The Human Side


One of the most common issues I work with clients on is dog reactivity and aggression. I’ve discussed reactivity and aggression in this blog many times before but today I’m going to tackle the other side of the leash.

It’s a rarely discussed topic but the human side of the leash suffers immensely when living with a reactive or aggressive dog and it’s important to understand that this happens and to share strategies that help owners take care of themselves too.

Every single time there’s a reactive event or worse a physical altercation that involves your dog you feel awful. People’s reactions at the time can vary immensely but it boils down to feeling like you’ve let your dog down and put someone else in danger. It can be embarrassing, frustrating and more often than not scary.

When you’ve experienced even one of these situations it can change how you view your dog, the world around you and your feeling of safety. Humans react to situations differently and I’ve seen the gambit of frustration, anger, sadness, fear and denial. And in the end the human is suffering too. Often times owners will stop doing activities that they love – they avoid walks, hiking, camping and spending time around other humans and dogs as a result of their dog’s issue. This can cause depression and anxiety.

So here’s my advice:

Practice Self Care

Find time for yourself. If you feel anxious or depressed please seek professional help. Allow yourself breaks from dealing with the dog issues as you can’t do it all day everyday. Spend time doing things you love even if you have to confine your dog or leave your dog at home. Do not stop living your life because of your pet’s behaviour issues.

Understand that it’s normal to feel a wide array of emotions

We love our dogs even when they are aggressive or reactive. It’s a conflicting thing to experience. It’s ok to feel angry, upset, frustrated, nervous or anxious. And yes you can still love your dog even if they are dangerous. Suppressing your feelings about it won’t help in the long run. Be honest with your trainer about how you feel so they can help support you.

Create a plan on what you will and will not live with

This is important because once you go down the rabbit hole of trying to help your dog sometimes they get worse. And sometimes they get worse and it’s not your fault or your trainer’s fault. You need to have a clear idea on what you can live with safely and happily. If your dog is posing a daily threat to your children that’s not going to work out for ANYONE. If your dog’s quality of life is poor because of the lack of opportunity to participate in exercise and time with the family then that’s not going to work out for ANYONE. Sit down as a family and discuss what you can and can’t do for your dog. If you are living outside what you can handle then it’s time to discuss re-homing or euthanasia with your trainer and vet.

Find a support system

Connect with family and friends who can listen and support you through your journey. No one should be working through serious reactivity and aggression issues alone. You need more than your trainer to talk to. If you are having trouble finding a support system ask your trainer if they have other clients who may want to chat and vent on occasion. Until you’ve lived with reactivity or aggression it’s hard to understand so it’s important to have people to support you.

You may have trauma 

Sometimes even once an issue is resolved an owner will feel nervous and anxious for years to come. And if you weren’t able to keep your dog then you may suffer with immense amounts of guilt. There is support available to you. I typically will advise clients in this situation to seek out counselling and support services from a trained professional rather than trying to suppress how they feel. You are not alone and this has happened to many humans. We love our dogs and sometimes that can lead to some very real pain.

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Getting Started in Dog Shows/Trials

Last weekend I drove to Calgary, Alberta for a CARO Rally Obedience trial with my dogs. I was excited and looking forward to seeing all my friends. Dog shows for me aren’t about being the best and winning all the ribbons/prizes. They’re about hanging out with people who love training their dogs and having fun with my own dogs.

Our trial had A LOT of first timers there. I’ve come to realize quite a few things about dog shows that I thought I’d share which may encourage people to take the leap and try it out in their sport of choice.

Tip 1 : Don’t Plan to Win Anything

Putting pressure on yourself to win and take home the top prizes just stresses you and your dog out. Honestly no one really remembers who wins what. Just have fun, improve upon your skills in between shows and remember nerves freak your dog out.

Tip 2: Be Friendly 

A lot of people at dog shows can be so serious. But it’s my favourite place to meet new friends because guess what? We all LOVE dogs. Smile at everyone, compliment their dogs and you’ll have a new friend or two in no time. New friends can also help with tips and tricks.

Tip 3: Have Realistic Expectations

Some sports are easier than others. It’s really common at Agility and Obedience trials for you to NOT place in ANY run especially if you and your dog are novice. This doesn’t mean you aren’t a great up and coming team – it just means it’s your first show (or second or third) and you have some improvements to do. Running FEO (For Exhibition Only) is also a great option where you’re not judged and you can do some training in the ring.

Tip 4: Set Your Dog Up For Success

Do everything in your power to set your dog up for success. Create a relaxing spot for your dog to hang out when it’s not their turn. Ensure your dog has had adequate potty breaks and snuggle time with you. Keep the temperature just right if your dog is waiting outdoors (shade tents, heat reflectors or in cooler weather maybe a jacket and blanket). Provide water and reinforce your dog regularly for remaining calm and collected. Sometimes some classical musical can help you both!

And in closing I was so lucky this past weekend to have one final run with my old boy Russ the Irish Terrier in Rally Team. At 13.5 years old he had one run of 10 signs in him and we happily completed them all! We lost 20 points but you know what he and I were having fun working together. That run means more to me than any ribbon!


Story also had some fun in her very first Rally trial ever! We had some amazing moments of focus and I was really impressed with how she handle herself. I’m looking forward to more trials in the future. We also managed to earn her Canine Good Neighbour certificate on the Sunday after the Rally trial was over! She definitely worked hard!


And my boy Marco came out of retirement to help out as an FEO dog for a few team runs when people needed partners. I love being in the ring with my consistent and sweet boy.


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Dogs need Impulse Control Training

One of the most common issues dog owners face is dealing with a dog who has poor impulse control. What does this mean exactly? Well it means you have a dog that is always reacting and not thinking.

For a dog it makes sense to grab food as it hits the ground, jump on a visitor when they enter a home and bark out the window at something they see. It’s our job as good pet parents to teach our dogs that just because they see/want something right now that it can be better to wait.

Teaching your dog to have impulse control isn’t always easy. Some dogs are naturally polite but most dogs need to be taught. It is arguably the most important life skill and not just for dogs but people too! Impulse control is what prevents humans from stealing, fighting, etc. It’s a skill we work on with our children as babies and toddlers. People who struggle with impulse control often grow up entangled in our justice system. For dogs who struggle with impulse control it often means numerous homes, trips to the animal shelter or worst loss of life.



How do we teach impulse control? In a variety of ways and exercises. Here’s a few of my favourites:

  1. Leave It – this is a skill where we ask the dog to leave something they want and are rewarded for doing so. I’ve detailed Leave It before on my blog and you can find the article here.
  2. Stay – oh the value of stay! We are literally asking the dog to hold still and reinforce the behaviour. Stay is useful for so many things but most commonly for greeting visitors and keeping doorways safe from dogs that bolt.
  3. Sit for doorways and when passing people/dogs. We’re encouraging our dogs to maintain a sense of calm when presented with something exciting.
  4. Call Front (basically the dog sits in front of you and faces you). I’ll typically set the dog up so their back is turned to the stimulus.
  5. Teach a go to place/bed/crate. This teaches the dog to move away from something over stimulating into a quiet area. This is my favourite way to deal with dogs who are too enthusiastic about visitors.
  6. Ask your dog for a trained behaviour before playing with, throwing a ball, petting, etc. For dogs who need to learn impulse control I’ll often ask them for a sit or a down before I do anything that they want. This reinforces the dog to think and be calm in order to get what they want.

The most important part of working with dogs who have low impulse control is to start slow, reinforce A LOT (like way more treats than you ever thought you’d need) and keep distractions to a minimum while the dog is just starting out. Keep your dog on leash to minimize bad behaviour or even get the dog to do exercises while in a crate (really helpful if the undesired behaviour involves kids).

If your dog mouths/bites when over excited then incorporate a basket muzzle into your training so your dog is safe to be around yourself and other humans/dogs while training. Basket muzzles can work great as you can still slip treats through the gaps to reinforce your dog.

Most dogs greatly benefit from working with a trainer when they struggle with impulse control. A good manners class can do wonders.

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Compassion for Fearful Dogs

My clients usually make up 2 select groups of dogs – the first group is the untrained, rowdy and often young dogs who have poor manners and drive their owners crazy with “naughty” behaviour and the second group is usually made up of fearful dogs who bite, bark, chase, hide and generally seem aggressive or anti-social.

I love helping fearful dogs. It’s my passion and I am so impressed by how these dogs can blossom into exceptional family members. The main problem I run into when working with fearful dogs is helping the human side of the leash understand why their dog is acting the way they do and how to build confidence in their dog.

Some of the behaviour problems families will describe include:

  • Barking and lunging on leash at other dogs or people
  • Growling and snarling when dogs or new people approach
  • Growling and snapping at children
  • Hiding and refusing to leave the home or yard
  • Avoidance of dogs, people, new objects, etc.

A confident dog doesn’t treat every other dog, person and object as a possible threat however a fearful dog sees the world through a very different lens.

When I adopted Heidi my Miniature Schnauzer 11 years ago she was a class fearful dog. She snapped at my Irish Terrier when she met him even though he was perfectly appropriate in his greeting with her. She would bark at anything that moved when on a walk. She was reluctant to have her harness or leash put on. She would urinate when men would look at her. She would hide to go the bathroom (which made house training tricky!) and would often shake uncontrollably for seemingly no reason at all. She broke my heart and I knew we had to change things or her quality of life would be terrible.

Fast forward 11 years and Heidi has not only trained in agility but completed in it! She has earned her Canine Good Neighbour certificate. She is friendly and safe around children. She shares her home with 4 other dogs and has a history of living with many others. She’s well behaved enough to take anywhere. And it’s her transformation that inspires me the most!

Steps I took to turn Heidi into a pretty great family pet that my relatives are happy to welcome into their home and even petsit:

  1. Create a bond through positive reinforcement obedience training
  2. Build confidence by taking some dog sport classes for fun including Agility training
  3. Socialize her slowly and regularly with things she’s nervous of including children, strangers and other dogs
  4. Inspire her to work independently by using interactive toys and hide the food games
  5. Teach her tricks so she can show off and get a positive reaction from other people and family members
  6. Take her on hikes so she can discover the world and smell new things
  7. Give her down time so she can rest peacefully every day and be ready to be her best self when we try something new
  8. Work closely with my Veterinarian to discover Heidi’s health issues and their impact on her behaviour (Heidi has a history of vision issues, kidney and bladder stones as well as liver issues that directly affect behaviour)
  9. Create a specialized diet for Heidi so that she can feel well and lessen her symptoms from her health issues
  10. Love Heidi unconditionally and understand that she didn’t get the best start in life and build expectations that are realistic for her

If you live with a fearful dog that presents as aggressive or extremely nervous I would love to help you achieve the success that I’ve found with not only Heidi but the hundreds of fearful dogs that I’ve worked with. You can improve their quality of life as well as your own. heidi3

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My dog ate my homework…

One of the oldest excuses students have given their teachers over the decades have been “my dog ate my homework”. Dogs do sometimes have destructive tendencies which is why even though uncommon this excuse is plausible.

Dogs engage in destructive behaviour for a number of reasons including anxiety, stress, frustration, teething and most commonly boredom. Keeping a dog happy and stress free is a lot of work for owners! And destructive behaviour can run the gambit of  ripping apart a dog toy to chewing large holes in the dry wall.


Ari and Story’s way of telling me they are sick of the rain and need more exercise!

Happily there’s hope for destructive behaviour! But before you can go about fixing it you need to know WHY your dog is destroying things. Separation anxiety and boredom can not be treated the same way.

How to assess the why:

  1. How old is your dog? Age can play a big factor in destructive behaviour. Puppies don’t understand why something is or is not a toy so they chew everything. This is normal puppy behaviour and they need to be kept in a safe space when you’re not around to supervise them. Puppy age range for this stage is commonly newborn to 6 months old however I don’t recommend leaving an adolescent dog (6 months-2 years) roaming free in the home either.
  2. Does your dog struggle when you leave? Barking, pacing, salivating, house soiling, etc. Well then you’re more likely looking at a case of separation anxiety and you should begin working with an experienced trainer immediately.
  3. Do you own an active breed or younger dog that isn’t necessarily being exercised and exposed to enough mental stimulation? Well this one is most likely boredom.
  4. If you’re unsure why your dog is destructive then it’s time to consult a professional.

Simple fixes for boredom include:

  • Interactive Feeding
  • Daily training sessions with your dog
  • Daily exercise with your dog that isn’t high arousal based
  • Participation in a dog sport class
  • Scent work like Tracking
  • Doggy playdates if your dog is social

Remember dogs aren’t destructive to ruin your life or out of spite. There’s always a reason and it’s important to analyze the situation from a canine not human point of view and take action to ensure your dog’s quality of life is good. Don’t leave a stressed out pet home, don’t leave a young dog unsupervised with important items and don’t let your pup come up with their own ideas on how to entertain themselves.

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There’s Harm in Waiting

Canine behaviour issues rarely appear out of nowhere. In the unlikely case that a behaviour issue does happen suddenly it’s generally related to a medical issue. The majority of behaviour problems have taken weeks, months and in some cases years to develop.

Here’s an example:

A family with a young puppy are struggling with over excitement issues that present as mouthing kids, barking with frustration in the kennel and lunging on leash. At a first glance these are normal puppy behaviours but without training and intervention they can become worse instead of better.

The same family now has an one year old, large dog who jumps on people knocking them over, can’t safely be walked on leash and “nips” at the family’s arms and legs when they come home. Again intervention at this stage will take longer now but with obedience work can be turned around.

The same family with a now three year old dog are in seriously trouble – they haven’t walked their dog in months as they’re scared to. The dog barks, growls, lunges and even turns around biting at them when they encounter other dogs on walks. They no longer invite guests over to their home because they fear the dog will knock them over and potentially injure them. They’ve even experienced serious bites from the dog when the dog becomes too excited. The dog is bored and routinely destroys property in the home and digs large holes in the yard.

At what point do they get help? Well from a training perspective it’s best to see them as soon as possible but families often delay professional help thinking they can fix it on their own or the dog will grow out of it.

In most cases minor behaviour issues do escalate when training isn’t received.

  1. Barking becomes fence fighting, redirected aggression or even guarding behaviour that results in a bite
  2. Pulling on leash becomes reactivity, dog aggression, stranger aggression and redirected aggression against the owner
  3. Growling while with the food bowl becomes a bite to family members
  4. A puppy pestering an adult dog becomes a dog fight where the two dogs in the home routinely injure one another

These are all issues that need to be treated right away. So please if you’re frustrated with your dog and you want to address the issues don’t wait. Seek out a professional with a positive reinforcement training style and starting solving these concerns before they become major problems. It’s cheaper and easier to deal with the issues immediately.


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Don’t Rub Their Face In It


Sometimes in the world of dog training I come across advice that is old, out dated and just plain ridiculous. I wonder how this ever became a “thing” to do. The issue on my plate today is why would someone rub their dog’s face in urine or stool? Because this is something people still use as a training technique.

First off – please don’t rub their face in anything! It’s gross and it doesn’t communicate the point you’re trying to make to your dog. All that happens here is that your dog may become scared of you, may associate your presence around urine or stool as a negative (which makes house training even harder) and/or encourage your dog to consume stool.

House training can be tough! I understand that 100%. I’ve had rescue dogs who had their start in a puppy mill and felt that standing in their own urine or stool was acceptable. It takes time, patience and a good deal of supervision to train a dog.

The main thing to remember is that dogs go to the bathroom because they need to and doing so feels good – just like humans! For them it doesn’t matter whether it’s inside, outside, etc. They just need to go so they do. Depending on where they started in life they may have even been encouraged to go inside with the use of pee pads or paper.

Dogs may also engage in marking behaviour. This often presents in anxious or intact dogs. Both females but more commonly we see males doing this. Once again it can be trained away but takes time and patience.

Basic rules for house training:

  1. Reward your dog for going where you want them to go – so there’s a reason for them to go there. They aren’t mind readers and they can’t speak english. They need reinforcement to go in a special area.
  2. Supervise your dog ALL the time. When you can’t use a crate. If your dog acts like they are about to go (sniffing, tucking around to a place where they have accidents, etc.) Immediately take your dog outside and wait. If they don’t go within 10-15 minutes then put them in their crate for a few minutes and try again. Develop a schedule that you keep a record of so you can begin to anticipate your dog’s needs.
  3. If your dog has an accident and you’ve missed it – oh well! Clean it up and reprimand yourself for not supervising. Dogs do NOT house soil out of anger towards you. They house soil because they need to go to the bathroom and they don’t see a difference between outside and inside. Do not rub their face in it.
  4. If you catch your dog in the act try to interrupt the behaviour without scaring them and take them outside. Many people feel like the dog should have a consequence in order to learn however research has shown that focusing on the positive will result in faster training. Take your dog immediately outside and reward if they finish outside. Do not punish them. Training a dog who is fearful to eliminate in front of an owner is tedious! It took me over two years to fix this issue in one of my rescue dogs as she had clearly been punished for eliminating in front of people.
  5. If you’re struggling with house training then a trip to the vet to rule out a urinary tract infection or other medical condition is crucial.

An experience professional can help get you off to the right start or help solve an ongoing house training issue. Reach out for help if you need it. Some dogs are extremely hard to house train for a variety of reasons but it is possible.

I offer both in person and Skype consultations for house training. If you need help please contact Where’s Your Sit.

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My Dogs Fight – What Now?

I’ve spent a lot of time discussing dog reactivity and issues with strangers or other dogs that we see on walks. Sometimes however dogs have aggression at home with the other dogs they live with. This issue can be heart breaking for so many reasons and often families are left confused and unsure about what to do.

Dog fights happen at home for so many reasons. It’s important to pinpoint the reason why. People often say that it starts out of no where but there are reasons for aggression in the home; it’s not random. Consider the following:

  • Rule out any health concerns including soreness. Dogs may suddenly appear aggressive when they are struggling with pain or an illness. Dogs are also very good at hiding when they are unwell which is why it’s important to seek out a full check up including blood work with your Veterinarian. I also recommend working with a Veterinary Chiropractor or Osteopath as they may be able to pinpoint subtle lameness that a general practitioner may miss. Health issues that can trigger aggression can be anything from a cruciate tear to Epilepsy to Hypothyroidism.
  • Resource Guarding. Dogs will fight over toys, people, spaces, food, treats, etc. If your dog has a resource guarding issue there’s a lot you can do to solve the issue. I’d recommend reading Mine by Jean Donaldson and consult with a professional to help resolve the issue immediately.
  • Redirection onto to your other dog(s) due to barrier reactivity. When a dog is reactive through a window, fence or on leash they can sometimes target the dog closest to them when they are frustrated and over aroused. Incidentally, a non-reactive dog will sometimes go after a reactive one for acting unstable and causing them to be fearful or agitated. Avoid walking a reactive dog with others.
  • Bullying behaviour amongst your dogs. It’s important to not let dogs harass each other. One dog may be acting aggressive because another is guarding spaces, people, etc. The issue doesn’t always start with the dog with aggression. Sometimes it can be as simple as one dog is tired of being mounted by another that will trigger a dog fight.
  • Health concerns in your other dogs. Sometimes if a dog develops a health issue another dog in the home will target them. This is extremely hard on the family as they struggle to care for their sick dog. In cases like this the dogs should be separated immediately. The relationship may be repairable when the other dog is well again however sometimes the damage is long lasting.
  • Sibling Syndrome. This can affect dogs that are siblings from the same litter or even two dogs that are of similar age. As the dogs grow older the issue gets worse and worse. It tends to be worse when the dogs are the same gender but male/female pairs can fight as well. Avoid getting littermates at all costs as well as dogs of the same gender/age. There are exceptions to this however most cases of intra-household aggression are between dogs of similar ages and genders particularly littermates.
  • Anxiety. When one dog in the home has anxiety it can present as aggression (along with other behaviour issues). It’s really important to seek help for your dog if they are anxious. Living in a constant state of alertness affects their quality of life and there are lots of options to help treat canine anxiety. Anxiety can present as disobedience and avoidance behaviour so sometimes dogs labelled “disobedient” are really anxious.

Marco has some health concerns and likes a quiet, peaceful resting area where he can relaxed.

One you’ve been able to pinpoint the reason(s) why your dogs may have aggression issues at home you can come up with your plan on how to manage the behaviour. There are times when it is no longer safe to keep two dogs in a home together and this should be considered. Dogs can kill each other or severely injure one another and that shouldn’t be overlooked. If your dogs are fighting and injuring one another then you have a serious situation on your hand and you should immediately separate the dogs and consult a professional. There are many situations where it would be appropriate to re-home one of the dogs (of course with full disclosure to the new family and a home without small children or other dogs). Families should not be made to feel bad when they need to re-home a dog to keep another safe in the home. Decisions need to be made for the best interest of all of the dogs.

Potential solutions:

  • Work one on one with each of the dogs on a daily basis to build confidence, ensure they are getting their needs met and encourage obedience.
  • Encourage arousal decreasing activities including scentwork, trick training, interactive feeding and massage.
  • Seek out a Veterinarian who can advise on appropriate medications for anxiety, over arousal and/or any underlying medical concerns.
  • Seek out an experience positive reinforcement trainer who specializes in dog to dog aggression and can work with your Veterinarian.
  • Provide each dog with their own private space and give them a quiet area to relax, eat and sleep without being around one another.
  • Keep all activities with the dogs calm and avoid getting them amped up.
  • If redirection isn’t an issue take them on long, quiet walks together to increase the bond.
  • Remove any items that would trigger a dog fight from common areas including toys, chews, food, etc. Some dogs will fight over water dishes so make sure you have more than one in different locations. I’m a big fan of providing a personal water dish in each dog’s sleeping area.
  • If necessary have only one dog out at a time. Many people refer to this as rotation and it’s not a great long term solution but may be necessary to keep the dogs safe while you come up with a training plan or re-home one of the dogs.
  • Consider teaching one or both dogs to comfortably wear a muzzle in order to keep interactions safe while training.

Things to remember:

  • Intra-household dog aggression isn’t necessarily your fault. Great owners sometimes have this issue. You shouldn’t be embarrassed or ashamed. Dogs are animals and not everything they do makes sense in the human world.
  • Some dogs do need to be re-homed in this situation and it be the best solution for all the animals involved. Allowing aggression to escalate in a home is abusive to the dog being injured and will make it harder to find a new home for the aggressor.
  • It’s also possible to work through these issues if you have the resources, time and patience available. Each situation should be evaluated independently.
  • Seek out assistance immediately, the more fights that occur the worse the relationship is damaged.

Ari and Story practice impulse control exercises with each other to keep everyone calm during periods of excitement.

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Living (Happily) with a Reactive Dog

I have a dog that is just amazing – he’s sweet, loyal, well trained and extremely dedicated to his human family. He’s also not good with other dogs especially if there’s a barrier like a fence or a leash involved. This is an extremely common behaviour issue for many families and can be exhausting to live with.

Dogs develop reactivity for many, many reasons. My own dog became reactive because of traumatic experiences where he was attacked by other dogs. This increased his fear and he presents as reactive (he wants to create a threat display so they leave him alone).

Reactivity can also look different depending on your dog – some bark, lunge, growl while others are really stiff, quiet growling and wanting to move away. The one thing they have in common – they aren’t comfortable and their threat displays can often cause owners to be embarrassed and stressed.

Happily there’s a lot we can do to help our reactive and anxious dogs to relax and enjoy being dogs again.

Step 1 

Give your dog a quiet space to settle down each night and for breaks during the day. This is extremely important if you have other dogs or a busy house hold. Dogs need to sleep A LOT. They also like to rest for naps and then get up and about again. It’s important they have a quiet room where they can have a real nap without being worried that something might get them (a person stepping on them or feel competition with another dog in the home).

The quiet space should be away from main windows in the home where the dog can see or hear traffic. The last thing you want is your reactive dog practising the behaviour from your living each time a person or dog goes by.


Sleepy Pup – enjoying her own dog bed in a quiet spot.

Step 2

Engage your dog in interactive feeding – where they work for their food! There are many ways to do this and they all tire out your dog’s brain and/or enhance their bond with you.

Interactive feeding can include:

  • Feeding their kibble or raw food stuffed in a rubber Kong toy. Ensure you have an appropriate size for the weight of your dog and use as many Kongs as needed. For example my Pointer gets 2 cups each meal and that takes 3 Kongs. So each time he eats with Kongs he actually gets 3 of them to work on.
  • Use puzzle toys – try to find breed appropriate. Some small to mid size dogs love find it puzzles while larger bully breeds may appreciate a hardy Buster Cube. Pet stores are carrying more and more of these because dogs and owners love them. A new hit toy is the snuffle mat where you can easily make your own DYI style.
  • Use your dog’s food to work on impulse control training exercises in a quiet space. For example you could take your dog’s breakfast and use it for practice on leave it, stay, position changes and heeling all right in your living room or kitchen.
  • Create a find it game with meals by hiding food throughout your yard or a room in your home for your dog to search out (remember to keep dogs separate for this activity).

Step 3

Reduce high arousal activities like fetch and off leash play. This doesn’t mean you have to eliminate them but change how often and for how long. One of my favourite things to do is play disc with my dog. I’ll give him a few throws and we take a break to work on a trick like weave through my legs and then we may do a few more throws. This decreases the intensity of the game because we only do it for short periods of time and throw in a lot of “thinking” activity where he has to stop and learn.


The boys practicing stays on top of a big rock in a quiet hiking area. Great way to practice and reinforce impulse control!

Step 4

Consider using a calming supplement or medication if the situation requires. There’s plenty of options available to pet owners these days including Rescue Remedy, Colmicalm, and ADAPTIL. Using a supplement or medication along with training can greatly increase the quality of your dog’s life. Dogs who live in a state of reactivity often feel stressed even when they are resting. Their adrenaline from an episode lasts for days and many reactive dogs don’t even get days off in between of episodes which means they never actually come down.

Step 5

Reconsider what exercise is essential to your dog. Often pet owners have it in their head that their dog needs to go for a run every day for “x” amount of time. However the quality of the walk outweighs the quantity (this means more how often and the duration of the walk itself). It’s far better to take your reactive dog out for a walk every few days at non-peak times to smell and relax than it is to do a daily walk through a neighbourhood loaded with triggers. Consider driving out of town for a “smelling” walk where your canine can explore new scents and be away from other dogs or strangers.

Walk at non-peak times whenever possible including late at night and early mornings. These walks can be super short – the most important part is that your dog isn’t being bombarded and can actually just relax.

Even consider giving your dog a doggie vacation and take a week or two off walks all together. Focus on brain games, learning new tricks and relaxation. I know this may sound really difficult if you live with a “hyper” dog but I tried it out with my own young Pointer who is one of the most high energy dogs I’ve ever met and it did work well!


More smelling – went to a new spot in the woods so Ari could use his nose!

Step 6

Remember you’re not alone. Hundreds of thousands of dogs struggle with this issue – that’s why there’s so many classes for Reactive Rover now! Keep your chin up, understand that your dog is trying their best and take a minute to just relax and breath again.

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Exercise & Dog Reactivity

The ISCP has released new research from graduate Linda Cooper on the impact of exercise on reactive dogs (view study here). The study is fairly interesting in that it recommends reducing walks and arousal increasing activities such as fetch.

The dogs in the study were sent on a “doggie” vacation where exercise was significantly reduced. The owners of the dogs were nervous of this at first given that many of the dogs that participated were also described as hyper dogs that required great amounts of exercise.

What was found instead was that with reduced physical exercise (off leash running, long walks, playtime with other dogs, ball and disc play, etc.) and increased soothing touch and mental games the dogs improved significantly in only 6 days! The study goes on to cite work that includes giving dogs a drastic change for a month to see truly improved results in reactivity.

This is important for owners of dogs with arousal and reactivity issues on many fronts as simply tiring the dog out physically isn’t going to get you the results you want.

Here’s a great list of activities you can do with your own dog when reducing high impact or lengthy activity in order to decrease stress in your dog:

  • Sniff games inside and outside
  • Tracking (this is a great sport that Where’s Your Sit offers classes for and is suitable for reactive dogs as we don’t expose the dogs to one another)
  • Trick training
  • Shaping games with a clicker (can also result in your dog knowing even more tricks!)
  • Soothing massage and touch
  • Short on leash walks well away from other dogs, recommended 15-20 min per day and allowing your dog to do a significant amount of sniffing on these outings
  • Interactive feeding and puzzle games

Rena and her dog Rupert following a scent trail in Tracking class

Reactivity and overall stress and anxiety are closely linked. It’s important that your dog is allowed to calm down and “reset” after an incident where they reacted or were startled or injured by another dog.

These same calming activities can also be used with over excited or hyper dogs that don’t struggle with reactivity.


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