You may be at the start of your reactivity journey with your dog and wonder what training your dog to be less reactive will look like. You might also be guardian to a non-reactive dog and wonder - why don't reactive dog owners just train them already?
Either way, keep reading to see what the training process might look like, what the term "management" means for reactive dogs and whether you need one or both.
Training: exercises, usually structured and planned in advance, specifically designed to improve your dog's reaction toward their trigger/s.
Management: anything you do to prevent your dog from being triggered or "get out of dodge" if they have already been triggered. Management doesn't change how your dog responds to the trigger, but prevents the problem from getting worse.
Reactivity Work: To Train or Not To Train?
Training your dog to feel better about the things toward which they react has many benefits:
More freedom for you and your dog; everyone's world gets bigger
Dog feels safer in the world
Relationship & communication building
Improve your training skills & knowledge
Understand your dog's body language better
Making progress feels great for both of you
Training your dog also has some drawbacks:
Ongoing work with behaviour professionals (trainers, consultants, veterinarians/vet behaviourists) is not cheap
It's time consuming! Training sessions for most issues should be done regularly (at least a few times a week) to be effective
Have to go out of your way to find appropriate locations for training (usually cannot train effectively in your neighbourhood right away)
Sustainable behaviour change is usually slow, which can be frustrating
What Does Management for Reactive Dogs Look Like?
Walking in locations or at times with no or few triggers
Blocking the view of triggers from your window or yard
Training behaviours you can use to avoid triggers/prevent reactions
Management should be part of the equation, regardless of whether you choose to train as well.
So Do I need to Train, Manage or Both?
If you want to see progress in your dog's reactivity, both training and management should be part of the equation.
On the other hand, if you are happy to work around your dog's behavioural challenges and simply not put them in situations that cause reactions, management is a completely valid decision as well. You will save time and money you would otherwise spend trying to improve your dog's behaviour and many clients find they are able to enjoy their dog again after removing potentially unrealistic expectations for their behaviour.
Questions to Ask Yourself
Does my dog's behaviour pose a safety risk to people or other animals? If I don't improve it, how can I keep everyone safe?
Do I have the time, energy and finances to work on this, knowing it could take months or even years to see significant improvement?
Does this behaviour reduce my dog's quality of life?
Can I enjoy my life if I choose to work around the behaviour?
Need help talking this through?
Tess Morgan, CTC, CCUI, SAPT, FPPE is a multi-certified dog trainer and behaviour specialist in London, Ontario. Tess works primarily with fear and aggression, including reactivity and separation anxiety, both in-person and online.