget to leave a comment whether to ask a question, give your own tips, give feedback etc and check out the leash aggression training blog for more information and resources on dealing with leash reactivity in dogs. The worlds a better place when people help each other!

Resources