News / December 14, 2023

How To Train A Reactive Dog

Based on our 15 years experience of delivering professional dog training services, here is our approach to training reactive and aggressive dogs.

Training A Reactive Dog

Why Residential Training?

Why do we think residential training is the best method of training dogs, particularly reactive dogs? The most common forms of dog training available are group classes or 1-1, and whilst these may be convenient for owners, dogs don’t learn best an hour a week or day. Even motivated owners will struggle to find sufficient time to allocate to progress their dogs’ training.

How Do Dogs Learn?

Dogs have no understanding of dedicated learning time. From the moment they are born, dogs are learning and this learning process develops into patterns of behaviour that work for them. So training dogs is all about creating these patterns of behaviour and muscle memory that work for us. This is generally the best way to train dogs, but it is critical when dealing with reactive dogs because the patterns of behaviour have developed from anxiety and fear.

These strong compulsions mean these bahaviours are repeated as the dog believes their survival is dependent on it. Residential training gives us time to teach new coping mechanisms rather than reactivity.

Positive Behaviour Patterns

The first stage of our training is to create new positive patterns of behaviour. These sessions are high frequency and short duration as this promotes muscle memory. We use simple obedience-based foundations in this training, which are useful in general, but it is the emotional control that they, by default, create is what we actually want to achieve.

Introducing Failure

The second stage of our training course is to introduce failure. Most owners and trainers will try to avoid failure and traditionally, most training lessons are set up to encourage success. An example of this would be a reactive dog trained at a certain distance from another dog that it can cope with. The reason owners and trainers do this is cause it makes them feel good and no one wants to fail, especially their dog.

The Problem With Training Classes

Look at every training class, every owner wants their dog to be the best or smartest in that class and the trainer wants each dog to succeed so that everyone goes home happy. Sadly, away from the controlled or contrived experience of a training class, life is engineered to make your dog fail. Dogs in a park won’t stay a certain distance away like they do in a training class.

You have to walk your dog in between these training classes and that has to fit in with your life as you haven’t always got time to train whilst you’re out on a day-to-day walk. These real-life experiences are constant opportunities for your dog to keep reinforcing these negative patterns of behaviour.

Why Failure Is Good

Once we have created a strong muscle memory in the dog and an understanding of the responses we want from them, we put them in positions where they can fail. We’re happy with failure as we have got the time to stay in the moment and guide and encourage them toward the positive patterns of behaviour that we imprinted in the first stage of training. Repetitive training like this allows the dog to experience different outcomes.

Repetition

The only way for a dog to learn that a certain trigger, such as a person, car, or dog, isn’t something to be frightened of, is to be around that trigger without reacting. This is because historically, the dog has learned that reactivity keeps them safe from that trigger.

The third stage of training is the lengthiest part of the course and is all about the dog accumulating positive experiences. If a dog is genetically nervous, anxious or sensitive, we cannot change their genetics, but what we can do is reduce these emotions to a level that the dog can cope with.

If a previously reactive dog comes across and is around a trigger 500 times and makes the choice not to react, but rather follow a set pattern of behaviour that we imprinted and the perceived fear the dog has of that trigger doesn’t happen, then that’s 500 times the dog has controlled an emotion. Emotions are easier to control the more you do it. It is also 500 times that the dog’s anxiety has been reduced and 500 times their confidence has increased. All of this creates a positive cycle of behaviour, which, by its nature, keeps reinforcing itself.

Training The Owners

The final stage of our residential training course is training the owners. Residential may be the best method for training a dog but it does have one problem; dogs associate what they learn with the people they learn it with. To combat this, we provide handovers at the end of the residential training course. These sessions provide an opportunity to transfer the training to the owner and also help them to form a healthy relationship with their dogs so they can maintain the positive patterns of behaviour we have imprinted during the training.

Our handovers are a reflection of our training beliefs, in theory and practical application for the owners. We introduce failure to the handover as the biggest confidence you can give an owner is letting them experience turning failure into success. All of our handovers involve a large amount of time in real-life situations, such as high streets and parks. This provides random, unpredictable challenges for the owners to navigate, so we can help build their confidence, which will help when implementing this training at home.

Make sure to check out our Reactivity Series on YouTube for more information and advice about reactive dogs. Watch our Reactivity Series on Platinum K9 YouTube channel

For more information on our residential dog training services please contact us at info@platinumk9.com or call us on 0115 646 0905.