One Simple Trick To Helping A Reactive Dog Find Calm


Why is it essential to helping a reactive dog find calm? Discover how you can improve your current walks with this simple trick that will shape your dog to look at you for guidance and support instead of resorting to their usual behaviour.


helping a reactive dog find calm

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Dealing With Leash Reactivity In Dogs

Reactivity is just that, a reaction, normally to an external stimuli. Dogs have around 300 million receptors in their nose making them 40 times more powerful than ours!

We picture our dogs walking by our side and slightly behind, ignoring the world around us, whilst we enjoy the walk with them. This is a big challenge you are asking from your dog with the world around them when you’re constantly bumping into triggers that make them pull, lunge and even bark uncontrollably. You can however work WITH your dog to get them to trust you and look to you for guidance on your walks.

Helping A Reactive Dog Find Calm Through Teaching Engagement and Focus

This is for anyone who is struggling with any of the following issues:

  • Your dog constantly pulling you around, stopping and dictating where they want to go
  • A high alert dog that seems to constantly be looking around and getting themselves stressed out
  • A reactive dog that barks and lunges at people, dogs and other stimuli
  • A dog that doesn’t engage with you on the walk
  • People who feel like their dog is really walking them

Dealing with a reactive dog is a hard and frustrating process, you feel that they’re stubborn and don’t want to listen but the problem is they probably feel the same way too.

Imagine your dog with a personal bubble, when indoors at home, when safe, this bubble probably covers the whole house. As mentioned it’s because they feel safe, they’re used to the environment. When you go outside that bubble instantly gets smaller and now we’re talking about just enough to cover your dog (bubble size in proportion to your dogs confidence). When outside the slightest thing like leaves blowing past could put a dog on edge.

Why?

As mentioned the bubble gets smaller when you and your dog venture out for walks and the leash just makes it worse! Yes it is a means to take control of your dog but it restricts your dog and that is a major cause of frustration. They are now outside in this scary and distracting world and they have no where to go but with you, in situations they’d normally run, you walk toward the trigger (and if you are reading this then chances are your dog might not be too confident to let you take the reigns but that doesn’t have to be the case!)

Communication Barrier

We expect our dogs to know exactly what we mean, perfect English, a complete different language. For example your dog pulls ahead and you jerk the leash and say “No! Heel!” but how much have you trained this command? Does your dog really understand the word? Especially out in distracting areas?

The problem with a communication barrier is it’s frustrating for both you and the dog. On the other hand your dog is communicating what they want, you just aren’t listening. If a dog pulls on the lead it’s because something has got their attention and they want to go to it and they get frustrated because they can’t (because of the leash). So they pull and you pull back and you do this process over and over.

Walks become frustrating very quick when you don’t understand each other, so you make it as quick as possible just to get it over with.


Teaching Your Dog To Look At You For Guidance

This is what you are trying to teach your dog

The Goal

What you are trying to achieve is helping a reactive dog find calm. You want to train your dog into trusting you in difficult situations, to look at you and be calm, this is key to success, you want your dog to be engaged with you.

You want to make that bubble of theirs bigger, so that at least it engulfs you. The world might be scary but the best way to show your dog there isn’t anything for them to worry about is if you are there to guide them along the way.

So how do you teaching your dog to be more focused on you to achieve calm dog walking?

Start in the house

The best place to teach anything starts in the house! Then you move into places with a few more distractions. This is how you “proof” behaviour, making sure that regardless of what happens you’ve proofed it from distractions.

For Jasper, I use the phrase “focus”. You can call it what you want from “look at me”, or a simple call of your dogs name.

  1. Put about 10 treats in your left hand and one in your right
  2. Get your dog to sit in front of you
  3. Let them smell your hands (they may muzzle and nudge but be patient and stay still and silent)
  4. After a while your dog will look at you and at the point you instantly mark and reward with the single treat (bring the treat up to your eyes and slowly lower to your dog to reinforce that you are wanting them to look at you
  5. Take a treat from your left into your right hand and repeat

Keep doing this in the house and slowly add a bit of length between rewarding and then start rewarding for every other success and then mix it up to keep your dog on their toes.

Do this daily when you have a chance, you don’t have to use treats all the time, you can reward looking at you with a cuddle or a play etc.

Before Your Walk

A lot of people say that if you let a dog out the door first you are letting them be dominant etc. But that’s not the reason I walk out the door first, it’s a matter of safety. I believe dominance is a term that’s thrown around too lightly, if someone broke into your house and you came back and the door was open, who would go in first, you or the dog? The leader right? Interesting….

Being the pack leader isn’t about dominance, it’s about safety and keeping each other safe and providing what’s needed.

When leaving the house, my persona isn’t “I’m in charge, you follow!”, It’s more “follow my lead and everything will be fine”. If you want your dog to look at you for guidance you’ll want to be a guide for them, not a dictator. You want to show them what you want.

Engage your dog from the front door before you leave and it will start your walk off wonderfully!

  1. Do your normal routine of getting ready to leave so you and your dog are stood at the front ready to go
  2. Slowly open up the door, if your dog moves or tries to get up close it
  3. Repeat opening and closing until your dog stays sat once the dog is open.
  4. Now walk out the door and stand in front of it facing your dog (if they move put them back into a sit)
  5. Practice the focus method for a few times, slowly increasing duration by a few seconds.
  6. Let your dog walk out (if they run out take them back to step 4)

At this stage of time, when I leave the house, Jasper will sit and look patiently up at my while I lock the front door. He may get distracted and look at people walking past but he’ll stay sat and focuses until he’s released.

During Your Walk

I find the most stressful part of the walk to be the point right out of the door. However if you get your dog focused on you at the start of the walk then I promise life will be ten times easier!

Add this to the start of your walk and see how helpful it can be.

  1. Once you’ve left the door, stop and get your dog to sit (mark and reward if success)
  2. Tell them to focus and once again mark and reward
  3. Take a few steps and repeat
  4. Continue until the end of the street

Once you’ve completed this street you will find your dog checks in a lot more, they look at you when walking, make sure you reward this behaviour!!! I’d start with consistent rewards at first and then give them at intervals to keep your dog guessing when the treat is going to come

When You Encounter Another Dog

This method is great for helping reactive a reactive dog find calm, even in the presence or when passing other dogs. You are aiming to catch your dogs attention and keep it as you walk by the other dog.

However, if you and your dog aren’t comfortable with this yet, especially if you haven’t got that much engagement on your walks yet, then avoid other dogs.

Simply teach a U-turn that allows you and your dog to turn and escape easily.

  1. When you spot a dog in front of you, turn with your dog on the outside (it’s more forced if you turn into your dog)
  2. Call their name or make a kissy sound as your turn
  3. As your dog turns greet them with a treat in a heeling position

Teach this in the house and outside because it is a lot harder to get your dog to do a U-turn when they spot another dog. You will need a lot of practice and treats to build up this skill.

The long term goal is to slowly decrease the distance at which you’ll turn from another dog until your dog gets comfortable with closer distances, this is when you start getting the dog to engage with you instead of turning.

After Your Walk

Make notes of your walk!!! That’s the way to truly make progress. You want to write down anything you think necessary; dogs encountered, any outbursts, what went well, what didn’t, what could YOU improve on.

At the end of the day you are the foundation to making improvements for you and your dog. Do you need to hold the leash more loosely, did you get too cocky and try walking past another dog, were you engaging enough to catch your dogs attention, do you need to do more work?

This will make a big difference for you and you can see what works and what doesn’t for your dog.


You can find four more of my tips for calm dog walking here.


7 Key Tips For Helping A Reactive Dog Find Calm

Practice makes perfect!

You want to make sure that you practice practice practice! From inside the home, to low distraction areas and so forth. You want to make sure your dog fully understands what you are asking at that point in time. This isn’t an overnight process, but one that is going to take time and patience. Work on a few bits daily and reward your dog so they have an incentive to work WITH you!

Have days for leash aggression training

Have specific days or sessions where you actually work for leash reactivity. By this i mean you will want to encounter dogs on these days (even if you have to start from a distance). 3 of these short sessions a week will do wonders.

On days you aren’t training, make sure that you try to avoid dogs, this stops you from being caught off guard and it also keeps your dogs stress levels down too!!

Don’t push your dog too far even if you are making progress

Don’t get too cocky and try to make progress quicker than your dog is ready for. You want to listen to the body language and if they get uncomfortable then you turn round and head the other way. This is how you make yourself a leader to your dog, they will learn that you’ve got their back.

Understand your dogs body language

As mentioned, you need to understand your dogs body language. It can help vastly knowing how your dog will react. How is the body posture when your dog spots a dog? Does their tail wag or are they frozen still with fear?

Picking up on body language will help learn what you dog is trying to communicate with you.

The importance of high value treats

DO NOT USE KIBBLE FOR TRAINING!

If you want a dog to learn something and to focus on you, you need to give them an incentive. If you want a dog to walk calmly on leash, why are they going to pay attention to you and kibble when there’s smells everywhere and people and distractions?

You need to bring out the big guns, high value treats that your dog goes crazy for. Something that as soon as they catch a sniff, they’re like putty in your hands.

I normally fry some chicken, cut it into pieces and put them into a treat bag. I also carry standard treats in this treat bag…so when I ask Jasper to do something or if he’s generally behaving, I’ll give him a standard treat BUT when a dog or big distraction comes into the picture, and he listens to what I want, out comes the chicken!!

Timing is everything

This may sound so easy but getting to grips with the timing is tricky! You need to make sure you are rewarding your dog for the right thing. If your dog checks in with you and it take you 10 seconds to get a treat, they’ll forget what you’re rewarding them for, is it for the leash manners or sitting because they’re getting a treat?

This is why you start training at home, so the dog knows what you want from it, but you also know what to expect as well!!!

Get a treat bag!

I honestly recommend that you get yourself a treat bag. One that you either carry over your shoulder or attach to your belt/trousers. The reason behind this is because you can quickly mark and reward the behaviour you want to keep. You want to try and reward the dog within 3 seconds to make sure they know what you are rewarding for.

Even when you have to reward your dog in quick succession it’ll be quicker from a bag than having to dig treats out of your pocket! Plus many have different compartments where you can keep your phone or poo bags and even small toys like a tennis ball etc.



Hopefully you’ll find this practical for helping a reactive dog find calm. I highly recommend this for those struggling with reactive behaviour in dogs. It takes a lot of time and patience but if you are willing to work with your dog through this, you will gain this sense of accomplishment afterwards.

Don’t be afraid to seek professional help, sometimes we need more than a guiding hand. 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.

leash-reactivity-in-dogs
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

Why Finding Your Dogs Motivation is Essential to Reduce Leash Reactivity!

Why Finding Your Dogs Motivation is Essential to Reduce Leash Reactivity!


When looking to reduce leash reactivity there are many techniques but none are going to work if you can’t find the right motivation for your dog. Discover the importance of motivation and 3 techniques you can start using today!


reduce leash reactivity

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.


Dealing With Your Dog and Reactivity

It’s a hard life dealing with a leash reactivity in dogs. Everything is all fun and games apart from those 5 seconds where they go into overdrive mode. You can be having the time of your lives but then something just switches. Your dog spots something that turns them into a snarling and lunging mess. Making a big scene where it isn’t necessary while you stand there apologetically praying for it to stop. Sound familiar?

Anyone who currently has or previously had a dog like this knows the issue. It is a common problem (even though it may feel like you are alone).

What Causes The Issue?

There can be many underlying reasons if you find your dog having this problem.

  • It is common mainly in dogs/puppies that haven’t been socialised properly. They could be a rescue dog that for no fault of your own didn’t get socialised enough. You may have got them from someone who didn’t socialise them properly or you may not have even had time yourself.
  • Anxiety and fear are a common factor for reactivity. They react in this way because they want what is scaring them to go away. Maybe due to previous experiences or their history they may just be afraid of other dogs.
  • Excited dogs with little self-control might find themselves barking and lunging at triggers mainly due to the fact they just want to say hi and play.
  • A recent injury may have made your dog just need some extra personal space. When a dog needs personal space they will bark and lunge to make sure they get it.
  • Age is also a factor. Older dogs may prefer having their space and to plod along, a younger dog running at them is not what they’ll want.
  • Rude introductions where another dog is off leash or just coming straight at your dog can cause a lot of problems.

If you want to make progress when looking to reduce leash reactivity you want to make sure you understand why your dog behaves like that. Are they scared or excited? Are they old or maybe even just aggressive? Once you know it will change your perspective on the issue your dog is actually facing.


Change How Your Dog Feels About Triggers

Your goal is simply to change how your dog is going to react to triggers. The best way to do this is through desensatisation and counter-conditioning. You are wanting to associate the trigger with a reward. By doing this constantly over time you can change their emotional response to the trigger.

You can’t use any reward though, you need to find the right reward to motivate your dog. Especially in moments of reactivity you want a reward so good that you manage to keep their attention!


leash reactive warning signs of dogs

What Motivates Your Dog?

Motivation can be split down into 3 different categories; play, praise and treats

Play

All dogs love to play but some are driven by the concept of a game of tug or fetch like nothing else! You can get your hands on a tennis ball, squeaky balls or a tug toy with no problem from places like Amazon.

A lot of toys are pretty easy to take out with you on general walks, they easily fit into your pocket or bag. If you can keep them somewhere that is easy to access then you get your hands on the chosen item when a trigger appears.

You want to get your hands on toys that you only take on walks however. This makes it that much more special for when you actually reward your dog with it.



Praise/Attention

Some dogs are simply motivated by praise. They don’t need anything else to keep them going (although most the times it is always appreciated).

You will need to make sure that you give your dog plenty of praise though if you are thinking to go down this road. Without treats or play it may be harder to get their attention especially when there is a more interesting trigger in the distance.

For example if you have a dog that can’t control itself when meeting people, teaching self-control and getting the dog to sit patiently before getting the reward of attention can really help!

Walking Away From The Trigger

If you have a dog that is nervous and anxious then you don’t want to force them to interact with triggers. Instead the reward for them would be moving away and creating distance.

Keep enough distance between you and the other trigger, enough for your dog to notice and then move away before reaching threshold.

Repeatedly walking away from triggers doesn’t hinder your progress. As long as your dog sees the trigger and you work on distance over time this method will help you dog understand that you have the situation under control, they don’t have to deal with a dog if they don’t want to. Be the leader!

Treats

Many people resort to treats when it comes to rewarding their dog. It’s a no brainer, dogs love treats! Jasper would sell his soul (and mine) for the box of treats on the top shelf.

If you decide to use treats you need to make sure that you are using those of a high-value. In these kind of situations using ordinary kibble is not going to help you out, that won’t grab your dogs attention. You want to bring out the big guns for this:

  • Chicken
  • Cheese
  • Dried liver
  • Sausages
  • Carrots

Anything that is going to drive your dog insane.



products for leash reactivity

The Importance of High-Value Motivation

Making sure that you provide a high value reward for your dog will ensure success when it comes to leash reactive dog training.

You need to make sure what you have is a high value to what your dog is used to and is also something they don’t get often. If you keep giving your dog the same low value treat over and over then it won’t be long until they get bored. When they get bored, you lose their focus.

So ensure that you have the best value treats that will keep your dog drooling just from the smell of them. Or get them excited to play just from the look of them! It may cost you a bit more but the value is worth it!

Associate Trigger With Good Thing

When you encounter a trigger then chances are your dog is afraid of it. To reduce leash reactivity you are wanting to make them associate that trigger with a reward.

Constantly reinforcing a form of reward when your dog spots another dog can help change their emotional response. When they see this trigger they now get a high value reward of some sort and slowly change happens.


Watch how they are showing how to associate a trigger with a reward. Very strong results!

Reinforce Good Behavior

If your dog does anything that you like/want them to keep doing, reward them for it. If you want a repeat behaviour you need to give them a reason to repeat it. This is why you treat overload when it comes to desensatisation. You reward a lot for them staying calm and not barking.

Just like lunging and barking is a bad habit that over time got stronger, you can make a better habit by training your dog this way with treats.

Help Your Dogs Confidence

You can help boost your dogs confidence by having the right motivation. When you want to reduce leash reactivity your dog has a habit of barking and lunging at their triggers. They may pull when they see another dog. This is because this is all they know to do.

As explained above you want to teach them good habits and you want to reinforce them. This also helps with confidence. Your dog won’t have to deal with you pulling the leash and shouting if they are doing the behaviours you want.

This becomes a lovely cycle where you work with your dog to reduce leash reactivity. At the same time you improve their confidence and your walks in general.


3 Ways To Start To Reduce Leash Reactivity Today!

Increasing focus

With your dog, when they display leash reactive warning signs and slowly get towards their threshold it is hard to get their focus back. In my eyes dogs can only concentrate so much on everything, that’s why their heads are always on a swivel, because there’s so much to take in.

Focus is being able to get your dog to both focus and to listen to you even when there are distractions around.

When a dog starts moving up the threshold of reactivity because of a stimuli – you lose their focus as they transfer it to the distraction. At this point you want to be able to get their attention so you can either walk away from the situation calmly, get them to sit down or go into a down position, you want their focus back so you can get out the situation without an outburst.

Teaching look at me/focus

I increased Jaspers focus simply by teaching him to “look at me” (which I referred to as focus).

I started somewhere with no distractions which was our living room.

  1. Call Jaspers name
  2. With the treat between my middle finger and my thumb, I lift my hand up to point at my eyes
  3. Jaspers attention follows the treat, once he locks with my eyes (even for just a second), reward and praise
  4. Repeat and increase duration before treating
  5. Slowly start taking the treats away and keep the hand signal.

Teaching to focus with distractions

The easiest way to teach this is when on walks and this also increases the focus they have when they are on the leash.

  • While walking I’ll call Jaspers name or I’ll say focus
  • If he looks at me in the eye (even if it’s for a split second) then I’ll throw a treat in front of him (this makes sure we keep moving, I don’t want him to focus and then stop).
  • Anytime Jasper looks at me when I ask him to (and even when I don’t),I’ll praise and reward. You want them to know good things happen when they fully focus!

Teaching focus is very important as it helps builds the fundamentals of your dog looking at your for guidance and permission.

For reactive dog owners, by building this focus you will find it easier to get your dogs attention (depending how close to the threshold they are). If you have your dogs attention even for a split second you can teach one of the following techniques to use at this point!


leash training for dogs

Training to turn

This is another technique you can start off straight away. By ‘turn’, I simply mean being able to turn 180 degrees and walk the other direction. Now this might sound simple but try doing this with a reactive dog!!!

Pulling your dog away when they are on the threshold of reacting is very dangerous, pulling it too hard or aggressively could push them over the edge causing lunging and barking. You want to be calm, be able to give the leash a slight tug that’ll break your dog out of reactivity for a second to give you focus to turn.

Teaching the turn with no distractions

  1. With your dog on a leash, walk in a straight line as you normally would.
  2. Stop and turn 180 degrees without saying anything
  3. If your dog follows then praise and reward
  4. If your dog doesn’t and you get to the end of the leash, give a slight tug and when they turn and follow give them praise and a reward and continue.

After a few sessions of this your dog should seem more aware that they are following you, there should be more focus.

To increase this focus add distractions to this method.

Teaching to turn with distractions

The next step to teaching your dog this is out on walks. Instead of just turning around sometimes make it more interesting, make your dog want to focus on you during walks:

  • Cross the road multiple times
  • Walk slower
  • Walk faster
  • Take lefts and right even when you don’t need to

The above alone will keep your dog on their toes and wanting to know what’s coming next.

When I taught Jasper this it became a godsend because once we used it in a few situations he learned that if he doesn’t react at the situation and we leave calmly then that’s a win. Of course at times it was harder than most but once he got the hang of it things got easier!

Training to sit

The last one to teach your dog is the sit and stay when it comes to reactivity.

This works by aiming to get your dog to sit and be patient instead of reacting in a way that involves barking.

Your dog should already have a basic sit command but you want to take it up a notch, when you tell them to sit then you want them sat until you have released them!

Training enough on this means that instead of your dog barking and lunging that they sit down, wait for you to guide them and deal with the situation (see how everything’s linking together here?).

Teaching the extended sit

  1. Get your dog into a sit position by your side
  2. Step in front of your dog, if they move then correct them back into the sit position
  3. If they stay wait a couple of seconds
  4. Praise and reward and return to starting position

You want to continue this and slowly increase the distance from your dog and also the duration of the sit.


train a dog sit and stay

Common Mistakes When Trying To Reduce Leash Reactivity

Try to avoid making some of these mistakes as you try to reduce leash reactivity or you could hinder the progress you and your dog are making!

  • Don’t push your dog too fast – Don’t hinder your progress by trying to progress too fast. Take things slow otherwise you will experience more outbursts than not
  • Remain under threshold – keep under threshold to avoid your dog tipping over the line. This means you must take a note of the distance that trigger is.
  • Don’t punish your dog – if your dog has an outburst and you punish them you are not making progress. Punishing your dog could cause a bigger outburst. Punishment can also make your dog make leash reactive warning signs. This means they won’t bark and lunge but may go straight for bit if the trigger still advances.
  • Don’t treat your dog any differently – your dog doesn’t want to embarrass you in front of everyone on purpose. Chances are they probably hate it as much as you do. They aren’t doing this show as some sort of spite. They still love you regardless!

Final Thoughts!

Finding out what motivates and drives you dog is not only essential for reactive dogs but great for teaching a dog anything. If you can find what drives your dog then you will have an upper hand when it comes to getting their attention.


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

3 Reasons Why Leash Training For Dogs is Crucial to Help Reduce Leash Reactivity!

3 Reasons Why Leash Training For Dogs is Crucial to Help Reduce Leash Reactivity!


Leash training for dogs helps build the engagement your dog has with you on a walk. By making your walks more fun you can increase your dogs level of engagement which is very crucial when you come across something that will trigger your dog. Continue reading and discover 3 reasons why leash training is effective and how you can incorporate it into your walks today!


leash training for dogs

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Managing Leash Reactivity in Dogs

The Basics

What is Leash Reactivity?

Leash reactivity in dogs is actually quite a common issue that many owners end up having to deal with. There can be numerous reasons why a dog could have this problem on the leash. Regardless of the underlying cause, the reactions are always the same – a big display or barking and lunging.

Your dog could be the sweetest dog in the world when they are at home but outside the house it’s a different story. Sound familiar? The same goes for Jasper, he’s very nervous outside the house and loves to kick up a fuss. Through learning about the issue however you can start working on how to resolve this with your dog either by yourself or even professionally.

What Causes This Behaviour?

I feel the 3 most common reasons for this kind of behaviour fall into three different categories:

Aggression

The least common out of the three. You will find dog to dog aggression is an issue but cases of aggression aren’t as common as those below. Dealing with an aggressive dog should be something done through a professional as you don’t want to hinder the problem and put yourself and others at risk if you don’t know what to do.

Excitement

You may find that when your dog decides to kick up a fuss and make a show of barking and lunging, they are just excited. If you have a dog that is super friendly you may find that people playing, a dog walking, a skateboard going past can easily set your dog off. They are just wanting to interact and need to be taught self control and focus.

Fear/Anxious

This is a more common cause of leash reactivity in dogs where they just want the trigger to go away. The barking and lunging as a reaction for the dog to go away becomes a bad habit as they repeatedly do this. Now whenever they come into contact with a trigger they believe their barking and lunging is the best way to get it to go away.


How Do You Cure Leash Reactivity?

It’s a lot harder said than done. There are many different methods that you can use out there to reduce leash reactivity. There is plenty of information on the web, some of it great and useful and some of it not really worth the read. Either way every dog is different, so it will take time for you to find a technique that works for you and your dog.

It’ll take a bit of time and effort for you to work with your dog through this issue, however just ignoring it could lead to bigger causes.

If you feel like you don’t have the time then there is nothing wrong with seeking professional help. A professional will be able to figure out the problem and prepare yourself with a leash reactive dog training plan.


reduce leash reactivity

The Importance of Leash Training for Dogs

Leash training for dogs I feel is important for any dog owner to have a nice walk. A walk where you don’t have to deal with your dog pulling in excitement to get to the park. Even a walk where you don’t have to deal with the constant barking and lunging.

Achieving this is possible, I believe leash handling skills are crucial for dogs and especially those that are more reactive than others.

Below are 3 reasons why as a reactive dog owner you will find this crucial….

Increase In Engagement/Focus

How do you expect your dog to stop focusing on a dog when they don’t know to focus on you? Developing your dogs engagement and focus on your during your walks is very beneficial. Having a dog that is anticipating your every move, trying to figure out where you’re going next makes for smooth walks.

When in the presence of a trigger if you can train your dog to focus more on you, you may be able to start teaching them alternate behaviours than barking once you can hold their focus. An example would be to train a dog sit and stay. At a distance where you have their focus work for alternative behaviours.


train a dog sit and stay

It’s taken me time to build up Jasper’s engagement but I constantly get check ins (where he will just look to me for some sort of guidance) and can make quick maneuvers without any hesitation now. Having his focus on me before he notices a trigger has been so helpful for keeping him under the threshold.

Develop Quick Maneuverability Skills

Leash training for dogs doesn’t just involve walking up and down the street with your dog. There are many different components and one of them maneuverability.

One thing I learned early on is to treat Jasper as if he’d never have to cross paths with another dog again. This involved some quick turns and heeling work and quick moving out of the sight of the trigger when it got too close.

Being able to develop these skills is crucial as sometimes you will have to escape a situation. Maybe there is a dog coming toward you and one from behind as well. Learning different ways to move out of harms way can be very useful to you.

Make Walks More Fun

The final reason is that you can get the fun back into your walks. As someone who also has to deal with a leash reactive dog I know how frustrating and tiring walks can be. However, learning how to add a bit more fun and work with Jasper has made things a lot more fun.

Leash training for dogs is a great way to add this fun factor on your walks. Even better it will also improve how your dog walks on the leash…win-win!


How To Incorporate Leash Training for Dogs on Your Current Walks

Start and Stopping

Performing simple stop and starts are as easy as they sound.

  • While walking with your dog stop yourself from moving without warning
  • Allow your dog to stop, whether it be at the end of the leash or by your side
  • Call your dog back to your side and ask them to sit
  • Treat and reward if successful
  • Release your dog and continue your walk
  • Repeat a few times on your walk
  • If your dog doesn’t sit, turn around and walk back to the same position and try again
  • If still unsuccessful retry on another walk.

Praising for check ins

Whenever your dog looks at you then praise them

  • While your dog is exploring and sniffing, when he stares at you treat and praise
  • Allow your dog to go back to their business
  • If they look at you again treat and praise again
  • Repeat a few times

You need to find what motivates your dog whether it be treats, play or praise. Whatever the motivator is you need to make sure that it is high value otherwise you will struggle to get your dogs focus. Take a look at the video below…


U-Turns

The next option you have is to train your dog to go through U-Turns with you. It’s a very simple exercise and can come in useful when you have to make a quick getaway from a trigger that you may come across.

  • While walking your dog turn without warning and walk the other direction
  • Your dog may hit the end of the lead but either way start calling them to follow
  • Using a cheery voice and a slight jog call your dog to your side
  • If they run with you, praise and reward
  • Repeat a few times on your walk.

Check the video below for a great example…


Final Thoughts – Be More Engaging!

If you want your dog to be focused on your whether with leash training for dogs or general obedience then you want to make sure that you are more engaging than their surroundings. You need to give your dog a reason to be engaged with you when there are so many other things around.

The best way to do this is to start off in quiet areas. Your dog will find it a lot more easier to engage with you somewhere with little to no distractions. Be silly. Make silly sounds. Do anything that gets your dogs engagement or you loose it to the environment around you.

Another important factor is to make sure that you have value treats to hand or a similar motivation for your dog. Finding out what motivates your dog will help you tenfold when it comes to engaging and training them. For many its a good treat and for others its a quick game or toy they love. Some even can survive on praise alone as a motivator.

Make sure the motivator is of high value otherwise you might struggle to keep your dogs engagement for long enough. Throw away the kibble and bring out the big guns such as dried liver which will make your dog go crazy. Alternatives include:

  • Chicken
  • Cheese
  • Peanut butter
  • Carrots
  • Jerky
  • Chicken feet

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

A Tutorial on How To Train a Dog Sit and Stay

A Tutorial on How To Train a Dog Sit and Stay


It’s important to be able to learn how to train a dog sit and stay. It can be useful in many situations such as at the side of a busy road or when you have to go into a shop. You can also use the sit and stay as a method to reduce leash reactivity. Keep on reading to discover more.


train a dog sit and stay

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.


Why Should You Learn How To Train Dog Sit and Stay?

As I mentioned when you and your dog master this skill it can be incredibly useful. Some of the instances where having a strong sit and stay are as follows:

  • Cafes
  • Pubs
  • Road sides
  • On off-lead walks
  • When in town
  • When talking to people in the street
  • When you need to go in shops
But My Dog Already Knows This Skill

Great! If you have mastered this already there is no harm in training it up. The same goes with any other obedience training that you have taught your dog. For me and Jasper, every day is a training session. I’ll always have treats to hand when teaching something new or just to reinforce things he knew before that needs brushing up.

With a sit and stay there is always room for improvement. How long can your dog sit? Can they sit for 5 seconds more? What about throwing some distractions in? How much have you “proofed” this?

Discover how you can add distractions to this skill toward the bottom of the post. Learn how to make sure that when in real life scenarios your dog won’t move

An Essential Skill For ANY Dog Owner

I believe in making life easier for me and Jasper and a lot of that comes from safety. For this reason I am a big advocate of mastering this skill for any dog owner. Regardless of whether your dog is reactive or not you will benefit massively learning how to train dog sit and stay.

Great Tool For Reactivity

For those of you who actually are looking for a way to reduce leash reactivity then mastering this skill could be very useful for you.

Giving Your Dog an Alternative

We all know that a reactive dog is more nervous and afraid than aggressive right?

That whatever triggers them (whether that be dogs, cars, other animals, kids etc) frightens them so much that they go into “fight or flight mode”. Now a dog can’t run away because they’re on a leash which leaves one option…fight.

The fight response of trying to get the other dog to go away consists of all your favourite hits – barking, lunging, growling. However it works; either you turn away or the other owner walks away, either way your dog feels that is the only way to get rid of their trigger.

This then constantly occurs and becomes more of a habit than anything.

By learning how to train dog sit and stay you will be able to give them an alternative to this behaviour. You will be able to guide them to show them that there isn’t anything to worry about.

Teaching Jasper this command was a lifesaver, it helps teach patience and self control which I think is big for reactive dogs, the results were small at first but after time they gradually got better.

Be aware this may not be effective for your dog when it comes to getting a control on leash reactivity. Each dog is different and you have to try different methods. Check out the rest of leash aggression training blog for more great methods.


What Equipment You’ll Need

Before you start you’ll need to make sure that you are properly equipped on how to train dog sit and stay. You can’t expect to make progress if you are already losing half the battle. You’ll need the following to help you achieve success:

High Value Treats

You are going to training your dog to stay in a position for a duration of time. There is only going to be a certain time frame where kibble will work before your dog decides it isn’t worth doing.

You will want to invest in high value treats to keep your dogs attention and 9/10 dogs learn better with food. (I mention this in the best products for leash reactive dog training)

You want to bring out the big guns

  • Sausage
  • Chicken
  • Cheese
  • Carrots
  • Dried liver

Cut these into tiny pieces and put them in a little pouch in your pocket or invest in a treat bag (I highly recommend it if you have a reactive dog as you can quickly access treats at the right time!).


Long line

As you progress further with this skill you will come to “proofing” this behaviour. One way to do this is with the use of a long line that you can leave on the floor and move yourself away from the dog. Having a long line is great added safety, it still gives you control from a distance if you spot another dog or need o pull your dog back etc.

I use a 15 meter line with Jasper as we also use it for long walks and also when we are doing some behaviour adjustment training for reactivity. I feel having the extra space does feel silly at times but I like having the safety net – judge me!


Mastering The Behaviour

Sit and Stay vs Down and Stay

As mentioned above all dogs are different so it really comes down to personal preference. Which position is your dog more comfortable staying in for a period of time? Do they have an injury that means they can’t sit too long? There is also no reason you can’t teach them both however, I’d take it slow first.

I started out with the sit and stay because I found that Jasper can be a princess and won’t lie down on certain surfaces especially if they are wet which can be very frustrating. When it comes to a sit there was no problem at all.

You might prefer a down because it’s a solid position for a longer wait, your dog might move to a down once they start to tire so either work on increasing this time or start with the down position.


how to train a dog sit and stay

Releasing the stay position

If you want your dog to stay in a certain position you are also going to have to teach a release cue, one that lets them break and run around again.

I’ve seen people use “free”, “release”, “go”, “ok” and many other examples.

Teaching a “release cue” is vital for your dog as it can let them know the difference between times of play and work. When you put them in a position you’d really want them to hold it until freed (in a perfect world anyway). Teaching a release can also develop self control, throwing a ball and not having your dog chase it until freed!


1 – Master The Sit Position

So the first step is making sure that your dog understands the basic sit command.

When I started teaching the sit and stay command I went over the sit position again as if he didn’t know it so the grasp of that idea was fresh in his head.

It might be a basic command but make sure you are rewarding, just because your dog already knows it might mean they aren’t motivated to sit straight away if you’ve always asked and don’t really treat anymore which can lead to dogs not performing commands that they know first time.


Just a video I really liked on learning this trick

2 – The proof is in the 3 D’s

Once you’ve got the sit perfected it is time to proof this command.

Proofing basically means making the command fool proof, if you dog doesn’t perform a command first time it could just be because you haven’t proofed it.

To proof a stay position you will need to consider the 3 D’s:

  1. Distance
  2. Duration
  3. Distractions

By adding one of the elements slowly you make it harder for your dog but if you do it right and reward and praise correctly then they will get better.

You only want to be increasing one factor at a time otherwise you could make things to complicated which could cause your dog to move and even get disheartened if they feel like they can’t get it wrong which can be even more detrimental.

Distance

You want to start with your dog right next to you at home with no distractions, you should be able to perform a sit here but the goal is to increase the distance slowly.

  • Ask your dog to sit and take a few steps away from him (if he moves with you put him back into a sit position and try again)
  • Hold for a few seconds reinforcing the good behaviour “good sit”, “good boy”, “yes”
  • Return to your dog, treat and touch and state your release cue

With distance one way I recommend proofing the sit is not only going in front of your dog but move away to the side, backwards, diagonally. I found I could get Jasper to sit and stay for a distance but once I walked a different way he’d get up and turn around.

Duration

This might feel like the best way to measure progress but you need to know that you need small expectations.

I find that if you increase duration every few seconds then also increase treat threshold.

You might be able to get a good duration inside but not outside but by coming outside you are also introducing distractions which make things harder for your dog just don’t get frustrated and keep it positive until you proof this through your dog.

Distractions

Your dog might encounter a few distraction when in a sit such as other people, dogs, a ball, food and other stimuli.

If you want to learn how to train a dog sit and stay you want to teach your dog to ignore all these distractions and focus on the position and you.

This will mean bringing a ball or a treat or a friend with you and trying to distract your dog. Don’t make it too hard and frustrating

  1. Ask for a sit and stay
  2. Wait a few seconds, return and reward
  3. Ask for a sit and stay
  4. Introduce a ball
  5. Put dog back in position if they have gotten up….if not return and reward
  6. Ask for a sit and stay
  7. Put the ball on the floor in front of the dog
  8. Step 5

As you can see from the steps above you slowly introduce the distraction because you want to set your dog up for success, the easier you make it the more interested your dog will be to learn.


Prepare your dog for success, not failure!

Believe it or not, this can be a very frustrating command for both owner and dog especially if they already know the basic position, they’ve never had to wait 5 seconds after a sit for a treat let alone a minute.

You want to make sure that you prepare your dog for success, the first thing is first…

Be patient!

Losing your cool is detrimental to the relationship of you and your dog and it also doesn’t help when you are trying to teach a position that will help a reactive dog as it will be hard enough to perform this command in a reactive situation as it is.

Another thing to remember is that especially for these commands you could weaken the bond they have with the sit command which is the last thing you are going to want! Make sure you understand the importance of keeping your cool when training your dog.

Higher quality treats

When learning how to train a dog sit and stay try and use a reward that is actually going to motivate your dog. Chances are they already know this basic command, why would a treat of dry kibble get them any more excited?

Find some treats that have a good smell behind them, something that’ll get your dog going and wanting to impress you! This also helps when it comes to distractions; what are they going to want more? A ball or a bit of chicken?!

Play the easy game

When things get a bit frustrating I like to get Jasper to give me numerous hi5s. I’ll get him to sit, give me his paw and reward. I’ll move away and repeat it again. This helps lessen him feeling disheartened, after a while try the command once again with less distractions or less time

‘Break’

When me and Jasper train we do it after a morning session in the field, I’ll go over a few moves for about 5 minutes and then call ‘break’ which is a release cue in a way that allows us to have a couple of minutes to play before returning. This avoids frustration in dogs and also because more of an incentive for play after.


How a sit and stay works for reactive dogs

To use this for reactive dogs you will need to figure out your “reactivity distance”. This is the distance before your dog reacts to the trigger in an explosive outburst (find out more in the beginners guide to leash reactivity in dogs).

Start 20ft from your reactivity distance (maybe further if you need, give your dog as much space as they need and work with them from there). You want your dog to be able to spot the trigger but you also want to have their focus; you want to be able to put them in a sit position.

If the sit is achieved then mark and reward with a treat. From there any time your dog looks at you mark and reward as this is a behaviour you want to strengthen as well – their focus on you. This means looking to you for guidance, maybe further down the line when they see a dog approach they will look at you because you’re the one that deals with that issue, not them…anymore.

If you find you can’t get your dog to sit then back up a bit and move further away until you do it. It may seem like your dog needs a lot of distance and they really might do, that could be why you’ve been having problems with them for so long, they need more space to figure things out!

Repeat this in training sessions at the park or in real life scenarios. You might struggle in real life if the other dog is coming round the corner due to your usual reactivity distance. Keep calm and perform some basic leash skills and make a quiet exit.


Practice makes perfect

Now it’s just down to practice, use everywhere as an opportunity to. If you’re in the house get your dog to sit while you literally put the kettle on or at the top of the stairs, before going outside etc. Hold different duration but add rewards and praise.

When you’re outside you can stop at sidewalks on your walks (builds great focus) or you can see how well it goes in a field.

Practice and proofing these commands with the 3 D’s will help how to train dog sit and stay and before you know it you will be able to keep them calm in any situation that arises.