A reactive dog is a dog who over-reacts to stimuli that scare or frustrate them. Usually fear is driving the behaviour and the reaction can be anything from barking and lunging to biting or even panicking.
Reactive dogs usually don’t start life like this but some are scared from day one, like my dog Bruce who were terrified of people at 8 weeks old. Most get nervous around six months when their sex-hormones kick in. A puppy’s first reaction will always be to walk away from what’s scaring them. But maybe a leash, or a well-meaning treat will keep them where they are. Soon they’ll realise walking away is not an option. So what they do instead to get some distance is start growling or barking. People will usually move away from this, so this seemingly successful behaviour is reinforced.
If you have a puppy just now that is nervous, let it walk away and get distance if scared and let them approach in their own time. This is the best way to teach your dog to become confident and secure around scary stimuli, together with some optimism training of course.
Some dogs are not scared to start with, but frustrated. They really, really, REALLY want to go and play with other dogs. However, we are all pessimistic by nature. It pays to be suspicious because it keeps you alive. So eventually those pessimistic feelings start creeping in. “Yes that dog is ok.. or is it… yeah it’s good… or maybe not” and so on. More and more your dog will land on: “no it’s not” and the feelings become more and more negative until you have a dog that is nervous of other dogs even though nothing bad has ever happened to them. The key to help frustrated dogs is to calm them down and work on self-control.
But, how about dogs that have already been reactive for a while? Step one for older dogs is stress management. Without controlling those daily stress hormones your dog will take a long, long time to learn anything new. Btw, if you want a completely free lesson in stress management click here!
Next step is a fully personalised behaviour plan that takes your dog’s strengths and weaknesses in to consideration because all dogs are unique. I wish I could tell you there is an easy 10 step plan that fixes all dogs but it’s not that easy I’m afraid. That’s why I’m here. I have helped dog mums with their reactive dog’s for over 10 years now and if you also need help, don’t hesitate to send me a message and tell me a bit more about your dog.