Important Tips for Owners and Friends of Reactive Dogs
By Jayde Davey M.ISAP CTDI
The owners and people in these dogs’ lives have to learn to deal with their dog’s reactivity, learn to read their dog’s body language, help come up with a training plan to combat the reactivity and also cope with hundreds of potential triggers when out walking.
Briefly, there could be many reasons why a dog starts to exhibit signs of reactivity. Many people assume that it is the owner’s fault that the dog is acting the way that it is. In fact, there are many reasons; the dog could have been attacked previously by other dogs, under socialised, been mistreated or attacked by previous owners, even gone through a trauma or scary situation that is now triggered by certain stimulus. However this article is not about the causes of a dog’s reactions but more how the people observing can affect the owner’s attitude and even the dog’s training.
Owning a reactive dog can be frustrating. Dogs, similar to us, can have good and bad days. Suddenly now, when you are out walking you are considering every possible scenario and every possible escape route.
- “What if another dog comes around that corner?”
- “Is that lady and her dog walking this way?”
You are constantly trying to look for places that you can move to if greeted with the offending stimulus to keep your dog calm and under threshold.
Yes, when your dog reacts you feel embarrassed, frustrated, anxious, and concerned for your dog. This feeling however is not made any better when people assume that you are in the wrong, or have no control of your dog. A lot of people maybe don’t understand that a dog may be reacting in such a way because they are scared or nervous and not because they are just ‘badly behaved’.
Something that causes Reactive Dog Owners to become anxious is off lead dogs. This is not so much of a problem if the off lead dog has good recall BUT in many experiences that I have heard about this is usually not the case. A dog rushing over to a reactive one can set back weeks of hard work and training. The dreaded words “he is friendly!!” shouted from an owner that is being left far behind by an ever fast approaching dog is nearly every Reactive Dog Owner’s worst nightmare.
Many a times I have been scrolling through several Dog groups on Social Media and read about owners in tears because they have had a horrendous walk with their dog because of an off lead dog. What makes the situation worse is the comments made in this situation, “your dog shouldn’t be allowed out in public” “well if your dog bites mine it will teach him a lesson for rushing over to you both” (yes, this is sometimes actually said!) and even a greeting of swearing and abuse if you ask for an owner to put his dog on lead.
I am a dog walker and so have been responsible for walking many different dog breeds, some being reactive and some not. There are several things you can do to help if you see another dog reacting, give both the dog and owner space, it is likely the dog is reacting because he feels that you are too close, by approaching a dog at this point his reaction is only going to get worse. The same can be said for your dog, ensure your dog is kept away and put your dog on lead if you see another owner do the same. If you have to walk past a reactive dog then don’t look at or speak to the dog and walk past as calmly as possible, keeping your dog on the side furthest away from the reactive dog.