Dogs who are reactive, are overreacting to certain stimuli.
It might be the sight, sound or smell of other dogs, people, children, particular noises (thunder) or places and spaces. Reactions will vary, and range from a desire to run away, trembling, hesitation/freezing, all the way up to barking, lunging and attempting to bite. Reactivity may be part of a dogs genetic make up, could be linked to a lack of social experience or tied directly to a particularly scary experience. Or any combination of the last three.
Reactive dogs are responding to whatever stimulus is present. Yelling or harsh corrections will not improve future reactions. In many cases, yelling, scolding, jerking on the lead, or harsh corrections end up making the reaction worse. Watch a terrific video on dog reactivity.
Being your dogs advocate will make the difference. Using the right equipment to control him, providing as much training as you can and keeping him safe are your most important responsibilities. At any point if you feel your dog is beyond reactive, that he is truly dangerous or has bitten people or repeatedly gets in fights with other dogs, seek the help of a qualified professional in implementing an appropriate training program for your dogs problem.
Most reactive dogs benefit from socialization, training and simple management skills. If you own a dog like this, take heart, you are not alone.
Most reactive dogs exhibit their particular reactive behavior in specific circumstances. Your dog’s trigger might be the close proximity of other dogs, or only male dogs or only female dogs. Maybe you’ve noticed that it only happens on leash, or when there are toys, food or other resources around. Maybe your dog overreacts to men with beards or people wearing hats, or toddlers who reach for him.
Whatever the reason, the first step towards getting the problem under control is to try to isolate all the areas in which your dog reacts and Write Them Down. This will not only make the problem far less unpredictable but will give you information on where to start your training program.
Once you have all the places, times and circumstances written down you can decide how to begin. Look at your list and decide which of the instances is the most important for you to gain better control over your dog.
**Now that you have identified where to begin here are some tools you’ll need to make your program a success.
The Right Equipment
Use a gentle leader head collar. Dogs who are reactive should have one of these on at all times when they are out walking. Not only do these collars give you more control, but they offer the dog a sense of security as well. By guiding the dog by its head you are able to give him a lot more information without injury or correction. If your dog, no matter how big or how small starts to react to someone or something, you have the option of turning and leading your dog away safely and preventing anything bad from happening. It takes time to properly introduce this piece of equipment. Seek assistance in introducing it to your dog.
A second piece of equipment you will need is a clicker and treats. The click should mark any moment when your dog is in the presence of the stimuli, but is not reacting to it. You should be reinforcing generously any other behavior other than reactivity in order for the dog to learn an alternate way to behave.
A Good Shaping Plan
No one gets very far without knowing a little bit about what they want and where they are going. You’ve already written down where and when your dog is over reactive, now you must decide what you want your dog to do instead. Identifying the rewardable behavior is the key to any successful shaping plan. Once you have set a goal, sit down with paper and a pen and break it down into trainable steps. For instance if your dog reacts to dogs on leash, your goal might be to have him look at you when he sees another dog. To reach that end goal you will to have to break his training down into lots of little tiny rewardable steps. Teach him a leave it command which means "stop what you are doing (stop looking at the other dog) and look back at you". Start this training in the absence of other dogs, because that situation will be too distracting for him. Only later, should you build other dogs into the plan. Teach a leave it. First in your hand, then on the floor, then thrown at a distance. Start with food leave it's, then graduate to tissue, socks and toys, people and dogs at a great distance (more than 20 feet away). As your dog shows that he understands and can be successful, then gradually decrease that distance until the dog could leave another dog in close proximity. By mapping out all the steps you will have a clear plan for achieving your goal of a dog that looks back at you when he sees other dogs. You need to be this specific (and in some cases even more so) for each instance that you want to train.
A Simple Tool For Under Socialized Dogs
Targeting is a behavior that we can use to build up confidence in dogs that are afraid of certain types of people or unfamiliar objects. This behavior involves the dog touching his nose to the palm of your hand for a click and treat. You start off with a food treat in the palm of your hand with your thumb holding it in place. Click your dog for bumping his nose to your hand and give up the treat. After six repetitions remove the treat from your palm and repeat the same thing again, this time the dog is bumping your hand for the click, but the treat is coming from your pocket or bait pouch. Repeat this until the dog is really enthusiastic, then start moving your target hand so that your dog must follow it for a step or two in order to touch it.
Change position, repeat the whole thing while in a standing or kneeling position, in a different room, around a distraction. When the dog is readily offering the behavior in all different positions, go ahead and add another person to the game. This part is easy, the other person sits close to you and you take turns offering your hands for a nose bump, clicking and treating each repetition. Start with a food lure in the new persons hand for the first couple of reps until your dog starts to catch on to the game. Once he seems to understand it, start moving away from each other so that the dog has to run back and forth between the two of you. Gradually transfer the touch to objects by holding your hand near the new object until he is bumping the object instead of your hand and then start putting distance slowly between you and the object. This tool is invaluable when retraining a dog who spooks aggressively or fearfully in the presence of strangers or new objects.
Owning a reactive dog is not easy. You may choose to do more management and less training by keeping your reactive dog home and not taking him out in public much. There are dogs that blossom with training and generalize it easily and dogs that need training for every little detail of each new situation. --(source)
Watch this dog reactivity video 'Paving the path to calmness and confidence' by Scott Raymond.