Reactivity a Response in Misguided Dog Training
I like a calm dog, especially when they are inside the house and I am living with them 24/7.
I have a new puppy at my house, and my intention with him is to compete to a very high level in dog sports, so I am encouraging more “high drive” behavior than I have in my current dogs and dogs of the past.
But… I still don’t want a “REACTIVE” dog.
I want to ultimately be in control of how my dog acts and when they do or don’t get excited or over excited.
So let’s define reactive so that we can be on the same page as far as how this applies to your dog.
Reactive: as defined by Merriam-Webster online is being readily responsive to a stimulus; and occurring as a result of stress or emotional upset.
Being “Reactive” is different than being “Proactive”.
Being reactive means you wait until the stimulus is present to react to it and being proactive means that you are in control.
So of course I like being proactive when it comes to my dog training and even my dog’s health. I don’t want to wait until my dog gets heartworm, I want to be proactive and use medication that will keep that from happening.
The same is true with my dog training, I like being proactive and giving my dog the skills he needs to feel in control and also that will help him not be reactive or stressed in situations.
But sometimes we inadvertently encourage reactive behaviors from our dogs.
The Most Common Way to Create a Reactive Dog: Is on Leash with Other Dogs
Although this is certainly not the only way, this is usually typical of how it starts…
- While on a walk the dog owner sees another dog and owner approaching.
- The dog owner immediately reaches down and reels the dog in and makes the leash tight.
- At this time or right after the dog notices the other dog.
- The owner continues to pull back on the leash.
- One or both dogs may bark
- The owner may also pop the dog with the leash, give a “leash correction” or drag the dog away.
- Usually some kind of command is given in a stressed or shouting voice.
- And, this continues until the other dog and owner have passed.
This whole set of circumstances is unpleasant for your dog; and most often your dog does not even understand why you acted the way you did. In his mind; he just wanted to go and visit the other dog.
He doesn’t understand why you seemed stressed or panicked.
But dogs like to be proactive and be problem solvers, so he figures the next time he sees a dog he will take care and scare it away.
His reaction will be to become defensive, to bark, hackle, snarl or otherwise scare away whatever is bothering him or that he thinks is bothering you.
His reaction is to make distance in between the perceived threat and the trigger until it is below his threshold and he can deal with it.
Even If You Are Not Leash Correcting…
Even if you are not correcting your dog with the leash or causing pain associated with whatever the stimulus is; the tight leash and strange behavior has a nagging effect on your dog.
Imagine every time I see a Ford I poke you hard and annoying, and poke you and poke you until it’s gone, I may act nervous or scared or slightly aggressive and it gets worse with each sighting.
Poke, poke, poke, poke, poke… well you get the idea
Let’s say one of us is non-verbal so we can’t speak to each other about what is happening.
Pretty soon, you are going to get nervous when you see a Ford.
You may turn around and go the other way or yell at the person who is about to get into the Ford to keep it from moving… you may even try to block my view of Fords or stop taking me places where they might be, but chances are you will find some way to avoid Fords.
It makes the sighting unpleasant at best.
Would you not be scanning the streets looking for Fords, wouldn’t it make you reactive??
This is How Your Dog Feels…
When you get nervous and pull on the leash, or pop the leash or poke him (yes I have seen people poke and tap their dogs and even smack them with leashes).
It’s like this constant nagging that gets equated with the stimulus making the event irritating and even worse the next time.
So How Do You Keep Your Dog From Becoming Reactive?
Don’t panic in times of stress. Even tension on the leash or a change in your breathing is enough for your dog to take pause and start re-evaluating a situation.
Remember dogs are sensitive animals and are much better at reading us than we are at reading them!
I don’t care if it is another dog, a kid, or a guy with a jack hammer; be confident that you can handle the situation.
AND, if you can’t work at home on dog obedience and basics until you feel like you have control.
Then start adding small distractions that you can control or manipulate until you are confident and your dog is listening.
I always have a game plan.
I know what I am going to do if I see a 200 pound Mastiff running at us, a criminal, or a Chihuahua.
And, I always have what I need for rewards to keep my dog interested.
Know your dog’s motivators! For more on that click here
And, keep them with you! That doesn’t mean that your 5 year old dog has to be baited and fed throughout your walk (more on misusing treats here), but it does mean that I have an edge if something happens and I need to keep my dog’s focus.
I have the ability to take charge and reward my dog for good behavior.
Let’s face it most dogs aren’t motived by just praise and affection. I wish they were… but dogs have needs and desires too!
So if I see a Chihuahua off leash, threatening to eat my dog, I know what I am going to do.
I am going to ask for attention (for more on that click here for how to teach eye contact and focus) and I am going to get her ball out. Her ball is her favorite thing and we have done enough obedience training at home and even at dogs parks (for more on that here) that she knows if she ignores the little dog she will be rewarded with a game of ball!
The leash doesn’t need to get tight, I don’t need to panic. I don’t need to curse or yell at her and give her weird commands. I simply ask for a behavior we have trained for and we prance past.
This even rewards her when other dogs come rushing and barking at her.
Instead of horror and anticipation and stress, when she sees an aggressive dog or any distraction she equates it with something positive… it is an opportunity for a game of ball or a great treat.
This gives me marvelous control and keeps her from being reactive!
She can trust me and I can trust her because we have built the foundation to great dog training obedience!
I have been a professional dog trainer and pet sitter for over 20 years. I am a Certified Professional Dog Trainer, through the international Certification Counsel of Professional Dog Trainers. I have trained and worked with police, Schutzhund and personal protection dogs. I trained Assistance Dogs in a men’s prison and ran my own nonprofit organization to take adult dogs from shelters and to train them to assist children and adults with disabilities, at no charge to my clients. My nonprofit organization and I were nominated for several awards of merit and even made the front page of the Denver Post. I was a veterinary technician for many years, where I learned about all aspects of health and preventative medicine. I have trained and worked with exotic animals and cheetahs. I introduced a temperament testing program in my local shelter and sat on the board of directors. I volunteered with my dog “Mr. Snitch” and helped local children learn to read. I have attained obedience titles and several blue ribbons. I am constantly in search of ways to continue my education and excellence when it comes to animals, their behavior and their health.