Living with a reactive dog is not easy. Reactive dog outbursts are awkward, embarrassing and quite stressful for everyone involved. If a barking dog at the end of the leash is a daily grind for you, read on and learn positive change.
One thing we must remember is the actual meaning of the word, reactive. Reactivity by the sheer definition means that the dog is reacting, rather than randomly acting. This means that the dog has ended up in a position that he can’t cope with, that he believes he can’t leave, so has no other choice to react, for his safety. This means we must take responsibility for most of the occasions that our dogs react.
So, let’s consider how we can do better.
Reactive Dog - Take Responsibility
Taking responsibility simply means saying to yourself, this isn’t working and I need to make some changes to how I operate to help my dog. If you go on the same daily walk and your dog always launches into a barking tirade, whilst you try to get past the trigger then it’s time for a rethink.
Dogs are not reactive because they are being naughty, nasty, dominant or anything else. Dogs are reactive because they are in a position that they can’t leave, so are left with no other choice. Reactive, remember!
Have Some Chill Time
Reactivity is on a scale, because dogs are individuals. If your dog is stressed a lot, highly strung and highly reactive you can be sure his body is suffering. Cortisone affects everything from the heart to the immune system and if your dog can never relax, you may need professional help, start with the vet. If your dog is only reactive to things on walks, take some chill time. Have a couple of days off and play at home, use some enrichment techniques and allow his stress levels to drop. Then take the next step.
Change Your Plans
The first trick is to make walks more pleasant for you and your dog. If this means getting up earlier, or driving to a quieter walking area do that. It won’t be forever as improvements usually happen quickly when the dog’s confidence grows. The idea is to lower your dog’s need to react by taking away anything that triggers it. In my experience, open areas are much better than paths, as paths leave the dog struggling with an approach of trigger, on fields or the beach you can simply increase the distance without that obvious U turn.
When you do go for walks remember this: It is absolutely your responsibility to spot triggers before your dog does. When you get into the habit of noticing everything, you can adapt to prevent your dog feeling scared or threatened. Increasing the distance between you and the worrying trigger will decrease the stress reaction in your dog. So, retrain your mind so you can retrain your dog’s.
Reactive Dog Removal
If you do encounter a trigger, don’t be afraid to turn around and walk away. It doesn’t matter what strangers think, it matters that your dog feels safe. The more often you increase the distance between your dog and the scary thing, the better your dog will cope. As he learns to cope, a dog will naturally be able to get closer to the trigger, without reacting, but he may need time and patience.
Recognise His Bubble Size
Reactive dogs have safety bubbles and when something gets too close to the edge of your dog’s safety bubble he will react. Explore an entire blog on bubbles here, it will help you to understand the topic better.
Common behaviour changes happen way before the reactive outburst occurs. Lip licking, total focus or tension of the body can be easy to miss but they mean that the dog’s stress level is rising. Any behaviour change signifies a chemical change. Again, be Hawkeye but this time aim those sharp eyes at your dog. If his behaviour starts to change for the worse, get him out of there quick.
The reactive dog is a little too sensitive for the world he is presently in, he’s only doing what comes naturally, usually rooted in fear. Applying the tips above will help you to reduce your dog’s need to react, they will take a while to take effect, but persevere and they will.