“Find it” for Reactive Dogs Part 3: Adding “Triggers”

fearful dogs reactive dogs Oct 05, 2020
Golden Tight Leash Sniffing

Over the last 2 weeks, we’ve shown you how to build a strong “Find it!” behavior for reactive dogs at home, and then how to move your training out of the yard and into the real world.  This week, we tackle the big topic of how to train “Find it!” around your reactive dog’s “triggers” (whatever your dog usually lunge or barks at, or tries to flee from.)  


In this training, you’ll teach your reactive dog to “Find it!” (sniff for treats) when they see other dogs, skateboarders, etc., rather than bark or lunge. Any time you train an alternative behavior to replace a problem behavior, getting your dog to perform the new behavior in problem contexts is the hardest part.  

Before you dive in to “Find it!” Part 3, review these common reactive dog training mistakes.  If you find yourself thinking, “It’s not working!”, one or more of these is likely the culprit:
1) Short-changing the early training steps.  If your reactive dog doesn’t reliably respond to the “Find it!” cue in the back yard, they won’t be able to get it right when there’s another dog coming at them.  Make sure your dog is REALLY good at Parts 1 and 2 of “Find it!” before trying to use it around your dog’s “triggers.”  

2) Asking for too much, too fast. You’ll see in this week’s video that we recommend introducing “triggers” into your “Find it!” training very conservatively.  You’ll start in your back yard, or in your house, with a gate or door open so that your reactive dog can see the street- but stays in the safety of the house or yard.  If you run into a surprise “trigger” around a corner on a walk, that’s not the time to try “Find it!”.  (Use “Let’s go!” instead.) 

3) Giving up too soon.  Learning a new skill rarely happens in a perfectly straight upward trajectory. Set-backs or bad days are common in reactive dog training. When you have a bad day with your dog, step back, give yourself a break to de-stress, then re-group.  Does something need to change with your training? Were the incidents avoidable?  (Hint: Most incidents ARE avoidable, but not all. You can’t control everything!) 

As we’ve mentioned previously, we prefer to train “Find it” in the context of our Scentwork classes for fearful and reactive dogs. If you decide to teach this behavior on your own, start with Part 1 and Part 2, then check out this week’s video, Part 3 of the “Find it!” series.


If you enjoy this training, or have questions about it, you’re invited to join our free Fearful and Reactive Dog Support Community on Facebook. We’d love to hear how your training is going!


If you're looking for a structured plan for training your reactive dog, plus one-on-one guidance, check out our self-paced online class, the Reactive Dog Survival Guide.