Reactive dogs, we all know one. The one who hates it when company comes over. The one who snarls at children and other dogs. The one who has lived in the local humane society for far too long. Maybe you adopted one! While your reactive dog may never be thrilled to meet new people or try new things, there’s things you can do to help them cope with unnerving situations. First, you have to understand why they’re reactive.
It’s important to realize that the term ‘reactive’ doesn’t always mean aggressive. Instead, it’s when a dog has an abnormal or over-the-top reaction to certain situations that trigger the amygdala, the part of the brain that controls the ‘fight or flight’ response. Reactivity can certainly include aggression but also stems into extreme hyperactivity, resource guarding and inability to be controlled.
How’d They Get Like That?
The argument about nature and nurture applies to dogs just like it does to humans. Some breeds are seen as inherently bad, while some people blame it on how they’re raised or trained. In either case, understanding where your dog’s reactions stem from is the first step to making them feel more comfortable. So, why is your dog reactive?
Just like humans, dogs may not act like themselves when they’re frightened. Dogs who are easily startled are likely to showcase reactive tendencies. They’ll do their best to distance themselves from the frightening object by barking, growling or in some cases, charging the object in attempts to make the object flee! It’s worth a try, but the stapler isn’t going anywhere, Fido.
What Do I Do Now?
So, you’ve probably started to narrow down why your dog is reactive and what they’re reactive towards. How do you fix it? Not every tactic will work for every dog, but there’s some good places to start!
Watch your dog closely. When are they reacting poorly? Is it a time of the day? With certain people? At certain places? The more you can learn about your dog’s reactive tendencies, the more effective you will be at curbing those behaviors. While it may be embarrassing or frustrating to let these behaviors continue, it’s important to not move forward until you’ve got a good sense of what’s bothering your pooch.
Expose Them to Their Fears – Slowly
The more your dog is exposed to their fear, the less they will fear it. Giving them positive interactions with the objects or situations that they fear can ease their reactions and down the road, not trigger the ‘fight or flight’ response. The most important part of exposing your dog to their fears is to do it slowly and consistently. If your dog is frightened easily by noise, you wouldn’t start by banging pots and pans together! It’s the same concept no matter what your dog reacts to. It’s important to remember that when you’re introducing them to their fears, you shouldn’t ever put yourself, your dog, or others in harm’s way.
Reactive dogs just need help getting onto the right track. Seeking help from a professional trainer or veterinarian is always encouraged – you don’t have to go it alone! You love your dog. You know they have good intentions, even if they bug out over silly things! The more you work with them the more your reactive dog will start to feel at ease.