If you're the owner of a reactive dog, chances are you have days where it can feel incredibly challenging. From excessive barking at even the slightest noise to lunging or growling at strangers or other dogs when you're out walking, reactive dogs overreact to certain stimuli or situations.
While many pet parents try to help their reactive dog by distracting them with the longest lasting dog chews whenever they start to act out, expert dog trainer Adam Spivey says there's something far more profound you can do as a dog owner if your pup is exhibiting signs of reactivity around other people.
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"The key to helping a nervous and/or reactive dog around people is to stop letting people interact with your dog," Spivey explains.
While this may sound like a firm stance to take, Spivey goes on to say that too many people think that because they've had dogs themselves or dogs have responded well to them in the past that they know how to handle a nervous or reactive dog - and most of the time, they don't.
"They'll start holding their hand out for the dog to sniff, but it actually looks like you're trying to touch them or they'll baby talk the dog....which makes them uneasy," says Spivey. "Or we'll hold a treat out and we'll create confliction - the dog is like 'I want the treat but I don't want to come close to you'. Often when it then does take the treat it panics and overreacts."
Spivey says the best thing to do when you're told by a dog owner that their canine companion is nervous of people is to ignore that dog. "The key to helping a dog that's nervous of people is to create space and not let people force themselves on them.
The more that person acts as if you don't have a dog, the more that person avoids looking at that dog, touching that dog, interacting with that dog, the more that dog can go 'ah, that person's alright',".
Allowing your pup to befriend people slowly, at their choosing and at their own pace, is crucial if your dog is highly nervous or reactive. This helps them feel a degree of safety and security and it also creates a deeper level of trust in you as their owner as they're able to see you respecting their needs.
As with all forms of training, working to lessen the reactivity your dog is experiencing takes time, patience and consistency. We always recommend reaching out to a professional dog trainer if you feel your pup would benefit from some 1:1 support.
For more great training tips, check out our guide to how to stop a dog from jumping up.
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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.