5 Ways to Enjoy Walks With Your Reactive Dog

My fear reactive boy, Theo, and I - December 2020

For the majority of dog owners, dog reactivity is sadly misunderstood. There is a big, yet often unrecognised, difference between aggression and fear reactivity in dogs.

This post is not going to help you understand the often complex behavioural issues surrounding aggression and fear reactivity, the purpose of this post is instead to show you five simple, practical measures that you can take to hopefully make walks more enjoyable.

My very own Theo (who is a whopping 36kg rescue greyhound) is fear reactive. He has a bite history. And thanks to him, I have a learning history. Over the last nine months I have successfully been rehabilitating him from being used as a bet, to a much loved pet. Here's how we did it...

1) Muzzle up, pup.

Safety first. A muzzle is not the be all and end all. You can't just whack it on your dog and think "problem solved". Without force-free, positive and patient muzzle training, you could just be creating a new problem. When it comes to muzzles, there is no "one size fits all" rule. And that can be make it really confusing to know what to look for.

Theo is a greyhound and has standard box muzzles (that's right, muzzles, an entire rainbow assortment) for street walks and a lightweight running muzzle for off - lead runs. The main difference between the two muzzles is pant room - he needs to be able to open his mouth wide enough to pant properly when he's running in a secure field with his mates, or in the summer when it's warm.

I didn't really know much about muzzles when I first fostered Theo, so let me make your search a lot easier than mine by recommending the following resources...

Where to buy and why?

There is only one place I buy Theo's muzzles from, and that's The Muzzle Shop - www.themuzzleshop.com

It is a small business run by Fiona, who offers friendly, expert advice and a range of muzzles to suit every snoot! She also sells muzzle friendly treats (I will be doing a separate blog on this topic). My advice would be to get in touch and trust that you are doing the best for your pup - I know there is still a lot of stigma surrounding muzzled dogs and you might feel like you don't really want to muzzle your dog - completely understandable, but at least take a look, right?

Where to start with muzzle training?

Start at the beginning, once you have your dog's muzzle and know that it has been fitted properly, visit www.muzzleupproject.com for all things muzzle training. They even have a fabulous and easy to follow step-by-step guide for beginners - using lots of reward based methods, no nasty punishments here!

2) Invest in a properly fitted collar and double-ended training lead.

As pet owners we are often spoilt for choice when it comes to dog accessories. However, when it comes to reactive dogs, safety tops fashion every time. But what if I told you that your dog could look good whilst also being safe?

Thanks to Lucy from HandMade Hound, I discovered biothane (yes it does sound a bit like a dirty word) but bear with me. Biothane is super resilient, easy to clean, soft but tough lasting. Theo has a bespoke hound collar and double-ended lead set from Lucy. Literally, made to measure to ensure a perfect fit. My biggest worry was that Theo would slip his collar. However, by measuring him up and investing in a double-ended training lead (the other end is attached to his harness) it means I can wear gloves in winter without worrying about losing my grip on him, his collar and lead don't stink to high hell when it's wet outside and the supple biothane collar doesn't rub the delicate fur off his giraffe like neck.

Where to buy and why?

You can browse the full range available here Why? well, I've managed to score you 10% off if you use the code MEERAPUPPINS at checkout!

3) Be seen with a customised lead sleeve.

Maybe you've already heard of the Yellow Dog Project? A global movement that sells a wide array of dog jackets and accessories advocating for dogs who need space, are reactive, fearful, nervous or anxious. But I'll bet you haven't heard of TheHuggableDog. I bought Theo a customised bright yellow lead sleeve from this small biz. His lead sleeve reads "SCARED OF DOGS - Rescue in Training" and you'd be surprised by how many people actually pay attention to it. Prior to that, Theo was wearing a high vis jacket that read I NEED SPACE, IN TRAINING. It was ignored by pretty much everyone. Surprising right? That's why I'd highly recommend adding a lead sleeve or two to your double ended training lead.

Where to buy and why?

You can buy by clicking here Why? Well, don't you want to make life easier for yourself? Might save your vocal chords as you scream at the ignorant owners who believe it's fine for their "it's ok he's friendly" dog to run over and scare the crap out of your reactive doggo. Also, you can use an exclusive discount code HUGGABLEFRIENDSCLUB for 10% off!

4) Consider a harness.

If I had a penny for every time i've read "but a harness encourages a dog to pull on the lead" I'd probably be rich and retired. A harness does not encourage a dog to pull. A harness, when properly fitted, can alleviate pressure off a dog's neck and it means you get to use your lovely new biothane double ended lead! Theo has a CosyDogs Harness because he is not a puller or an escape artist - please be warned, CosyDog Harnesses are NOT escape proof. Dogs can back out of them - another reason why to use a double ended training lead with a properly fitted collar. Other brands which are more suited to flight risk hounds are Ruffwear and Houdini.

Please do not buy harnesses which tighten around a dog's body - such as the Halti No Pull Harness. Imagine someone pulling your hair or pinching you if you dared walk ahead of them - that's what these harnesses do. It's not fun for your dog, and it wouldn't be fun for you.

Where to buy - i've already explained why.



5) Who doesn't like treats?

If you were asked to do something for nothing, how inclined would you be to keep on doing that thing? Probably not very, right? It's the same for our reactive dogs.

Positive reinforcement works. With Theo I employ a very simple "Theo sees a dog, Theo gets a treat" method - ok, it's not that simple I worked really hard on loose lead walking, walking in low distraction environments, proofing behaviours, teaching hand targeting, I've recently started hand feeding and we worked at very, very, far away distances for a long time. But now my "shovel treats" method is really starting to pay off. But i'll be honest - Theo is muzzled outside and finding treats that didn't mind the gap (see what I did there?) was expensive and annoying. So I've saved you some trial and error, here's what works for standard greyhound box muzzles.

- Primula squeezy cheese

- Forthglade soft treats

- JR Pet meat sticks

Where to buy and why?

Well, I think it's fairly obvious why, no? Reward the behaviours you want to see more of, and expect to see more of them!

Primula squeezy cheese: i'll share a life hack with you, take the blue lid off and swap it for a clean toothpaste lid - it fits perfectly and makes it a million times easier, quicker and cleaner to use when out on walks!

Forthglade soft treats - they are a great size for posting through the muzzle,  grain free, reasonably priced with a high meat content and guaranteed to get Theo looking at me!

JR Pet meat sticks - the fishy ones are softer but I found the turkey and duck sticks to be useful when I need to get his attention as it took him a solid minute or so to bite off a chunk and chew it.

If you've found these tips useful, please let me know by getting in touch.

Lastly, find a dog walker who supports you AND your dog.

I specialise in walking rescue and reactive dogs - I have literally walked in your shoes (ok not literally, that would be a bit gross) and I know how it feels to dread going on walks, having to hide in bushes, avoiding the park and having to deal with the "oh but mine's friendly" brigade. I have also supported Theo in going from a biter to a lover without using any aversive training methods.
I promise i'm not bragging. I know that every dog is a unique, sentient being, and rightly deserves to be treated as such, with the care they deserve, and the peace of mind you need.

Even if i'm outside of your local area, please get in touch as I might be able to help you virtually!

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