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Active vs Reactive Dogs

When teaching a dog new commands, it is important to understand the different phases that they will naturally go through when learning. Dogs learning a new command can be divided into two different categories, active dogs and reactive dogs.

The reactive dog phase is not to be confused with leash or dog reactivity, which is an issue that many dog owners struggle with daily. These phases are natural for a dog to go through in their training and often many owners struggle to get their dog to be an active dog rather than a reactive dog.

So, what are the differences between these two phases?

“A dog who is reactive is typically in the starting phases of training. “

A dog who is reactive is typically in the starting phases of training. These dogs tend to only listen to the commands of an owner when a reward has been presented and made known to them. This is often the case when owners exclaim “my dog only listens to me when I have a treat in my hand”.

The term reactive is used to describe this behavior because the dog is displaying a behavior as a reaction to the presence of the reward. An active dog on the other hand is a dog who listens to the owner’s commands even when a treat is not made visible to them at the time that a command is given.

The term active is given to describe this behavior as the dog is actively trying to make a reward appear by displaying favorable behaviors even when they do not see its physical presence.

There are many advantages to having an active dog rather than a reactive dog. There will most likely come a time in every owner and dog’s lifetime when you do not have a reward readily available to give to your dog, yet you need them to obey your commands in that moment so that they do not do something dangerous like run into a road with busy traffic.

“One of the most common reasons why dogs are still in the reactive phase is because they were trained using the lure method of dog training and the lure was never properly phased out. “

A reactive dog will be more reliable in an emergency when you need your dog to pay attention because they do not need to see the reward in order to do the command that is asked of them. So why are some dogs in the active phase of learning while others are still in the reactive phase of learning?

One of the most common reasons why dogs are still in the reactive phase is because they were trained using the lure method of dog training and the lure was never properly phased out. This is common for many household dogs as the family members all enjoy teaching the basic commands of sit down and stay but never really progresses to the next level.

Many owners are unaware of how to properly fade a lure over time and they continue to get the dog to follow the command by utilizing the assistance of the lure.

When utilizing a lure method, it is important that you begin fading the lure as soon as the dog begins to understand the command.

Dogs that are trained utilizing a traditional method of training (placing the dog into a sit and then rewarding) tend to become active dogs faster than dogs that are taught using the lure method and then phasing the lure out of the command.

“Owners who utilize this training method can skip the steps of fading the lure as they never relied upon a lure in the first place.”

This is due in part that the reward is never shown to the dog while they are learning the command until the command is done correctly. Utilizing this method can be used to create an active dog faster as they never became reliant on seeing the reward before exhibiting the desired behavior. Owners who utilize this training method can skip the steps of fading the lure as they never relied upon a lure in the first place.

Although having your dog obey commands without having to show them a treat in your hand comes in handy, there is a much greater advantage to having a dog that is active rather than reactive.

Dogs that are active tend to have a better relationship with their owners, they are listening to the words that the owner says and paying attention to what the owner wants.

The active dog knows and understands that the behavior they display will create the reward. A reactive dog on the other hand could be uninterested in what the owner has to say unless a reward is presented to them.

The reactive dog is essentially being bribed with the promise of a reward to obey the commands of the owner, they have little interest to please the owner and are mainly concerned with getting their reward. Compared to the active dog on the other hand who displays a level of trust in the owner that if they present the desirable behaviors then they will be rewarded accordingly.

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