My Dog Is Reactive, Now What?
You’re walking out of your apartment and you approach the elevator. You press the button and you feel the anxiety start to build up as you hold your dog’s leash tightly. Subconsciously pulling up, anticipating an explosion. The elevator bell rings, the doors open and like clockwork, your dog begins lunging, barking, biting and snapping its teeth.
Just another day living with a reactive dog.
This is a common occurrence for many of my clients in the city of Chicago. This scenario creates an unhealthy feeling of anxiety whenever they take their dog out. 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.
Yes, you read that right. Optional.
You don’t have to live with the dog you have and all you have to do is choose not to. After you’ve made your decision, the next step is being proactive in addressing your dog’s reactivity.
What does it mean to be proactive in addressing your dog’s reactivity?
No more crossing the street.
No more trying to body block or cover your dog’s eyes.
No more going out at weird hours so you don’t run into anyone.
Being proactive means facing your dog’s behavior issues head-on, as well as the stress and anxiety it brings, you can stop that behavior today. All you need are the right tools and the discipline to follow through. The follow through is imperative to your success with addressing your dog’s behavior issues. It is also the hardest part as there is follow through following every single step from making the decision to finding someone to help to pushing through uncomfortable moments during explosions to being consistent till the very end.
What do I do after I’ve decided to address my dog’s reactivity?
The next step after you’ve made your decision is to set out and find someone who can help you achieve your goals. This entails doing your research. Don’t just go to Google, type in “reactive dog training,” click the first link, and run with it. Actually sit down and research your area’s dog trainers, their methods, and whether or not they can actually help you get to your end goal. Remember, many people say they can help, but can they actually do so?
FREE TIP HERE: If they only use positive reinforcement methods, WALK AWAY. In my experience, I’ve never seen food only methods work with any type of behavior case. I get ex-food only clients all the time and it just doesn’t work.
What can I expect when dealing with my dog’s reactivity?
When dealing with reactivity, 95% of the time the cause is lack of structure and discipline. Once we incorporate that into the dog’s life the next step is, how does the dog behave now that it has a concept of what is allowed and not allowed? First couple of weeks can be hit or miss with behavior. Sometimes there’s less reactivity, other times there’s no reactivity with a big step back or multiple flare ups down the line, sometimes there’s no change, and that’s ok. All of this is information to me and I simply tweak my approach once I get feedback from the dog and the owner.
Generally, the first type of reactivity that goes away is reactivity towards humans. Reactivity towards calm dogs at a distance then in passing tends to follow and the last bit is the hardest. The remaining percentage of what most 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 tend to be the last to go, but as the dog gets more discipline in its head and we address the moments as they happen, they too, go away.
Once you’ve had your first class (hopefully it brought considerable change) it’s easy to get caught up in the success that you think your dog won’t have any more flare ups. Unfortunately, that’s rarely the case. I’m anticipating that there will be a few explosions during the rehab period and I’m not bothered by it. This is actually where the real work is done.
Will you be able to stop every moment of reactivity?
No, not in the beginning but that’s normal. Even I cannot always stop reactivity completely the first day. But I know I will get it to stop at some point. I’m not worried about how soon am I going to fix it, only that I will. The key component is confidence. When a dog goes into reactivity while being handled by me, I simply address the behavior and keep on moving. I don’t sulk in the fact that the dog had a bad moment again. I look at it as another opportunity for me to teach the dog what not to do.
Getting stuck in the disappointment can hold many people back because they begin to lose confidence, and their body language shows it. They begin to think it’s a hopeless endeavor and give up, and that’s exactly why they cannot overcome their dog’s behavior issues.
Not everyday is going to be perfect. There will be good and bad days, just like with everything else. When starting out, the bad will outnumber the good, but you will begin to see the reversal at some point and the good will begin to outnumber the bad. Before you know it, the days of reactivity will be a thing of the past.
When do I stop working on my dog’s reactivity?
This is a lifelong commitment. The day you begin to slip back into a comfort zone, your dog’s reactivity will come back. Your dog is an animal that is in constant communication with you and once it begins to see that there’s leniency, there’s a possibility that they’ll revert back to their old ways.
It’s like having a child. At no point does your role as their parent stop until the day you die. It’s the same thing for dogs. You are their leader from the moment you bring them into your home to the moment they pass.
Until next time.