Just because your dog is reactive towards humans or other dogs doesn’t mean that you can’t enjoy a hike or a walk in a public park. There is definitely more to it with a reactive dog but if we plan accordingly it can still be quite relaxing for you and fun for your dog.
Firstly, you’re not alone. Reactivity is super common. (For simplicity sake we’re going to be referring to aggression as reactivity too. Aggression means wanting to increase distance.) Sometimes you can feel alone when you have a dog that is barking and the other dog is quiet, but you’re not alone. A lot of people with reactive dogs do not attempt to take them out in public for lots of reasons. (And that is okay.)
With a reactive dog there are some things that you can do to help. Here they are:
1.Keep your eyes open
If you see an off leash dog, go the other way. Most dogs aren’t going to enjoy being approached by off leash dogs while they’re on leash. If you see a person or a person with an on leash dog, step off of the trail. When doing this, it’s actually best to step off of the trail after your dog notices them. Also, carry Spray Shield or something equivalent to prevent an off leash dog from approaching your dog. (Assuming there is a leash law in place.)
2. Bring food
We recommend always having high value treats to help motivate your dog to do more appropriate behaviors and to also help change any negative association into a positive one. When using food, it’s actually best to wait for your dog to notice the distraction and then ask for a behavior to reward or to just feed to help change the association.
3. Use helpful gear
To help decrease lunging and pulling we recommend something that attaches to the front of your dog. Front attaching harnesses and head halters work by removing some of your dog’s leverage and they also allow you to more easily change directions when you need to.
If your dog has a bite history, especially one that has resulted in damage to a person or another dog, we highly recommend a muzzle. The type of muzzle is extremely important. A basket style muzzle allows your dog to open his mouth to pant and drink water.
4. Avoid busy times
Weekends typically are more high traffic than mornings or evenings. We would recommend avoiding high traffic times as they could be overwhelming for you and your dog. When possible, scope out different places ahead of time to get a feel for when and where is the best time to go.
Following these suggestions will make it doable for most dogs. You’ll have to stay on your toes and adjust on the fly sometimes but that is life!