The notion of a ‘reactive’ dog has become more and more common, with varying degrees of understanding and knowledge about a) what is a reactive dog b) how to deal with it.
In the time that I have been training dogs, there has been many methods come and go and phases in how we approach and train dogs.
Along with these trends, we have concepts and phrases that have been born from these.
The most common phrase I hear when teaching all over the world, is the word ‘reactive’. I am constantly engaging with ‘reactive’ dogs, and being asked to assist with those that have issues of reactivity.
What I am seeing more and more, is a lack of understanding of what it is and how to deal with it.
In this short series, I am going to discuss the most common causes of ‘reactivity’…. what it 'REALLY’ is and how we can resolve it.
By definition, reactive means to ‘show a response to a stimulus’, so in essence all of us and our dogs are ‘reactive’. I have previously written a blog discussing ‘labelling’ your dogs, and the label ‘reactive’ seems to be used more and more.
Years ago we didn’t have ‘reactive’ dogs…. we had dogs that were ‘aggressive’, ’scared’, ‘not friendly’, ‘naughty dogs’, ‘dominant dogs’…. the list goes on. But the terms were probably fair more descriptive, whether they were an accurate assessment was another issue…. But what they did, was give some indication of what the dog was likely to do.
However, it appears that we have become fear of calling a spade a spade, and possibly a little political correctness influencing our use of certain words….
So the term ‘reactive’ has become a generic term for anything from over enthusiasm to fear…. Without clear indication as to the specifics.
When someone ‘labels’ their dog ‘reactive’ it gives me little indication of to the specific problem, and therefore how to help them. I always urged people to call it as it is, and be ok with that. No shame, no judgement, just acknowledgement and awareness. Your dog having a reaction to something that has caused them fear, worry, excitement or apprehension is ok….its a dog being a dog. It doesn’t mean that this is a permanent state of existence. It doesn't make you or them, bad. Its not about blame.
Is the dog ‘reactive’ because it is over enthusiastic, the issue and approach to resolution would be greatly different to the dog that is fearful and defensive.
However the outcome of the dogs behaviour can often be whittled down to the same issue, the owner/handler feeling helpless and out of control.
This can develop into an anxiety transmitted down the lead, which can further endorse the feeling of helplessness and being out of control. And before you know it, the small inappropriate response to a dog sticking their nose where it's not wanted, with a completely appropriate doggy response of 'F'off, thats rude!', develops into a life changing cycle and downward spiral.
So why are dogs 'reactive'?
Here are the most common reasons why we see reactive dogs.
Over the next 5 days I will explain each one and possible solutions to each variation.
For now, consider re-labelling your 'reactive' dog… the first step to moving forward is acknowledgement and acceptance. Its ok, and if it isn't… it will be.