Recently after one of our many big snowstorms, I was out walking my coonhound mix and she started barking at a snowman…seriously. Now I knew when I took her in a year and a half ago that she was reactive, but I honestly didn’t realize the magnitude of it. She would bark at other dogs, people, balloons, lawn decorations, anything that would move unexpectedly and, apparently, snowmen. So when this month’s blog came around I realized that there are many people who have a reactive dog and don’t understand why their dog behaves this way, let alone what to do about it. So I decided to continue my Following Your Instincts series with some pointers on reactive dogs.
Dealing with this behavior can be very emotional, both for you and your dog. You worry if your dog will end up hurting someone. You find yourself becoming self-conscious about the looks people give you. The look that says, “Can’t you control your dog?” or “Have you ever heard of training?”. You know what a sweetheart your dog is at home and you just wish everyone could see your dog the way you do. Well, I am here to say that I understand, and I have felt the hopelessness you feel; I have also made it through to the other side. My cattle dog mix used to be reactive, and I eventually got her to the point where I was able to bring her with me to the pet store where I used to work. I think it is important to understand what is going on with your dog on an instinctual level. This can help you relate to your pooch and ease some of your stress.
In general, these dogs are shy and/ or fearful dogs and they bark and lunge because of that fear. This may not seem to be the case when these dogs look confident enough to fight off a grizzly bear, but in reality that is what they are doing. All animals have a fight or flight instinct. Unfortunately, for a leashed dog the “flight” option is not actionable, so they must go to “fight. Of course, they may not have any intention of fighting; if they just look tough and vicious, then what is scaring them might go away and pick a fight somewhere else. If this happens to your dog, then he learns that this tactic works, and continues to employ it.That’s why you should follow these steps:
Keep in mind that there can be many different reasons for dog reactivity, and you should get professional help. The training process for working with a reactive dog can be long and tedious, but the steps mentioned above are good starting points for this process.
Let us know if there is anything cute or funny your dog reacts to, like their reflection in the mirror (or even a snowman)!