Dog agility training is beneficial to reactive dogs for several reasons. Here is what I have learned from introducing a variety of fearful and reactive dogs to the sport of dog agility over the past several years.
Agility builds the dog’s confidence with strange objects. Most reactive behavior is based in fear, and fearful dogs are often unsure of certain inanimate objects, not just dogs or people. Reactive dog agility classes carefully expose these dogs to objects that are tall, noisy, unstable, and generally just different from what the dog typically sees at home.
My recovering reactive dog, Finch, has blossomed thanks to agility training. Specifically, he really enjoys climbing on things. Right now the table is his favorite obstacle. When we go out on walks, I watch for things that are safe for Finch to use as tables, such as large rocks, hay bales, and picnic tables. From these vantage points, he seems to be more confident, and incorporating them into our training sessions keeps him happy and relaxed.
Agility gives reactive dogs an enjoyable task to focus on instead of scanning the environment for things to bark at. The dog’s triggers fall by the wayside while they are engaged in agility, which aids the desensitization process.
A Safe Form of Exercise
Dog agility also provides a safe way of providing exercise and mental stimulation, whether it’s a class specifically for reactive dogs or done in the backyard or even a large room. Neighborhood walks can be challenging for reactive dogs, because a trigger can pop up at any time. Some of my students complain of pedestrians or off-leash dogs harassing their dogs.
We are always seeking constructive ways to enrich reactive dogs’ lives, and agility is a great way to do that.
Finding Agility Training for Reactive Dogs
Most dog agility trainers do not offer reactive dog agility training. More importantly, many dog agility trainers are not qualified to work with reactive dogs, particularly dogs with a history of aggression toward humans. It is incredibly important to find an instructor who understands the unique challenges of working with a reactive dog.
If you’re not local to our dog agility training in Smithfield, Rhode Island, I recommend looking for an agility instructor who has a history of working with behavior cases, not just teaching dog sports or basic manners.
Also, look for an instructor who offers private training lessons, as most reactive dogs are not appropriate for group training classes. Beginner agility classes can be a bit unpredictable, with owners taking their dogs off-leash too soon and putting a bit too much trust in their dog’s recall!
Whatever you decide to do, just make sure that you are setting your dog up for a successful learning experience. Happy training!