Do you have a reactive dog? Is walking your dog hell for you? Here’s why he acts like this – and what you can do about it.
Do You Have a Reactive Dog?
Does your dog start lunging, pulling you into roads, barking and growling the moment he spots another dog? Have you reached the point where you don’t want to take him for a walk anymore? Are you already just sitting at home with him – hoping he doesn’t see another dog walk past your window? Is your otherwise quite lovable furry friend’s reactivity so far out of control that you cannot cope anymore – and are considering parting ways with him?
If you are living this nightmare, you are by no means alone. Every year, thousands of dogs are abandoned to rescues and all too often even put down due to their aggressive behaviour. The sad truth is, in most cases, the dog is not aggressive. He is AFRAID.
There is, however, good news: fearful dogs can be cured. Whether your dog is afraid of other dogs or humans, it is an issue that can be resolved. Combining appropriate training with behaviour modification will allow you and your dog to experience the freedom and joy of pleasant walks together.
Causes of Your Dog’s Reactivity
Before we can start resolving this issue, it is important to understand the causes of your dog’s reactivity.
The first step is to rule out any chronic pain or illness. Like humans, some dogs can suffer from diseases, arthritis and aching joints, especially when they get older. If your four-legged friend is an older dog who has only recently started getting reactive (to humans or other dogs), your first move should be a trip to the vet’s.
Older dogs’ joint pain and arthritis is usually manageable, and with the correct treatment, you may well find that your dog’s behaviour will go back to normal without extra help.
Once medical concerns are ruled out, there is a myriad of potential reasons for your dog’s reactivity. Typically, however, it is a case of your dog feeling threatened. Snarling and barking at anything that scares him is his way of telling that frightening thing (human or canine): “Back off – and don’t come any closer!”
Support, Not Punishment
Doling out punishments when your dog displays signs of fear through reacting to other canines or even humans is the worst thing you could possibly do. He needs support, not punishment, so aim to give him the support he needs by effectively preventing him from practising his reactive behaviour.
Plan, for example, to exercise your furry companion at a less busy time of the day, or in a quieter, less crowded place. If the mere sight of another dog coming towards him is a trigger of stress, turn & walk away – your dog won’t be scared if he cannot see the thing that frightens him.
Your dog will sense if you get stressed and anxious. Most owners of reactive dogs will tense the leash immediately and/or pull their dogs towards them at the first sight of a potential trigger. Doing this before your dog even has the slightest chance to react will, however, only reaffirm his fears. Should you be concerned that you may be unable to properly control your pet on a regular leash, a no-pull harness may be worth its investment.
Top Tips for Walking a Reactive Dog
Relax, no need to panic! Gripping the leash like your and your dog’s lives depend on it and shouting will only make matters worse. Going for walks should be enjoyable for both of you.
Engage your dog – give him something other than that thing that scares him to think about. Play mini touch or watch training games with regular treats & praise for his good behaviour.
Keep things interesting for both of you by changing your route. If the two of you have been walking the same route for weeks, months or years, your dog is likely to be as bored as you. He needs new smells and sights to keep him occupied and interested.
Have more fun! Change your walking pace – slow down, speed up, slow down again… Weave around trees and lamp posts, walk in circles or figures of “8” – your dog will be far less worried if you, his human, are fun to be with.
Know the limits. Sometimes, it is best to turn around and walk away or go another way if you spot a dog you know your four-legged companion cannot cope with coming towards you. If he could, he would probably give you a huge thank-you-hug for it!
Still Need help with Your Reactive Dog?
Living with a dog that is reactive is both frustrating and, making you feel like an outcast even within your own neighbourhood, socially isolating. As a qualified, experienced dog behaviourist and trainer, I can help resolve common issues like reactivity within just two comprehensive training sessions. Give me a call to start improving the relationship between you and your dog today.