Before starting any reactive dog training I highly recommend teaching three pre-skills.
These skills and my reasons behind them are:
1. Leave It as one of the most important and essential skills for reactive dogs. The Leave It cue teaches your dog to ignore or move away from something that they are fixated on or interested in. It can be especially useful when your dog becomes reactive towards other dogs, people, or objects. It can also be used when your dog finds old rotting food or something else on the ground on a walk. Practice this exercise for about 10 minutes every day, gradually increasing the difficulty by using more tempting objects or distractions. Soon, your dog will learn to associate the "Leave It" command with letting go of their fixation and looking to you for guidance. Please do not ask your dog to leave any animals or humans until it is well established, this can cause failure and we want to avoid that in training. You can access my handout for training your dog Leave It this by clicking here.
2. Let's Go is another crucial skill to train your reactive dog. This cue teaches your dog to change directions on a walk and to pay better attention to your movements. To train your dog start by working in a quiet area (this could be your living room, backyard or an empty parking lot). With your dog on leash, walk forward and say "Let's Go", the moment your dog looks to you, turn. The moment your dog turns with you say "YES!" and give them a treat. Practice this before there are any of your dog's triggers present. Once trained you can use it to get your dog moving while also avoiding leash pressure which can increase reactivity. Training our dogs to move on cue helps us to greatly reduce the times we have to pull them away from things and this makes for a better experience on walks for both of you.
3. Find it is a wonderful and simple game you can play with your reactive dog both before triggers are present and during. This is another skill that should be pre-trained so your dog understands it and knows something good is about to happen. To teach Find It work in a quite, distraction free environment to start. Face your dog, hold a treat at eye level for them and say "Find It!". Drop the treat right as you say it (not before). Practice often and move the treat higher. Once your dog is succeeding you can toss the treat away from them. Next, try a handful! You can use this when your reactive dog sees another dog, to avoid a reaction. Better yet, you can use it after your dog has succeeded in NOT reacting to something they normally would have. This "game" is self rewarding so that's all you have to do. Repeat this exercise in different locations and gradually increase the difficulty by hiding the treats in more challenging places. Not only does "Find It" redirect your reactive dog's attention away from their triggers, but it also strengthens their bond with you through the joy of the search.
Practice 10 minutes per day, per skill. You can continue to build on all of these during every day moments in the future too!