In the wake of the pandemic, I have seen more reactive dogs than ever before. Dogs that were either never socialized or properly exposed to the world and the people and animals in it. Reactive dogs currently make up a large portion of my client base. And I am here to tell you, there is a way through it.
Did you know that the most common reason a dog is reactive is fear? Fear can rear it's ugly head in many different ways. It can look like the nervous dog who spooks at every noise and hides behind it's owner. But it can also look like the dog who is lunging and barking at the end of the leash who, for all purposes, looks like it wants to eat you or your dog. Usually that is not what they actually want. The reality is the dog is afraid and wants space. Somewhere along the line it has learned that putting on a big scary show does exactly that. Keeps people away. So they continue doing it, because dogs do what works. Now when your dog behaves this way, what do you do? You pull back on the leash. And what does that signal to the dog? That there is a reason to be afraid. You see, what people do not understand is that by pulling back on the leash they are actually driving the dog forward, feeding into it's emtional state. Stop. There is a better way.
How many dog owners are able to recognize anxiety and stress in their dog? Surprisingly not very many. The signs are there, they many be subtle or very obvious. Anxiety can show up in so many ways. From repetitive licking, panting when there is no obvious reason like previous exercise or hot temperatures. Pacing, yawning (dogs do not yawn when they are tired), lip licking and tongue flicks, wall eye, ears back, slow stiff tail wags. There are so many more. Did you know that many dogs who jump up at people, specifically people outside their household, are jumping out of anxiety and a need to create space and keep people from bending down over them to pet them? Just because a dog allows you to pet it does not mean that it enjoys it. For this reason I often never touch my nervous and reactive client dogs. Or really any of them unless they are asking for affection and their body language supports this request. You see often dogs learn that they are expected to allow people to pet them and get into their space but they are not always comfortable with it. It is important to know what your dogs body language is saying to prevent an unwanted situation.
If any of this sounds familiar to you, please reach out to a qualified trainer to seek help and learn how to help your dog. A dog who is fearful and anxious does not need to stay that way. There are many techniques that can help improve the quality and comfort of your dogs life.