“Reactive towards relaxed”

Around 1 in 4 dogs sadly suffer from on lead reactivity.

They are often worried by off lead dogs, people or cars. Reactivity is a special interest area for me, so much so that my MSc research thesis is on this very subject. There is no quick fix for reactivity and takes time and commitment to help our dogs overcome their worries and help us both enjoy our walks more. The ‘reactive to relaxed’ package is a step by step approach tailored to your individual dog.

Included in the package are:

  • 5 x 1-2-1 training sessions over 3 months.
  • The ‘reactive to relaxed’ workbook, including worksheets and further information.
  • Whatsapp support for the duration of your package, to ask quick questions, get quick tips and share successes.
    • The cost – £245

    Additional sessions, if they are required, in all packages are £45.

What is reactivity?

‘Reactivity’ is abit of a blanket term for dogs who struggle when they are on the lead (although some struggle off lead as well). It is sadly very common with around 1 in 4 dogs displaying some form of reactivity.

I very often get calls and emails from owners asking for help with their ‘aggressive’ dog, and to be fair, they often do look aggressive, barking, lunging and growling on the end of the lead. More often than not though this isn’t the case, the barking and lunging are very much a cry for help, to get them out of the situation. And we often do, although not in the way we might imagine.

Let’s use the postman as an analogy, the postman is going about his daily job, walking up your path, delivering letters and then going on his way. Our dogs on the other side of the door see a ‘scary’ thing approaching and start shouting to let everyone know, and to tell him to go away. Lo and behold the postman does just that! – In his mind the dog has made it happen.

Our dogs learn by what is reinforced, so in the postman analogy he is being reinforced by ‘making’ the postman going away. It worked this time so he does it again and again and again. It is often the reason that reactivity doesn’t get better on its own.

If we now think about when our dogs are out and about, we usually pop a lead on them and ask them to walk towards other dogs and people. If left to their own devices dogs won’t walk head long towards another dog, they will arch round them at a comfortable distance while they suss out whether the other dog is friendly. In putting a lead on them and asking them to walk with us in a straight line we have to some extent taken away their natural choices. If our dogs can’t ‘escape’ (commonly known as flight), they tend to opt for the other end of the scale which is reacting (commonly known as ‘fight’). If another owner of person sees a snarling mess on the end of a lead they will naturally move away and hey presto the dog has got what he desired, a little space. In his mind though he has again scared the scary thing away.

Our dogs are very perceptive to what is happening at our end of the lead as well. If you have a reactive dog what do you do when you see another dog approaching ? A lot of us inadvertently tighten the lead or, take a sharp intake of breath, our dogs pick up on these subtle hints that there is something approaching and can start the process before they have even seen the dog themselves – have a look next time you are out and see whether their body language changes.

We don’t always know why dogs end up reactive on lead, for some it may be that they have had an unpleasant encounter while on lead while others may be naturally a little anxious but it can become abit of a vicious circle. As owners with dogs who are reactive we become reluctant to let them off lead as we are unsure what they may do to other dogs, in turn our dogs can become more frustrated and react more leaving us even less inclined to let them off.

Life would be so much easier if we could just sit them down and have a chat and tell them we aren’t going to let anything bad happen to them, because we can’t do this we work with them to try to help them feel a little safer about the world around them. By teaching them to focus on us instead of the ‘scary’ thing we can help them move past other dogs without feeling the need to tell them to go away. We can also work to change how they feel about other dogs (usually using something really tasty).

It takes time though (often quite a long time), we are undoing what can be years of ingrained behaviour. There is sadly no quick fix to reactivity (despite what some may say, if we want reliable, long lasting results we have to do it slowly and carefully), but with consistency, understanding and perseverance we can help our best friends feel better.

If we start to think of them not as aggressive dogs but as worried dogs it can help us change the way we work with them.