How do you know you have a reactive dog and what can you do about it?

Short Bark N' Strides

What is a reactive dog? Put simply a dog that overreacts to stimuli would be seen as reactive. All dogs might bark at a stranger or a new dog, but if that behaviour is out of control and out of proportion to the situation, you might have a dog that is struggling to control its reactive behaviour.

This behaviour usually presents in a variety of ways. Some more commonly seen behaviours would be:

  • Barking
  • Tense body language
  • Hiding
  • Licking lips
  • Yawning
  • Hiding
  • Growling
  • Lunging

These behaviours can look threatening and it is certainly wise to find ways to address this behavior in your dog. Chronic reactive behaviour can be dangerous. If nothing else, walking a dog with reactive behaviour can become stressful and neither of you is really enjoying it. You will spend most of the walk dreading meeting new people or dogs and eager to get back home.

Why a dog might present as reactive can be influenced by many factors. Indeed, certain breeds are, by nature more likely to react. An article by Lindsay Pevny points out that “Chihuahuas were bred to be watch dogs – they bark to alert their owner of an intruder or visitor” They will bark at new people in the house. They are not in a state of anxiety though, they are just following their natural breed instincts.

Dogs that struggle with reactive behaviour, such as a dog that barks loudly and reacts excessively to situations are not so much aggressive or protective, as anxious and stressed. The natural reaction is to shout at the dog, pull on its lead and correct it. Often, these behaviours by owners will just further reinforce for the dog, that they need to be on alert. Their owner looks and acts stressed, so the dog might well read this as there being even more need for them to be on high alert. Before you know it, you are both in a stressed-out spiral.

Fortunately, all is not lost. With calm, confident training and treats and rewards for the correct reactions, a dog can be made to associate these previously negative triggers with something positive and usually tasty! Over time and with patience, you can help your dog become more relaxed and respond appropriately to exciting new sights, sounds, and friends.

Here are a couple of our recent and ongoing success stories:

This beauty is Coco. Great strides are being made forward regarding reactivity to certain triggers Sometimes living with a reactive dog can feel disheartening, like two steps forward, three steps back! And that’s ok, it will get better. It might never be ‘perfect’ but then, show me a dog/person that is but we love them anyway… and so we should.

Some dogs will never be entirely comfortable in every single situation. Our priority in terms of training / working with them is that they trust us to keep them safe and advocate for them. As we do for all of our other friends and family members. Coco is so lucky as she has humans who are so committed to her well-being, and so she should have, but not every dog does.

When rescuing a dog, and parts of their history unknown, we have to try and piece together the best way to help them overcome their worries. But essentially, we have to ‘work with the dog in front of us… “which is what we do… Keep up the good work Coco, and humans!

Reactive dog training Short Bark 'N' Strides

These two beauties are Jet and Bee. Their owner came to me to help improve their reactive behaviour.

“When you have a reactive dog it dictates your entire life. When you have two ! Jet wouldn’t even allow Sinead in the house at first – Bee backed her up . With her positive methods and understanding of how dogs ‘work’ they now get excited when I tell them ‘Sinead’s coming’. Jet’s now tolerating all sorts of people stroking her both in and out of the house. She’s still a tad jittery and not yet allowing Sinead to put her harness and lead on but when we look back three months, it’s amazing how far Jet’s come. I’m absolutely confident that, in time, Sinead will be able to pop that harness on and trot both the dogs out of the door. I’m also confident that, that will happen when Jet is ready and that Sinead will always treat her with kindness. So glad we have her.

If you are feeling that your dog is in need of some help, get in touch! I have experience and am fully trained by the Institute of Modern Dog Training and I have proven time and again, that I can help. I would love to help you and your canine friend enjoy your walks to the fullest!

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