“Her behavior is so embarrassing!”
“I’m worried my dog will hurt someone.”
“My neighbors avoid us when we’re outside.”
“He’s so sweet at home, but when we’re out around other people and dogs, he becomes CUJO!”
“This isn’t my sweet puppy! What happened???”
Do these words sound familiar? Some canine behaviors are confusing for us. We know the dog is not in danger. Why can’t our dog understand that?
Reactivity can be a difficult behavior for most people to handle. It happens for various reasons such as fear and anxiety or over-arousal and frustration. The bad news is reactivity is very common! The good news is that reactivity is a behavior that can be helped with the right training.
What does reactivity look like? Your dog may bark, pull, lunge, growl, air snap and/or hide behind you.
When does reactivity happen? Usually on walks or outside around other people and/or dogs, sometimes through a barrier such as a window or fence.
What causes reactivity? Reactivity can happen if your dog is fearful or over-excited. A barrier is usually involved. Barriers are things such as leashes, fences, windows (including car windows) and doors that stop a dog from performing natural dog behaviors that they feel they should perform in order to keep themselves safe. A leash, for example, is a terrific tool invented by humans, not by dogs. Dogs often don’t understand why they need to be held back or why they can’t do what they want to do. This can lead to frustration and when the frustration builds, hackles will raise and barking and lunging become the norm. This behavior doesn’t neccessarily mean that the dog is aggressive, but it can sure look like it. Hang in there! We can help!
What can we teach instead? Typically, we teach your dog to check in with you when there is something in the area that makes them uncomfortable. This could vary, because every dog is an individual, but having the ability to check in with the owner helps the dog have a behavior we prefer while helping him be comfortable. These skills can help both you and your dog feel more confident and prepared for situations that might have previously caused reactive behavior.
Does your dog raise her hackles and growl when:
- A person or dog comes close to her dinner bowl?
- A person or dog comes close to her toys or special treats like bones?
- You aske her to move off of the bed or couch?
- When other people, including family, come close to you?
If so, your dog may be guarding something important to them. We call this resource guarding. This is a very common behavior in dogs from many, many years ago when dogs needed resources to survive. It’s an intrinsic behavior that makes perfect sense to the dog, even though it does not to us.
When training for resource guarding, we will work to help change the way your dog feels about the situation where she reacts. While not as easy as teaching sit or down, it’s a behavior that is often helped quite well with training.
Are you afraid your dog is going to bite? Or perhaps this has already happened? This can be a very emotional and stressful time for pet parents. The dog that you love has become scary and you worry for yourself and others.