Keeping track of your dog’s reactivity

When you have a reactive dog and are trying to make things better, it can sometime be hard to know if it’s working or not. Our emotions tend to take over when our dog reacts. If there’s one thing we’re bad at when we’re upset, it’s being objective. This is where keeping a log can help.

What’s a reactivity log?

The idea is quite simple: a place where you take notes of your dog’s reactions. Over time, doing this allows you to evaluate if things are improving, stable or getting worse. With this information, it’ll be much easier to determine where to orient your management and training efforts. It’s also much easier to see that things are actually getting better when you have it written down on paper

It goes without saying that the note taking happens once you’re back home, not while your dog is freaking out.

Depending on what your dog reacts to, you’ll want to note different things down:

Too much information isn’t much more useful than too little. You’ll want to focus on the information that matters: the things that affect how your dog reacts.

Things always worth noting:

  • How intense the reaction was:

Relative to your dog’s normal reactions when it is exposed to a trigger, how did it react? Was the reaction relatively tame, normal or extreme? For some dogs, extreme is barking loudly while growling. For some, it’s charging, baring teeth and attempting to bite. Write down the worst reaction you’ve seen and have that as the “intense” reaction guideline.

  • What was the exact trigger?
    • For dogs that react to strangers, that could be the gender, how they were acting, if they tried to say hi, what they were wearing, etc.
    • For dogs that react to dogs, we’d notes the size, breed, color and level of excitement of the dog.
    • For dogs that react to sounds: what the noise was, where it came from and how loud it was.
    • For dogs that react to other things, you’ll want to use the same idea: specific details about what made your dog go over the line!

  • How many reactions did you get in a day?

Big or small, the number of times your dog reacts is a big indicator of whether or not you need to make changes to your training or management plan. It’s important to remember that dogs, much like us, have good and bad days. Don’t panic and change everything after just a few bad days, unless it’s blatantly obvious that a certain situation isn’t helping.

  • How easy was it to get your dog out of the situation?

This can either by just calming your dog down after it hears a scary noise, or getting it to stop paying attention to a trigger during a walk. Did you have to repeat your commands or, even worse, drag your dog away?

  • How long did it take for your dog to cool down?

Some dogs cool back down almost immediately. Some don’t. Did your dog keep looking for the trigger several seconds after it had disappeared, before going back to its regular activities? Did that reaction just mess up your entire walk? How long was your dog “on edge” after that event?

Information that can also be relevant:

Depending on your dog’s specific issues, you’ll sometimes want to note where the reaction occurred, the time of day, whether it was dark or not, or any other factor that might have been involved (forgot medication, it was raining, physical pain, who was walking the dog, etc.)

What do I do with this information?

That entirely depends on what the log is showing you: if things are trending upwards, don’t change anything! If you spot a specific situation that keeps making your dog react, see how you can avoid it. If things are getting worse and you don’t know why or how to stop it, check in with your trainer to see what can be done! Your trainer will also be pretty happy to have access to the information you wrote down in the log, it usually makes our job much easier.

The goal of this tool is to help you see patterns (good or bad) that you might miss when you’re actively taking care of your dog.

Remember that this tool is only effective when it is used consistently. Patterns that repeat week after week are the ones we want to spot. Changing things after just one bad day can sometimes be detrimental in the long term. You should also be working with a trainer that understands reactivity and have a specific plan in place for the log to be really useful.

What should my reactivity log look like?

Whatever you want, really! As long as you’re able to keep track of the information listed above and have it set up so that it’s easy to take notes when you have to, it’ll do! You can do so in a notebook, on a sheet of paper, on an excel sheet, whatever makes you most comfortable.

We did, however, make one for you! This PDF can be filled on your computer or printed and placed on your fridge. It has room for up to 6 reactions per day and a nifty little formula that takes all the important factors into account to give a “reaction grade” out of 5, which will help you see how things are going long term.

At the end of the week, you can simply note the number of reactions and the average grade somewhere and start a new sheet!

Click below to download our reactivity log!

Here’s an example of how one would use the log:

Remember that this tool is best used while following a training plan specific to your own dog. Don’t have one? Get in touch and we’ll help with that!

written by Stephen Fiset, dog trainer

Mis à jour le January 1, 2024