Are you ready to train your reactive dog, but don’t know what you should be teaching them? Read on to learn which commands you should focus on teaching to address leash reactivity.
First of all, be prepared!
Trained commands are immensely helpful for minimizing reactivity. But they come with one caveat: you must be ready to reward when your dog performs the trick correctly. This means you must have treats with you. So make a habit of bringing training treats or other high-value rewards on every walk. You’ll be glad you did!
Best Commands to Train For Leash Reactivity
Leash Reactivity Command #1: Dog’s Name
Yes, teaching your dog’s name may seem basic. But don’t overlook it.
You may think your dog knows their name – but do they really? Responding to their name is much harder for your dog when you’re on a walk than it is when you’re at home. Think of all of the sights, smells, and other interesting things there are competing for your dog’s attention. That’s why it’s important to practice your dog’s response to their name both indoors and outdoors.
Once your dog’s response to their name is solid both indoors and out, I recommend using your dog’s name before asking for the next behavior you want (i.e. “Fido, Watch Me!”). That way, your dog will have a heads up as to when they should pay attention. That will help them not to accidentally miss your next instruction.
Leash Reactivity Command #2: Find It
“Find It” tells your dog to start sniffing the ground to find treats. To teach this:
- Tell your dog “Find It!”, then scatter a small handful of treats on the ground.
- Encourage your dog to sniff out the treats by pointing to the treats.
- With repetition, your dog will learn to immediately check the ground when they hear you say “Find It!”.
This trick is great for diverting your dog’s attention when a trigger is near. While your dog’s nose is to the ground sniffing out treats, they can’t also be staring down that dog or person across the street, getting ready to bark and lunge.
“Find It” is especially handy for situations when a trigger is near but you can’t physically get away. Use “Find It” to prevent a reaction, buying you time until an escape path clears, or the trigger has passed.
Leash Reactivity Command #3: Turn & Go
In my opinion, a Turn & Go is essential for any reactive dog parent to have in their toolbox. A Turn & Go (sometimes called an “emergency U-turn”) means swiftly changing directions with your dog and then continuing to move in the opposite direction. This skill enables you to abruptly “get out of dodge” when caught off guard by one of your dog’s triggers. It’s also a great technique to gently interrupt your dog once they go over their reaction threshold so you can help them calm down again.
Turn & Go’s are extremely beneficial because they put more distance in between your dog and the trigger. And we know that when it comes to managing reactivity, distance is your friend! A well-timed Turn & Go can snap your dog out of that moment when they are on the verge of reacting, with the added benefit of getting you and your dog farther away to give you both more breathing room.
Any time your dog notices something, and you think there’s a chance they might react – quick, do a Turn & Go!
Leash Reactivity Command #4: Watch
“Watch” means for the dog to offer you eye contact. When a dog is watching you, you have their attention. It is then easier to direct them to any other behavior you might like them to do next, such as a Turn & Go. It is also quick and easy to teach your dog this skill.
Watch is useful because if your dog is looking at you, they can’t possibly be reacting to one of their triggers at the same time. “Watch” is often combined with a Sit cue, for a “Sit-and-watch” combo behavior. This strategy prevents your dog from lunging while a trigger passes by.
Leash Reactivity Command #5: Hand Target
I frequently train a hand target because it is quick to train, and dogs LOVE to play this game once they’ve learned it. A hand target behavior, often named “Touch”, is when your dog touches their nose to the palm of your hand.
This one might seem a bit strange if you’ve never trained a dog this skill before. But it is actually one of the most versatile behaviors you can train a dog to do! For example, you can use a hand target to recall your dog, to teach your dog to walk nicely by your side on walks, or for redirecting your dog before they get fixated on a trigger.
Here’s another tip: Ask your dog to touch your hand while you take several steps backwards away from a trigger that’s nearby. This will both get your dog’s focus AND move your dog farther away from the trigger.
Leash Reactivity Command #6: Leave It
If you’ve been to obedience classes with your dog, then they may already know the cue “Leave It”. But did you know that “Leave It” can be used for things other than food? Turns out it’s another one of those multi-purpose, super-versatile skills.
You can use this cue to ask your dog to ignore a distractor such as a person, dog, or other stimulus that your dog might otherwise react to. When your dog dog looks away from the trigger, praise and feed a treat. Your dog will learn that it pays to break their focus from a distraction and pay attention to you instead. Practice “Leave It” enough, and your dog can learn to ignore just about any type of distraction you could throw their way.
Bonus: Teach your dog to feel comfortable wearing a harness
This one isn’t exactly a trick – but it does require training that often goes overlooked. And that is training your dog to be happy wearing a harness (or head halter, if you have an extra-strong dog).
Many dogs naturally find wearing anything on their bodies to be strange and a bit worrisome. If your dog is one of these dogs who cowers or hides when you bring out the harness, then it is well-worth the time to teach them to enjoy wearing it. See my list of the best walking harnesses if you’re in the market for a new dog harness.