When we talk about reactive dog behaviour, we often think about the stuff that happens when they’re on leash, at the park, or when they’re fence-fighting. We don’t often think about the reactive behaviour that happens at home as being connected to the outside behaviour.
With a reactive dog, we must remember that these dogs are often chronically stressed (experiencing outbursts towards their triggers on a daily basis, sometimes multiple times daily) and we have to find ways to reduce their stress in general, rather than trying to “fix the problem”. It’s all part and parcel. You cannot “fix” reactivity on leash if the dog is barking at dogs and people all day in the front window. One behaviour fuels the other.
Here are my top 10 tools for handling a reactive dog:
1. If your dog barks at noises outside or in the hallway, white noise is a fabulous way to create a bit of a sound barrier that mutes noises outside your window or the door to the condo hallway. My tried and true favourite noise machine is this one.
If you live in a building, set this up near your front door to prevent your dog from barking and charging the door with every person who walks from the elevator to their unit, even at 3am. If you live in a house and you back onto a busy street, set this up near the open window and enjoy the peace and quiet, AND the fresh air!
I love that you can change the sounds from plain white noise to other relaxing sounds (like the ocean or a waterfall, for example) and you can adjust the intensity and pitch of the sound so it’s not too sharp. I use this especially at night as it helps me to sleep, but it prevents that nighttime bark-fest that only occurs when you’ve just hit the perfect position and the deepest of sleeps.
2. Do you have a dog who spends a good part of their day barking at people and dogs out the window? Giving them HD TV to their triggers will only increase their reactive behaviour and fuel their territorial behaviour too! Let’s turn down the intensity of their day while allowing the sunlight in.
I’m a huge fan of RabbitGoo Privacy Film. This privacy film is incredibly easy to install, but more importantly, it’s easy to remove and leaves absolutely no residue. It goes on without adhesive…in fact, it goes on with soapy water! I purchased the kit that makes it a breeze to cut and install - it was worth every penny! If you have a spray bottle, some dish soap, an exact-o-knife, and a credit card, you can DIY but I like having everything at my fingertips and this kit does not disappoint.
3. It’s very common for dogs to bark at other dogs or people (or even vehicles) out the car window, making it frustrating and downright dangerous for the driver. All dogs, regardless of age, size, training, and reactivity level, should be safely restrained in a vehicle, so don’t think for even a second that a dog loose in the car is okay. Dogs are just as projectile as people are, so what’s the difference?
Sleepy Pod is the number one, absolute best car harness on the market. Check out their affordable options for seatbelt harnesses here. If you have a pint-sized pup, try their carriers!
Now, this won’t necessarily calm all dogs, but I do often see that reactive dogs do much better in the car when they are safely and comfortably restrained.
Another option is an airline-approved carrier as it limits the view out the window and it keeps your dog safe in the event of a collision! Double-whammy!
4. If you have a reactive dog, using a Calming Cap is a great option as it not only reduces car sickness and anxiety, it “turns down the visual volume”, so to speak, for that barker and lunger.
This cap slides on easily, allows the dog to breathe, pant, eat, drink, bark, chew a ball or toy, etc., and the light mesh fabric is very non-invasive. It allows the dog to see, but certainly not in high-definition.
I have even used the Calming Cap on dogs in condos who struggle with the hallways, elevator, and lobby! It might look a little silly, but oh boy, can it ever be effective!
5. Anxiety wraps are a tool that I’ve used plenty in the past, however, I do have to warn you. It’s about a 50/50 results-wise. Some dogs love it and instantly relax. Some dogs hate it and freeze or shut down. Some dogs are totally indifferent to it. (So maybe that 33/33/33?)
Regardless, the feeling of being swaddled has been shown to be very effective in many species, and I’ve seen fabulous results in my own dogs in the past with the Thundershirt. My current dogs is indifferent to it and tends to want to shake it off, so it’s not a winner this time, but I did get a good ten years’ use out of it with my last guy!
If it works, it’s worth every penny. If it doesn’t, you have 45 days to get your money back! Now THAT makes it worth a try.
6. You know the effect music has on you? It can make you dance, make you weep, make you laugh, cheer you up, calm you down, you name it. Music is universal. Shelters now play music to calm the animals and are seeing great differences!
Joshua Leeds (Sound Researcher) and Lisa Spector (Pianist) founded Through A Dog’s Ear, now My Zen Pet many years ago and their psycho-acoustically designed music collections have been a staple in our Cranky Canine classes for reactive dogs.
I will admit that I have played this music in my headphones while travelling on Toronto’s public transit system during rush hour and it certainly helps me keep my head on straight…
7. Lastly, this one might sound a little hokey, but a bandana tied loosely around your dog’s neck is not just for style…it’s a great tool to spritz with a touch of lavender essential oil (or chamomile) diluted greatly in water. Remember that a dog’s sense of smell is significantly more powerful than ours so if you can smell it on there, it’s probably too strong for the dog, especially since they’re going to wear it around their neck, near their face. Dilute 1-3 drops in about 3-4 cups of water and that should do the trick!
If your dog doesn’t like to wear clothing, you can spritz your hands and rub your dog’s neck. Just wash your hands well before touching your eyes or eating or feeding your dog, of course!
Never leave a dog unattended while wearing a bandana as it can be a choking hazard if ingested or snagged on something!
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