The one piece of kit you need to calm a reactive dog and exactly how to use it, according to a trainer

Jack Russell Terrier barking outside
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Do you have a reactive fur friend in your family? If so, you may find yourself feeling at a loss as to how to deal with your dog's reactivity to common stimuli in their environment. Whether they bark every time the doorbell rings or growl at the sight of another dog, reactivity is hard on both you and your canine companion.

While most of us are aware that food and treats, such as kibble and the longest lasting dog chews, can be a real game changer for rewarding good behavior in reactive dogs, we may be missing a trick when it comes to how best to use food to encourage a change in behavior. 

To help with this, Adam Spivey, the founder of Southend Dog Training, has created a video where he shares the piece of kit that all pet parents with a reactive dog need and how to use it. 

1. Pair the clicker with your dog's food

Spivey explains that what you want to do is to keep your dog's food next to you and use it to gain their focus. How do you do this? "Click click, bit of click, bit of food....until your dog's breakfast or dinner is completely gone," Spivey says, demonstrating the technique in the video. "By the time you've gone through that dinner bowl, your dog, when it hears the click, will be going 'hello' [and looking up at you]. Now you're onto a winner."

2. Take your dog for a walk

"Before your dog reacts to something, so in advance, when they see a trigger that they're likely to react to, click click," explains Spivey. "Your dog is going to go 'hello' I know what that means and then you're going to step back with those treats or you're going to put a hand full of your dog's dinner on the floor. Don't just give them one bit because then their focus is straight back on that dog. You want to put it on the floor as this brings their nose down, it's going to keep them there longer or a handful moving backwards keeping their attention on you."

3. Repetition is your friend

Spivey says that you want to continue to repeat the click every time your dog sees another dog or any other particular trigger, so that they become fluid with immediately looking to you when they hear that noise. "By doing this, you're not having a dog starting to fixate on other dogs. If your dog reacts at any point, you don't keep clicking, you manually break the dogs focus by pulling up on their lead, you do a big 360 and then you start again....making a dog work for their food help’s strengthen your bond and relationship as well as the dogs obedience."

Looking for more great training tips? Then be sure to check out our top tips for how to crate train a dog.

Kathryn Williams
Freelance writer

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.