When I talk about reactive dogs I’m also talking aggression. Most aggression is born out of fear, fear of losing a resource, whether that be: space, food, owner, toy. They are guarding what they need and what they want, who needs It more? Who wants it more? Who is desperate enough to display the ultimate behaviour of fight.Your dog needs you, not a whole host of non family members. Be there for him through thick and thin and he will trust, respect and love you.
Many dogs out there are all mouth and no action, the problem is that if we let the mouthy ones carry on reacting like that, one day they will bite. There is only so much stress they will and can take.
We need to get dogs to look to us in times of stress and to do this we need to build on the relationship between owner and dog, we need dogs to trust the owners to be there to do the right thing at the right time.
This is done firstly by having a calm dog when you begin anything, so it is not driven by adrenaline and logged off you. We need to get his front brain in gear so he can think and learn, rather than the hind brain which is the reactionary and non thinking part.
On a walk, if your dog is following a line logging on your speed and direction, not looking to you, he is logged off you. You are unimportant at that time. What is important to him is everything else around, whether it is out of curiosity or anxiety. If we teach your dog to defer to you in times of doubt, then he is asking the question, are you ok with this and are you going to help out and take the right course of action to make me feel comfortable with the situation.
This takes time and patience and work needs to be done is a stress free environment to begin with, where learning can take place. Who is making decisions at home for cuddles for any inter-action. If it is your dog then he is only doing right by you outside. You’ve followed his lead, he says jump e.g give me a cuddle! And you say how high!. Movement is a very powerful tool and if he can create yours then you’re on the downward slope and you are deferring to him.
Many dogs are reactive on lead and not off lead, this is because they can make the decision to get out of there or meet another dog on their terms. Eye contact to a dog means confrontation. They meet in a polite doggy way, side on, circling, bottom and ear sniffing. Primates like us meet face on and unfortunately we expect our dogs to do the same. It is all about eye contact , if we want to engage with anyone we get their eye contact and if we do not then we turn our glances away.
Dogs can be reactive to anything that they don’t understand or can’t cope with, but we have to capacity to way up the way up the situation in a calm manner if we know what we are doing, and answer the dogs questions with a positive action. Asking a dog to sit in-front of his nemesis is like me asking you to sit in front of a dinosaur and not to worry, when all you want to do is get out of there. How much trust would be gained if I did that to you. It is the get used to it scenario, well reactive dogs won’t get used to it and neither will many other dogs, they will just think I’m a numpty! And the behaviour will worsen or they will shut down.
There is a two way conversation going on between owner and dog, listen and you will hear, watch and you will see. Sit stay and heel is all important in our world with dogs, but I’ve never seen another dog ask another to do any of those, they live by rules and boundaries of subtle and sometimes unsubtle body language, in a group of wild dogs, village dogs out in Turkey, they respect each other they get along just fine until humans intervene. They know their ways and their customs. They have simple rules and guidelines they adhere to, to get what they need in life, security and food.
People will say, but my dog just wants to play with everyone he loves dogs and people. In actual face he is trying to gain ground, he is in a panic, he’s rude and above all is not thinking about you as he pulls your arm out of its socket! When you are out and about on your own or with your family, do you approach strangers like this? No I’m sure you don’t, so why is it acceptable for the dog to do this. Natural living dogs in the wild will do this to others encroaching on their patch, their patch where they feel safe and where they get food, they do not do this with each other, they are their own family. So remember any dog you see out there or human for that matter, in a dogs mind is in their safety zone and their larder.
If you have over used treats and given all strangers treats to give your dog, then your dog is now demanding to be fed by everyone he passes. Food rewards are used intermittently for a job well done and only given by the owner, the giver of a resource of survival.
Common quotes from owners I’ve spoken with over the years;
Q ) “My dog is aggressive over food, so I always make a point of removing it a few times when feeding, he has got worse and is now biting me!”
A) If you give you give, just imagine if you gave a child a lolly and then took it way. I know how I’d react if you game me a bar of chocolate then removed it as I was about to take another bite! You are playing with fire, you are playing with survival instincts. Leave your dog to enjoy his meal and when he walks away from it, then pick up the bowl in safety, whether he has finished the meal or not.
Q) “My dog is only grumpy on lead to dogs; he is fine running round the park etc and meeting other dogs”.
A) As I’ve written above, the dog is unable to communicate in the way he feels comfortable and able to make his own decisions about should he stay or should he go. On a lead he is tethered to his owner who in the dogs mind is not making the correct decision for him.
Q)“My dog is unpredictable; he only wants to kill some dogs”
A) Do you like everyone you meet? Do you have to like everyone you meet? We put huge expectations on to our dogs, like get along with everyone…It is just not possible. Choose your friends wisely and choose your dogs friends wisely, watch and listen to him when he says he’s not comfortable. Do not force friendship.
Q)“He is playing nicely with another dog, then turns and out of the blue will pin the other dog down”
A) Play is how’s belongs here, who’s ground is it. Unless of course it is gentle thinking play. Over the top play is a discussion and fuelled with adrenaline can get out of hand in an instant. Be mindful of interactions. At a child’s party we will play sleeping lions to chill them all down having pumped them with blue smarties! Or if things are getting rather over the top, remove your dog and calm him. No speech no eye contact and hold him maybe even walk him away and block his view so this is more possible.
Q)“He only nips”
A) A nip is a bite and will turn in to a bigger bite is left unaddressed. Nips hurt and you’ll end up in court as easily as you would with a big bite.
Q)“Only hates men” “only hates women” “only hates children” “only hates bitches” Hates male dogs” “Hates everything”
A) All dogs have different personalities, all dogs with in specific breeds and litters will have different personalities. Very Fearful dogs may not want to be around anyone one. If you have a rescue, you do not know for sure the back ground and all the baggage the dog is carrying under the skin. We have to be mindful that when they are ready and when you have put the work in we can turn most of them round, some issues are so deep seated that we can at best manage the situation so the dog does not feel pressured.
Why should dogs be exposed to everyone stroking them, getting in their personal space..we don’t so don’t expect your dog to, just because he is furry and gorgeous he doesn’t want it or need it. Many dogs I see out and about being stroked by strangers are enduring the experience, we are so lucky dogs put up with so many of our human expectations and are not more readily bitten.
Copyright Caroline Spencer Owner PURE Dog Listener Ltd