Causes of Reactive Dog Behavior and How to Train Accordingly - Whole Dog Journal (2022)

About 85 percent of the time, my Scottish Terrier, Dubhy (pronounced Duffy) is laid-back and phlegmatic. He methodically solves every training challenge I give him (although I don’t expect him to break any speed records on the agility course). His low-key approach to life won our hearts and earned him a permanent home after we found him running loose in a Chattanooga neighborhood in January of 2001 at the tender age of six months. Residents said he had been roaming the area for at least six weeks; a search for his owners proved fruitless. His uneventful introduction to the rest of our pack sealed his fate, and Dubhy joined the Miller family.

Thus his behavior at a Tennessee trainers’ meeting some 16 months later came as a complete shock to me. I arrived early at the Knoxville location, and was sitting on the far side of the training room when fellow trainer Claire Moxim entered with her Labrador Retriever, Pete. Dubhy knew Pete well; they had played happily together at my training center on several occasions.

Dubhy looked up as Claire and Pete entered, then went nuclear, raging and snarling at the end of his leash.

My trainer brain immediately leaped to the obvious “restraint frustration-aggression” conclusion. Here was a dog that Dubhy knew from prior positive play experiences. Dubhy was excited to see Pete, and his frustration at not being able to greet his friend was manifested in a display of aggression. Or so I thought.

“Let’s have them meet on loose leashes,” I suggested to Claire. “Once Dubhy gets to say hi to his pal, he should be okay.”

Fat chance. As Dubhy and I approached Pete on a loose leash, Dubhy did, indeed, seem to settle down. I mistook his controlled behavior for calm behavior. As we came near the big black dog, Dubhy redoubled his hostilities. When I reached down and touched my dog’s hip in an attempt to interrupt his attack, he whirled around and punctured my hand with his teeth in a classic display of redirected aggression. Yikes! Overnight, seemingly without warning, Dubhy had turned into a reactive dog.

Talkin’ ’bout excitation
“Reactive” is a term gaining popularity in dog training circles – but what is it, exactly? In her book Clinical Behavioral Medicine for Small Animals, Applied Animal Behaviorist Karen Overall, M.A., V.M.D., Ph.D., uses the term to describe animals who respond to normal stimuli with an abnormal (higher-than-normal) level of intensity. The behaviors she uses to ascertain reactivity (or arousal) are:

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• Alertness (hypervigilence)
• Restlessness (motor activity)
• Vocalization (whining, barking, howling)
• Systemic effects (vomiting, urination, defecation)
• Displacement or stereotypic behaviors (spinning, tail- or shadow-chasing)
• Changes in content or quantity of solicitous behaviors

The key to Dr. Overall’s definition is the word “abnormal.” Lots of dogs get excited when their owners come home, when they see other dogs, when a cat walks by the window, when someone knocks at the door, and so on. The reactive dog doesn’t just get excited; he spins out of control to a degree that can harm himself or others around him. In his maniacal response to the stimulus that has set him off, he is oblivious to anyone’s efforts to intercede. He goes nuclear.

Dubhy has demonstrated reactive behavior in other situations as well. Our neighbor’s black and white cat, Barney, has appointed himself Official Rat Patrol in our barn. Barney’s casual strolls outside our fence send our Scottie into a frenzy; Dubhy runs the fence line like a maniac, barking hysterically and doing stereotypic spins at each corner. When I place myself in Dubhy’s path and wave liver treats in his face I might as well be invisible; he darts around me and continues on his mission. If I let him, he would run himself into heat stroke.

Causes of reactive behavior
There is definitely a genetic component to Dubhy’s out-of-control level of excitation. If I had researched Scottish Terriers before I decided to keep him, I would have learned that this behavior is actually a desired trait for that breed (see sidebar).

The excuse is that good breeding maintains the original temperament and behaviors of purpose-bred dogs. Labrador Retrievers should be able to retrieve ducks, for example, Border Collies should be able to herd sheep, and Scotties and other terriers should display the pugnacious behavior that makes them good vermin-killers. I had heard this all my life, and was quite familiar with the terrier reputation for feistiness. I now have an intimate understanding of what that really means.

As with most behaviors, environment also plays a role in the responses of reactive dogs. With careful handling, a dog with reactive tendencies may never exhibit the abnormally intense reaction to stimuli that lies dormant in his genes. A dog who could have been a reasonably self-controlled canine in normal conditions, might be induced into reactivity if kept in a highly stimulating environment.

Had I been smarter and realized Dubhy’s propensities earlier, I might not have taken him to doggie daycare, where he experienced a heightened level of stimulation in the presence of other dogs that might have contributed to his Jekyll and Hyde reaction to Pete. He might never have been able to “play well with others,” which he did nicely for over a year, but we might also have avoided the “can’t even control himself in the presence of other dogs” behavior that I found myself dealing with in Knoxville.

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Managing reactive behavior
Even if you have a highly reactive dog, all is not lost. A reactive dog may be a challenge, but there are things you can do that will help you cope with the stress of living with a dog who tends to flip out. Let’s start with management:

1. Identify his triggers. Make a complete list of all the environmental stimuli that set off your dog’s nuclear reactions. Be specific. For Dubhy that would be: A) the neighbor’s cat flaunting himself on the other side of the fence; and B) some other dogs – mostly those who are taller than Dubhy. Since I can’t successfully predict which dogs will set Dubhy off, I assume all dogs will, and act accordingly.

2. Prevent his access to the stimuli. Change your dog’s environment so his reactive behavior isn’t frequently triggered. For example, you can block his visual access with barriers, control it with training tools, or simply move your dog to another environment when the stimulus is likely to be present.

For Dubhy that might mean: A) asking the neighbor to keep his cat home (which probably won’t happen), or erecting a solid wood privacy fence so Dubhy can’t see the cat, and B) using a head halter when I walk Dubhy in public so I can easily turn him away from other dogs, breaking the visual contact that triggers his reactive behavior.

Modifying reactive behavior
If you are particularly successful at managing your dog’s environment, that may be all you need to do. Lots of dog owners get by on management without ever retraining the dog. If, however, you’d prefer to change your dog’s behaviors in case your precautions should slip, or if you’d like to be able to relax when you take him out, you can learn to put a behavior modification program in place.

The most powerful tools you can use to reprogram your dog’s reactive responses are classical and operant conditioning. Don’t be frightened off by the technical terms; these behavior modification tools are easy to put into practice.

Say your dog is reactive to people walking their dogs past your house when she is inside, and she barks hysterically and scratches at the windows whenever she sees a dog walking past. You can manage the behavior by closing your drapes, moving the sofa to the other side of the room so she can’t jump up and see out, or putting up a baby gate to prevent her access to the front room. But if you really like having the drapes open, the sofa fits perfectly under the front window, and you enjoy your dog’s company when you are watching TV, you might be more motivated to undertake a behavior modification program to change your dog’s annoying response for the long term.

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Think of it this way: There’s a little switch in your dog’s brain that gets flipped whenever she sees a dog outside your window. She likely sees each dog-human pair as a trespassing threat. The instant one appears, her brain kicks into overdrive and she goes nuclear. This is a classically conditioned behavior. She is notthinking, “If I bark hysterically and run in circles, climb the walls and claw the curtains, something good might happen.” Her brain is screaming, “Alert! Alert! Intruders!” and her body reacts accordingly.

Of course, her behavior is reinforced by the fact that every time she does this, the intruders leave. Her canine brain doesn’t comprehend that they would’ve left anyway; she may well think she made it happen. This negative reinforcement (the dog’s behavior made a bad thing go away) only increases the likelihood that the behavior will continue, or even escalate.

This is operant conditioning. In reality, classical and operant conditioning work together all the time to mold our dogs’ behaviors. We use food to operantly condition our dogs to respond to our cues with a desired behavior. At the same time we give our dogs a very positive classical association with the whole training experience because they love food (and playing with us), so they come to love training, too.

To change your dog’s classical association with the presence of a dog walking by from negative to positive, you need to convince her brain (the automatic response part, not the thinking part) that the presence of dogs walking by makes something wonderful happen. This is called counter-conditioning.

Build an unconscious positive association
To succeed at counter-conditioning, begin by preventing your dog’s access to the windows when you are not there so she can’t practice the undesirable behavior. Plan your training sessions for a time of day when you’ll have high traffic past your window. If there is no such time, convince several of your dog-friends to leash their canine companions and – at different times – march back and forth past your window for 15 to 20 minutes. You can take them all out to dinner afterward as a reward!

Be sure your friends know they need to march out of sight in each direction before they turn around. Mark the place on the sidewalk where you want them to turn, just to be sure.

Meanwhile, back at the house, have your dog on leash, using a head halter if necessary. As soon as the marchers come into view, start feeding your dog something totally irresistible, such as tiny morsels of canned chicken. Be sure your dog has noticed the pair before you begin feeding, but don’t wait for her to work herself up into a frenzy. The instant she notices them, begin feeding her. Feed the morsels nonstop as long as the marchers are in view – treats raining from the heavens! As soon as the dog and human passersby are gone, stop feeding your dog. When they reappear and your dog notices them, start feeding her again.

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Your goal is to convince your dog that a dog walking by makes chicken happen. You will know you’re making progress when you see your dog notice the walkers and, instead of getting tense and barking, she turns to you with a smile and a “Where’s my chicken?” expression. When she realizes that chicken only happens in the presence of a dog outside the window, she’ll want them to be there, rather than wanting to chase them away.

Build a conscious positive association
When you have successfully changed your dog’s automatic or unconscious association with the stimulus, you can start using operant conditioning to teach her that the presence of the previously offensive stimulus is a cue to sit and look at you.

It’s easier than you might think; just ask her to sit when she gives you the “Where’s my chicken?” look, before you feed her a treat. Slow your rate of reinforcement (how fast you feed treats), and reward her only for the desired behavior, rather than shoveling treats nonstop.

Eventually you can fade the verbal “sit” cue; the mere appearance of a dog walking by your house will become the operant cue for your dog to sit and look at you.

All is calm
Counter-conditioning is definitely more challenging with a reactive dog than with one who responds to stimuli with a normal level of intensity. It may take you longer than it would with a “normal” dog, but it does work. Don’t give up! The more you can saturate the reactive dog’s environment with the concept of “calm,” the more successful you will be at managing and modifying her nuclear reactions.

Help your dog understand that calm behavior is universally rewarded (see “Practiced Calm,” WDJ February 2002). Keep your own interactions with her calm and cool, even when you are tempted to scream at her to startle her out of the high-intensity behavior pattern. Your own intense behaviors are more likely to elevate her energy level than tone it down.

Learn about calming massage, acupressure, and T-Touch™ techniques to help your dog relax. Research herbal, homeopathic, and flower essence remedies to see which ones might be appropriate for your dog. (You may need a holistic veterinarian to help you with this; go to the Web site of the American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association at ahvma.org for a directory of holistic vets in the United States, listed by state, to find one near you.)

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It is possible to make progress with a reactive dog. While my Scottie is not yet ready to show off his piano-playing technique at the next big dog trainer conference I attend, I am much more comfortable taking him to relatively small gatherings where other dogs might be present.

We recently helped staff a booth at a fair. Our two-hour stint was uneventful despite dozens of dogs walking by on leash – except for the bad moment when a thoughtless lady allowed her dog to run 25 feet to the end of her retractable leash and get right in Dubhy’s face. I did a quick about-turn with Dubhy to avoid disaster and a setback to his modification program, and then proceeded to explain to the lady why retractable leashes weren’t a good idea in a crowd. She was offended and indignant. I was just thrilled that Dubhy had come so far with his reactive behavior.

FAQs

What causes dog reactivity? ›

Dogs that are reactive overreact to certain stimuli or situations. Genetics, lack of socialization, insufficient training to learn self-control, a frightening experience, or a combination of these can cause reactivity, and fear is typically the driving force.

How do I fix my dogs reactive behavior? ›

6 Ways to Calm Your Reactive Dog
  1. Set Up a Routine. It's not something dog owners think of very often or are even aware of, but dogs absolutely crave routine. ...
  2. Get Essential Equipment. ...
  3. Counter Conditioning. ...
  4. Household Changes. ...
  5. Body Language. ...
  6. Sign Up for a Behavior Rehab Class.
Jan 2, 2020

Can a reactive dog be trained? ›

Dogs of any age can start training to improve their reactivity. You do need to keep in mind that the longer a behavior has been ingrained, the longer it will take to retrain the dog. Whether or not the dog will be “cured” in the sense of being completely fine in the presence of his triggers cannot be predicted.

How do I stop my dog being reactive to other dogs? ›

Stop Your Dog's Reactive Behavior On-Leash - YouTube

What are the signs of a reactive dog? ›

Symptoms of Reactive Behaviors in Dogs
  • Barking.
  • Body tense and low or forward.
  • Hiding.
  • Growling.
  • Intense stare.
  • Licking of lips or muzzle.
  • Looking away.
  • Lunging.

How do I train my dog to not be aggressive to other dogs? ›

Here are three tips that may help you stop your dog's aggression toward other dogs:
  1. Socialize Your Dog. It's essential to find a safe place where your dog can socialize with other dogs. ...
  2. Work On Barking And Growling. Barking and growling are both forms of aggression. ...
  3. Leash Training.

Does dog reactivity get better with age? ›

While many puppy habits eventually subside, reactivity unfortunately is not one of those. If you have a reactive young dog do not assume that he will eventually grow out of his reactivity. In fact the opposite is often true: Reactivity increases over time.

How do you train a reactive dog to walk? ›

If the dog has a reactive behavior, it means you moved too close too fast. Don't punish; simply turn around and calmly walk back to the beginning to start the process again. Continue to reward them when they look at you instead of at the stimulus. Reacting anxiously or punishing your dog will undo your hard work.

Why is my dog reactive to other dogs? ›

Reactive dogs are often motivated out of excitement (high-arousal), which can lead to frustration. Many times humans have unintentionally created this behavior because dogs were never taught how to be appropriately social around other dogs in an appropriate manner.

What does it mean to have a reactive dog? ›

"Reactivity" means, quite simply, that the dog reacts to another dog, a person, or an object. Essentially, something or someone triggers the dog to do things like bark, growl, and lunge — which can look like the dog is being aggressive. But that's not always the case.

How common is reactivity in dogs? ›

Reactivity is very common: our own research shows that 75% of dog owners say they have a dog that shows some signs of reactivity.

(Video) How I exercise & stimulate a reactive dog - Diary of a rescue dog pt3. Managing reactive behavior Even if you have a highly reactive dog, all is not lost.. A reactive dog may be a challenge, but there are things you can do that will help you cope with the stress of living with a dog who tends to flip out.. Since I can’t successfully predict which dogs will set Dubhy off, I assume all dogs will, and act accordingly.. For Dubhy that might mean: A) asking the neighbor to keep his cat home (which probably won’t happen), or erecting a solid wood privacy fence so Dubhy can’t see the cat, and B) using a head halter when I walk Dubhy in public so I can easily turn him away from other dogs, breaking the visual contact that triggers his reactive behavior.. Say your dog is reactive to people walking their dogs past your house when she is inside, and she barks hysterically and scratches at the windows whenever she sees a dog walking past.. But if you really like having the drapes open, the sofa fits perfectly under the front window, and you enjoy your dog’s company when you are watching TV, you might be more motivated to undertake a behavior modification program to change your dog’s annoying response for the long term.. (Video) How to socialise / train a reactive dog - Diary of a rescue dog pt 4. Think of it this way: There’s a little switch in your dog’s brain that gets flipped whenever she sees a dog outside your window.. To change your dog’s classical association with the presence of a dog walking by from negative to positive, you need to convince her brain (the automatic response part, not the thinking part) that the presence of dogs walking by makes something wonderful happen.. Our two-hour stint was uneventful despite dozens of dogs walking by on leash – except for the bad moment when a thoughtless lady allowed her dog to run 25 feet to the end of her retractable leash and get right in Dubhy’s face.

So far I’ve studied 40 books and more than a dozen DVDs from force-free trainers, some of whom live with reactive dogs and all of whom have helped inexperienced handlers change their reactive dogs’ behavior.. Blue is a good example, for once she’s off-leash on a trail or in a dog park, she plays well with other dogs.. In the training book The Midnight Dog Walkers, Annie Phenix says, “A reactive dog responds to normal events in his environment with a higher-than-normal level of intensity.. The training and rehabilitation of reactive dogs has generated dozens of books, DVDs, and other resources that help “over-the-top” dogs and their owners relax, stay calm, and enjoy life together using effective strategies, detailed instructions, and positive, force-free training methods.Aggression is usually defined as threats to harm an individual, whether human or animal, with attacks, attempted attacks, or threats of attack.. Studying your dog’s threshold is important because with every repetition, a dog’s reactive behavior becomes stronger and more established.. In Train Your Dog Like a Pro she writes, “I was amazed to find that I could identify whether the person on the screen was a trainer or not with just a one-second sample or even a freeze-frame, based strictly on whether the person was attempting to train the dog at all.”. In her video workshops and in How to Behave So Your Dog Behaves, Dr. Yin focused on “sit” as an automatic behavior equivalent to “please,” because insisting that a dog “sit for everything” helps one become a clearly communicating leader while changing the dog’s perspective.. In When Pigs Fly: Training Success with Impossible Dogs , Jane Killion calls automatic attention the mother of all behaviors and one of the first things we should teach our dogs.. Have many tiny treats ready in one hand and shovel them into your dog, one at a time, until he is looking at you and there is a constant stream of treats going into his mouth.” Before you run out of treats, put the food away, walk away from your dog, and ignore him for a few minutes.. When a dog jumps on people, his rewards may include attention, physical contact, shouts of alarm, or an opportunity to run and chase, so the recommended response is to stand still, turn your back, look away, and ignore the dog’s jumping.. In Better Together: The Collected Wisdom of Modern Dog Trainers, Ken Ramirez observes, “The most impressive changes have occurred with dogs that have had a lengthy break from exposure to triggers combined with lots of fun and advanced training as part of a stable program.” When advanced training is not part of the equation, he says, most of the dogs he has worked with continue to have challenges.

Although any dog can develop reactivity due to developmental, environmental and medical reasons, some dogs, such as terrier and shepherding breeds, are more likely to develop reactive behaviors.. Many reactive dogs may be managed through training and behavioral conditioning, however, some dogs may need additional help such as anti-anxiety or antidepressant medications to control their actions and reach their full potential.. Most reactive dogs can become somewhat calmer and happier animals with training, although in some cases, medications may also be recommended.. There are several behaviors that might clue you in that your dog is feeling anxious or may be in a reactive state.. In some cases, these dogs are reactive to all other canines, in others, they may be reactive to a specific category of dog, such as dogs with long hair as opposed to short, or even small dogs as opposed to large.. Leash reactivity is the most commonplace of the types of reactivity, and can be quite troubling for both you and your dog.. Triggers that may trigger reactive behaviors in dogs are typically a combination of nature and nurture.. Developmental factors - When abuse and traumatic events occur during a puppy’s developmental phase or if proper socialization did not occur early in life, this can cause a dog to become more fearful Environmental factors - When raised in either an overly sheltered environment or if exposed to an environment of violence may trigger fear and reactivity in canines; in some situations, these factors may lead to the development of anxiety disorders or PTSD, which can increase the chances of a reactive episode Genetic predisposition - Certain dogs or breeds of dog have a slight predisposition to developing a reactive personality; terrier breeds tend to be reactive towards other dogs, and shepherding breeds are naturally more reactive to motion, particularly forward motion Physical disorders - Some physical disorders, particularly those that cause chronic pain, can elicit reactive behaviors, and disorders that affect the thyroid may cause your dog to be more anxious, increasing the chance of reactivity. When visiting your veterinarian regarding behavioral issues such as reactivity, information will be collected for a complete behavioral history.. Facts about the circumstances prior to reactive episodes will be very helpful in diagnosing any underlying conditions, as will information regarding your dog’s behavior after the incident is over.. It is crucial not to scold or punish a dog for its reactive behaviors.. Scolding your dog for behaviors that are motivated by fear generally tends to enforce their feelings and increase the chances that fearful behavior will develop into more aggressive reactions.. A commonly utilized training method to treat fear and reactivity is known as desensitization, a method in which treats and praise are used in conjunction with the presence of the object of fear to cause the feared object to become a more positive and familiar presence and thereby reducing any reactivity related to it.. The way that canines metabolize medications can be very different from the way that a human metabolizes the medication and dosages can vary based on your dog’s specific response to the medication.

A reactive dog is usually a fearful dog.. Any reactive dog can be pushed into aggression, which is why a reactive dog needs to be taken seriously.. Some dogs are reactive to these stimuli in all situations, while others might only be reactive in certain contexts.. Other dogs might be more likely to show reactive behavior in congested or crowded spaces, or when out walking at night.. Remember that your dog does not have to be friends with all people or every dog.. In this regard, they treat their dogs more like people by respecting a dog’s personal space.. Feed them treats while the scary thing passes by or as you move by it.. Enlist the help of a friend to make sure that you are in control of the situation.. For example, if your dog reacts to other dogs, ask a friend with a calm dog to walk across the street from where you and your dog are working, while you use treats to refocus and reward your dog's attention.. It is important to make a plan to continuously work with your dog and make triggers less scary by helping associate them with a rewarding treat (or toy or praise).

While it is true that humans have a large amount of influence in the way dogs are shaped and change throughout their lives, there are also factors that can come into play outside of human control, both within the lifetime of the dog and before they are born or even conceived.. The quality of care of the mother dog and her puppies is very relevant to how nervous those puppies may grow up to be, and this relevance begins before the puppy is even born.. A well socialised dog that finds themselves put into isolation, such as a dog put into a kennel situation and left there for a period of time with little or no social stimulation, can ‘lose’ the effects of socialisation that has occurred before.. While the stereotypical lunge and bark reactive behaviours are more obvious to see and are the first confirmation to many that their dog is having a problem, by the time these reactive displays have begun the adolescent dog has moved well along the path towards significant social problems and difficulties that could affect their entire adult lives.. A dog who cannot (by human standards) live comfortably and appropriately in this anthropocentric world of people, dogs, animals, vehicles, and so on will have an existence full of anxiety and fear, particularly if their attempts to communicate what they are feeling result in punishment.. Just one occurrence can, in some dogs, lead to a fear and/or anxiety that the same thing might happen again when they encounter another dog.. This is one of the reasons that the first step in dealing with problematic behaviours, particularly if the behaviour has changed very quickly or recently, is a full check-up from the dog’s veterinary surgeon, to ensure no injuries or conditions are present that may be causing pain to explain the behaviour.. Dogs with GAD may require anxiety medications from their veterinary surgeon to break the cycle of anxiety before being able to work on the dog’s reaction to any triggers identified.. This is not something that any behaviour modification can be effective on but, in an ageing dog displaying a sudden behaviour change, is something that the dog’s veterinary surgeon may consider.. The greatest factor in predisposition to thyroid disease is genetics, as the majority of cases result from a condition called autoimmune thyroiditis, in which the dog’s immune system destroys the dog’s own thyroid gland.. Hypothyroidism is a serious condition and a dog diagnosed with it will most likely need regular medication throughout their lives to regulate thyroid hormone production and keep the dog’s body functioning properly.

What causes reactivity in dogs?. What is reactivity and what causes it?. For some dogs, it is lunging and barking; for others, it may be whining, pacing, panting, or even hard staring.. The canine temperament is greatly affected by genetics, but it is also shaped by observation.. Overarousal can very quickly turn into aggressive behavior if not interrupted and redirected when given preliminary signs.. Management alone will not be a powerful enough tool to assist with rehabilitating a reactive dog.. Training must be coupled with management in order to be the most effective.. It is a long road to rehabilitation, and it should never be attempted alone.

Maybe you’re frustrated or embarrassed by your dog’s meltdowns when deliveries come, or sad or even scared by your dog’s barking and lunging at neighborhood dogs.. Michael Shikashio, a certified behavior consultant who specializes in aggressive dogs, says, “I don’t differentiate between reactivity and aggression; they’re one and the same.. Certified behavior consultant Pat Miller says, “Fear-related aggression is by far the most common presentation of aggression I see in my behavior practice.” If you believe your dog might be aggressive, it’s critical to seek professional help as soon as possible.. If your dog is triggered by strangers, other dogs or outside critters, walk your dog in less busy areas at less busy times, and when critters are less active.. Pat says, “We don’t want to give our dog opportunities to practice the aggressive behavior … the more opportunities the dog has to practice the behavior, the more challenging it becomes to modify that behavior, so the longer the human waits, the greater the challenge.” Pat says to reduce stress and minimize as many stressors as possible, not just the immediate trigger.. To keep your dog from getting too aroused in the presence of a trigger (like another dog), she learns to calmly look at (engage) and look away from (disengage) the trigger instead of reacting.. If your dog doesn’t look at you and stays focused on the trigger or reacts, either go back to Step 1 and/or increase the distance between your dog and the trigger and start again.

That’s just another day living with a reactive dog.. Whether it’s waiting for the elevator doors to open, walking down a tight hallway, or turning around a corner and being confronted by another person and their dog, living with a reactive dog is optional.. But if you decide to live with them, you have to be proactive in addressing your dog’s reactivity.. Once you incorporate those two things into a dog’s life, the next step is to look at how the dog behaves now that it has a concept of what is allowed and what is not allowed.. The first couple of weeks can be hit or miss with behavior – sometimes there’s less reactivity, other times there’s no reactivity but then a big step back or multiple flare-ups later down the line and sometimes there’s no change, which is OK. All of this information is helpful to me and I simply tweak my approach once I get feedback from the dog and the owner.. The remaining percentage of what dogs react to is over-excited dogs, other reactive dogs, or surprise run-ins with dogs.. These are harder simply because – for many of them – you can’t work in a controlled setting with other reactive dogs nor can you plan ahead to have your elevator doors open and there be a dog sitting right there at the threshold.. These reactive behaviors tend to be the last to go, but as the dog becomes more disciplined and we address the moments as they happen, they too, go away.. When a dog goes into reactive mode while being handled by me, I simply address the behavior and keep on moving.. This is a lifelong commitment; the day you begin to slip back into a comfort zone , your dog’s reactivity will come back.

Some people with reactive dogs end up resorting to extremes, such as walking at one or two in the morning in order to avoid whatever it is that triggers the reactive behaviour.. The presence of another person can have a calming effect on both you and your dog.. You will often feel more confident and able to cope if someone else is with you (provided it's a calm and sensible person), while walking with the dog in-between the two of you can be reassuring to him in situations which make him anxious.. If something does trigger him, it's easy to behave reactively yourself, shouting at him and pulling on the lead, reinforcing his behaviour and maybe making it worse.. Doing some breathing exercises can have a calming effect, and you can continue doing them while walking.. Do some TTouches instead to help release tension and stress, so that he sets out on his walk feeling mellow and relaxed rather than already in a high state of arousal.. Although teaching your dog how to cope with things he's scared of is likely to form an important part of remedial work, it needs to be done gradually, introducing the triggers very carefully in controlled conditions with the help of an experienced behavioural trainer.. This may mean finding somewhere different or quieter to walk until you've been able to do some work with your trainer or behaviourist, as it's important that your dog still gets enough exercise; a lack of it can increase undesirable behaviours and increase frustration.. Remember though, that even if muzzled, a big dog can still inflict a lot of damage on smaller ones, so never allow your dog off-lead if you can't guarantee his manners around other dogs.. Using two points of attachment on the harness makes it easier for you to contain your dog and control his body if he lunges forward.. Product Promotion The award-winning Dogmatic Headcollar – gives you back control

Left untreated however, reactivity can lead to aggression.. If left untreated, even the mildest reaction may evolve into a full display of lunging, snarling and barking.. Sometimes, the frustration of being on a leash will also lead to such behaviors.. With repetitions, the frustration can turn to reactivity or aggression.. Treating emotional reactions takes time as we’re literally working on creating new neural connections.. For any treatment to be successful, it’s important to make changes in the dog’s environment so we can limit and control the dog’s exposure to the trigger (person or dog).. Once you feel that you can effectively keep your dog on a loose leash, have taught to dog to pay better attention to you and feel in control, it’s time to work on the treatment protocol.. During the entire process, for best results, it’s important to stay as calm as possible so the dog can also stay calm.. Many times the problem has been exacerbated by our own reaction of pulling on the leash and yelling in an attempt to regain control of the situation.. You’ll want to find a place where you stay sub-threshold, in other words, where the dog can see the people or dogs, but can still respond to the simple cues you have taught him/her and stay relatively calm.. There are also times where the best we could do is manage the situation the best we can, limiting the dog’s exposure to whatever may trigger a reaction.. 11 Pings/Trackbacks for "Reactivity and Aggression in dogs – Managing and Treating"

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