Friday, August 31, 2012
The reactive dog
The reactive dog. Many of you will have never heard the term, it is one commonly used in the training world to describe a dog triggered to overreact to particular stimulus. Some breeds tend to be reactive, often it is just one dog out of a litter but it can most definitely get worse by numbers if you breed reactive dogs. Reaction is a common behavior associated with an action. A reactive dog displays behaviors that are not desirable to one or more stimulus. Over the top type behaviors.
I had a reactive dog; Luke. He was at the low end of reactive and my first. He was not like the many highly reactive dogs that I have met and worked with. Luke taught me more in the twelve years that we have spent together than any of my dogs or client dogs that I've worked with. Luke's reactive behaviors were triggered by many things and the more I learned the easier I could spot a trigger. I am always talking about action/reaction in dogs so the term reactive itself does not really explain the scenario very well. Hyper-reactive would be a better term I think because that explains it without a huge explanation following.
A hyper-reactive dog reacts to stimulus with over the top behaviors. For example; you are walking down the street and spot a dog coming the other way; your dog barks and jumps around a bit and then you carry on. A hyper-reactive dog spots the other dog and is immediately in a frenzy. The reaction starts much further away than a typical dog reacting as well. Not all reactive dogs act aggressively, they can display many different behaviors from fear, over excited, aggressive or others. Like I always say, they are all different; so too are the hyper-reactive dogs.
Some of Luke's obvious reactive responses were when someone would appear as if from no where. He had an extremely high startle reaction, mostly barking and lunging. He became CUJO in poodle clothing at the veterinarians to keep everyone away from him. He over reacted to a direct approach from a stranger whether we were on a walk or he was in a car. Typically a hyper-reactive dog is highly alert, nothing goes unnoticed so you could say that they are intensely aware dogs.
Having had a reactive dog I am much more aware myself of other reactive dogs. Reactivity requires patience, calm, chill and above all work. It will not go away by itself, it will get worse if you do not address the situation. Luke was highly exposed, taken everywhere and introduced to a great deal of things. The work with a reactive dog begins with the owner, it is essential to get a grip so to speak. Hyper reactive dogs can send the average dog owner into a state of panic at the mere sight of a trigger. Many hyper-reactive dog owner feels very alone, not knowing what to do they feel as though they have failed their dog. They may feel like their dream of the perfect dog/owner scenario has passed them by. Their life is nothing like what they had imagined it might be like to have a dog.
There is hope; of course as vastly different as each dog is there is just as much difference in success rates. It all rides on an owners dedication and the degree of reactivity. Luke slowly overcame his over reactive responses as he was positively introduced on how to behave around his triggers. With age has come a great sense of calm; mostly because he has had so many life experiences and so much feedback. He is now the perfect boy (of course) and I never worry about anyone or dog approaching him in a polite manner. There are still moments of leash aggression which is a common behavior with many dogs and has nothing to do with the hyper-reactive boy of the past.
Did the fact that Luke came to me at 12 weeks of age have anything to do with it? Perhaps. He basically lived in a yard with his brothers and sisters. Much socializing time was wasted; but not all dogs will become hyper reactive by the same situation. Luke was very much an over exuberant puppy when I met him at 7 weeks of age. Perhaps the 5 weeks in the yard simply pushed him into the negative reaction instead of positive. No matter the reason I had a hyper-reactive dog to deal with. I would not change one second of the experience for anything. I have never met such an amazing dog as Luke and I would have never learned as much as I have over the years of living with him.
Is it a challenge, living with a hyper reactive dog? Most definitely, but you will be amazed at what you will learn during the life you will share. Once you become knowledgeable about hyper-reactivity and learn how to deal, you are going to soar.
Posted by Sherri at 6:57 AM