Training Games for Reactive Dogs: Managing and Redirecting Behavior

Reactive behavior in dogs, such as barking, lunging, or growling, can be challenging for both dog owners and their furry companions. Reactive dogs often react strongly to certain stimuli, such as other dogs, strangers, or unfamiliar environments. However, with the right training approach, it is possible to manage and redirect reactive behavior effectively. In this article, we will explore training games specifically designed for reactive dogs. These games aim to provide mental stimulation, promote positive associations, and help redirect reactive behavior into more desirable responses. By incorporating these games into your training routine, you can work towards creating a calmer and more confident canine companion.

Find It!

The “Find It!” game is an excellent way to redirect a reactive dog’s focus onto something positive. Here’s how to play:

  • Start with a high-value treat or toy that your dog loves.
  • While your dog is on a leash, show them the treat or toy and let them sniff it.
  • Toss the treat or toy a short distance away, and say “Find it!” in an excited tone.
  • As your dog goes to search for the treat or toy, their attention is diverted from the triggering stimulus.
  • Repeat this game in different environments and gradually increase the difficulty by hiding the treat or toy in more challenging places.

Look at That!

The “Look at That!” game helps your dog develop a positive association with previously reactive triggers. Here’s how to play:

  • Begin by standing at a comfortable distance from the triggering stimulus, such as another dog or a person.
  • As soon as your dog notices the trigger, say “Look at that!” in a calm and cheerful voice.
  • Immediately reward your dog with treats or praise for looking at the trigger without reacting negatively.
  • Gradually decrease the distance between your dog and the trigger over multiple sessions, always rewarding calm behavior.
  • With consistent practice, your dog will learn to associate the trigger with positive experiences and focus on you for guidance.

Leave It and Focus

The “Leave It and Focus” game helps teach your reactive dog impulse control and redirects their attention onto you. Here’s how to play:

  • Hold a high-value treat in your closed hand and present it to your dog.
  • Say “Leave it” and wait for your dog to stop attempting to get the treat.
  • As soon as they look away or show disinterest, say “Yes!” or use a clicker to mark the desired behavior and offer them a different treat from your other hand.
  • Repeat this game, gradually increasing the difficulty by placing the treat on the ground or introducing distractions.
  • Once your dog has mastered “Leave it,” add the “Focus” cue, asking them to make eye contact with you before receiving the reward.

Engage and Disengage

The “Engage and Disengage” game helps your dog learn to switch their attention from a reactive trigger to you. Here’s how to play:

  • With your dog on a leash, approach a distance from the reactive trigger where your dog notices it but does not react strongly.
  • Use a high-value treat or a toy to engage your dog’s attention, making exciting noises or movements to capture their focus.
  • Once your dog is engaged with you, calmly walk away from the trigger.
  • Gradually decrease the distance from the trigger as your dog becomes more comfortable and better able to disengage from the trigger’s presence.

Remember, consistency, patience, and positive reinforcement are key when training a reactive dog. Always reward calm and desired behaviors, and never force your dog into situations that may trigger negative reactions. Seek the guidance of a professional dog trainer if needed, as they can provide tailored advice and support throughout the training process.

Training games for reactive dogs provide mental stimulation, positive associations, and redirect reactive behavior into more desirable responses. Incorporating these games into your training routine can help manage and redirect your dog’s reactivity, ultimately leading to a calmer and more confident canine companion. Remember to be patient, consistent, and always prioritize positive reinforcement to set your dog up for success. With time and practice, you can make significant progress in transforming your reactive dog into a well-adjusted and happy member of your family.