Setting your reactive dog up for success in training class


Mr. N’s last training workshop was horrible. His tail hung limply down for a good portion of the workshop (we call it sad tail in our household), and  he refused to eat even his favorite things and towards the end, he bolted inside his carrier and stayed there. And he was extremely reactive towards the other dogs. 
We had a fracas with another dog there previously and I think he remembered that especially because it made me extremely stressed and he feeds off my stress.

Mr. N was not very enthused about class previously
So I was concerned about this week’s workshop so I tried to put some things into action that might help him be more successful.  He was very good and aside from a little barking at the beginning when everyone came in, he settled down quickly. And his tail was up all class. These are some of the things I tried. 
  • Bring your dog’s “crack.” Mr. N loves cheese and meat. He will not work for dry treats and vegetables and fruit even at home so at class, they wouldn’t even merit a glance. So bring whatever your dog loves and will do back flips for it. I would totally bring a squirrel or a rat if I could figure out the logistics and it wouldn’t be cruel to the other animal! He also loves soft, animal-shaped toys that other dogs have played with. 
  • And try swapping treats. Mr. N was starting to get bored with his turkey and cheese so I borrowed some meatballs and he was all about that. 
  • Give your dog something to do. We’re still working on mat work but regardless, Mr. N would not sit still for the bulk of two hours anyway. So if it’s not our turn to work, we practice quiet things in a corner. We do some shaping with objects, “find it” with food, targeting and run through his tricks. 
  • Bring some chews or a stuffed Kong. Mr. N gets too hyped up to chew calmly but I’ve seen that work for some dogs.
  • Watch your dog. Do you know what stress signals your dog exhibits? If I interrupt Mr. N before he goes over threshold, I can usually redirect him. 
  • Watch the other dogs. Are they being rude? Is your dog reacting to their behavior? Mr. N thinks hard staring is very rude and will tell the dog off if I don’t notice it first and reward him for not reacting. 
  • Know your dog’s limits. Take your dog out if he needs a break. I bring Mr. N’s soft carrier with me so he has a place to retreat to if he is overwhelmed. 
  •  Good positioning. Mr. N does best with one particular dog so I asked the instructor if we could sit next to her. Away from the doors and windows is also preferable. Less stimulation.
  • Talk to the instructor. After the fracas, I talked to the instructor about my concerns and she implemented more stringent measures. We have more visual barriers in class (the dogs can still see through them but it’s a visual reminder), and people were reminded about keeping their dog under control and giving other dogs space.
What steps do you take to make sure your dog is successful in class or in life? 




37 Responses

  1. LA Paylor

    March 16, 2015 4:05 pm

    my dog is like yours. I wish I'd read your suggestions when he was in training. He's 12 now, but it started a nervousness around other dogs that he still has. Leeanna at not afraid of color

  2. LA Paylor

    March 16, 2015 4:07 pm

    oh and the disgusting trainer, picked Cole up by the neck when he growled at another rude puppy, a staring border collie, before I could stop her. We never went back. That's a bad training technique to me. LeeAnna

  3. Talent Hounds

    March 16, 2015 5:29 pm

    Thanks these are great tips, Kilo is still pretty reactive but has gotten much better with positive reinforcement training, good socialization and time. A pocket full of tasty treats also helps.

  4. K9s OverCoffee

    March 16, 2015 9:47 pm

    Wonderful tips. I make sure our pups have their space as well, and in turn make sure they give other dogs their respective space. A quiet place to retreat to and take a break from overstimulation (like the crate) works wonders as well.

  5. Emma

    March 17, 2015 11:11 am

    Nose work is a sport with a lot of reactive dogs, so everyone is always kenneled when we are not working, some dogs have their crates covered so they can't see other dogs, and there is a barrier between the waiting dogs and the work area so the working dog can work "alone" without worrying about the other dogs.

  6. Three Chatty Cats

    August 19, 2016 2:20 pm

    We only took our dog to training class when we first got him, going on 13 years ago now. I do remember it being pretty stressful on us, which then he picked up on like Mr N did with you. Eddie did "graduate" but I think he could use a refresher! (Btw, we also have a tenacious little terrier!)

  7. Dexter and Tonya

    August 19, 2016 2:29 pm

    Very good tips. Also, since all instructors are not created equal, if you feel the situation is not right for your dog, leave. I've seen too many dogs stay in a situation that made their behavior worse, because the dog was over threshold. Continue to be Mr. N's advocate. 🙂

  8. Sherri Telenko

    August 19, 2016 9:31 pm

    I haven't tried my dog in classes – though I should. I've largely 'winged' it with training and well, it looks it. I can imagine us being 'that' pair. He's also not food stupid. She has no 'crack' other than live rabbits and that's clearly just wrong.

  9. Tenacious Little Terrier

    August 19, 2016 10:57 pm

    Oh Mr. N would LOVE training for squirrels as a reward. Alas, it's not very humane or practical. I've done most of my training with Mr. N by myself (and with videos, books etc) but classes are great as you get another pair of eyes and someone with experience.

  10. Jane H

    August 20, 2016 4:15 am

    I haven't taken my dog to any classes, but I would love to at some point. These are all great tips to utilize, Thank you.

    I'm glad to hear that Mr N has found a class buddy, I'm sure it makes class more enjoyable for both of you.

  11. Cathy Armato

    August 20, 2016 6:58 pm

    These are really good tips to follow! My dogs are both well behaved in class. We've taken many types of training classes, I think it's a great activity to do together and socialization for them. We've done most of our classes at PetSmart and they love going to classes there. In fact, they just love going to PetSmart so I think that helps. Once there was a reactive dog in class and I guess Icy was somehow "staring" at the dog for too long and the dog lunged for her. After that I sat far away from that dog in class. I try to figure out which dogs are the most social early on and position myself nearer to those dogs for classes.
    Love & Biscuits,
    Dogs Luv Us and We Luv Them

  12. Robin Mudge

    August 22, 2016 1:37 am

    I'm sorry that Mr. N had a difficult time in class! I think that the steps you took to make the next class better were great ideas. Having good motivators/rewards and methods of calming down are a must in a difficult learning environment.
    -Purrs from your friends at


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