For many dogs, changes in their environment can trigger big feelings. Whether it's new people or other dogs, the extra stimulation can feel overwhelming — which can cause nervous dogs to become reactive.
While learning how to calm a reactive dog can be helpful, a lot of pet parents find it easier to lessen the chance of this behavior occurring in the first place, rather than trying to manage it when it arises.
And that's where expert trainer Piper Novick comes in. According to Novick, playing a really simple game with your dog when you're out walking can come in useful.
The game will help you avoid some of the most common loose leash walking mistakes and prevent leash pulling around triggers. You can take a look at Novick explaining the game in the Instagram video below, or keep reading as we reveal everything you need to know...
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Novick says that one of the best games for helping to put a stop to leash reactivity is the engage/disengage game.
"This is a pattern game that reinforces the dog for engaging with the trigger from a distance at which they feel comfortable. The game aims to neutralize the trigger," explains Novick.
To play the game, allow your dog to observe the trigger, and then when they look away, mark and reward. Repeat this until your dog is able to relax in the environment with the trigger present.
"Be sure to only play this game if your dog is under threshold, which means that your dog is not barking, growling, lunging, or displaying lots of stress signals like yawning and lip licking," Novick says. "If your dog is doing any of those behaviors, create more distance and then try again."
If you have a reactive dog, this is such a fun and easy way to help break their fixation with certain triggers and assist them in feeling calm and comfortable when you're out and about.
For leash reactivity that persists or worsens, we recommend reaching out to a professional trainer for support. You'll also find a wealth of useful information in our guide to how to stop a dog pulling on a leash.
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Kathryn is a freelance writer who has been a member of the PetsRadar family since it launched in 2020. Highly experienced in her field, she's driven by a desire to provide pet parents with accurate, timely, and informative content that enables them to provide their fur friends with everything they need to thrive. Kathryn works closely with vets and trainers to ensure all articles offer the most up-to-date information across a range of pet-related fields, from insights into health and behavior issues to tips on products and training. When she’s not busy crafting the perfect sentence for her features, buying guides and news pieces, she can be found hanging out with her family (which includes one super sassy cat), drinking copious amounts of Jasmine tea and reading all the books.