This word keeps coming up in my conversations with reactive dog owners.
They want this problem fixed. They want their dog fixed. If this part of their dog was fixed then life would be great.
I am here to tell you that it isn’t that simple.
Most of the cases I am referring to are dogs who have been demonstrating extreme reactivity for a long time. You know, barking, screaming, lunging, at the first sight of another dog. And tend to have ‘big feelings’ about many other things. Their reactivity, merely a single symptom mixed into a whole mess of behaviors that need addressing.
Think of a road map, drawn all over by a toddler, the jumbled spirals of crayon and printed lines being your dog's emotions, needs, and behaviors. Looking at that map, it is not easy for anyone to tell you how to get across town. Where to start, whether to take a right or a left.
But, you asked for it, so here is a basic recipe for how to fix your reactive dog.
Start by listening.
What does your dog like right now? Do more of that. Then start on your journey of balancing out your behavioral wellness, your observing, your listening. Are there other symptoms of stress or anxiety in their daily life? Counter surfing? Household destruction? Itching, whining, GI sensitivities? Do they have any underlying health concerns? Ear infections? Dry skin? If yes, address them seriously.
Make a plan and dive in.
If you want to see an improvement in your reactive dog, you have to find ways to let them do some self-care. Even if it means putting a muzzle on them and having them go over threshold in the parking lot on the way to the trailhead. Even if it means walking them in the rain. Even if it means changing their diet and allowing them to chew raw bones on your floor. They need to be given the opportunity to do dog things. To move. To scavenge. To hunt. To make choices. Even if it out of the norm of how you have lived with dogs up until this point.
Become an observer.
Start watching them, notice things about their body. Get out your binoculars and notice the lip lick, the shake off, the ear twitch. Most importantly, watch to see what comes next. Avoidance? Distance? Lunging? Vocalizing? Ask them questions about how they feel. Can you eat food here? Can you respond to a cue there? Develop a system to assess if they are okay.
Focus on recovery.
Traditional methods of reactive dog training typically rely on getting distance from the trigger during/after a reactive response. But what comes after the response is just as important as what comes before. We don’t typically have a training plan for what happens after a reaction other than, move away, restart set-up. Instead, we need to take the time to soothe the dog, ask them if they are okay, practice coping strategies to help them recover and successfully returning to training.
***Here is where I insert my shameless plug for my online program!***
Real Life Reactivity is going to share information that you won't find in your local Reactive Rover class. It is going to walk you through living with, training, and supporting your reactive dog.
Logistics: class is going to run for six months, each week you get a blog and an assignment. Each month you get a coaching call with me to answer all your specific questions. Every day you get access to a supportive community of peers who are also working their reactive dog through the same material.
Topics: We are going to work on behavioral wellness, observing and human skills, management, behavioral modification, and recovery/soothing protocols. My goal is for your communication to be wide open, and for your map to be void of red crayon.
If you want to see how I am helping my current online and in-person clients improve their dog's ability to handle triggers, strengthening their coping skills, and reuniting handlers and dogs to the real word then register for Real Life Reactivity by following THIS LINK.
And as always, happy training.