A Big Issue: Why Is Dog Reactivity Becoming So Common?

A Big Issue: Why Is Dog Reactivity Becoming So Common?

“I just want to be able to enjoy a walk with my dog!”

That is the exclamation of an owner of a dog reactive dog and something that I hear all the time while consulting with dog owners.

I understand how it feels to own such a dog. I have had dogs like this myself.

Owning a reactive dog can feel very stressful. It’s frustrating because you know that your dog is a good dog at home. It’s embarrassing because you feel like people are judging you for having a nasty dog lunging and barking at their dog on a walk. It’s emotionally challenging just to take your dog for a walk.

You may have tried advice from well meaning friends, colleagues and even trainers and still not found a solution.

You have probably tried countless tools and tricks like distracting your dog with food, putting your dog on a harness, or using a head halter or a check chain. Still you have likely continued to struggle.

Related Guide*: Dog Reactivity: 7 Skills Your Dog Should Know

* In this free guide,  you can read an outline of the type of program that I use with reactive and aggressive dogs.

But the question still remains – WHY is reactivity so common today and even seems to be on the rise?

Usually to get a reactive dog you need one or more of these factors to be at play:

  • Genetics – the dog is hard wired to react to other dogs and has done it since puppy-hood or often since adolescence. Good socialisation and training can often overcome this, but not always.
  • A negative experience – the dog has had a bad experience with another dog/s in the past and it has since changed it’s behaviour towards other dogs
  • The way the dog has been raised – the dog feels privileged or confused about it’s place in the world and feels the need to defend it’s space and resources, the owner likely being one of them

On top of this, there’s the problem of of confusion and despair over HOW to actually fix the dog.

Why Is Dog Reactivity Such A Widespread Issue?

Here’s two of the big reasons I believe that this issue is so prevalent…

  1. People are treating their dogs like furry children and spoiling them aka ruining them. Dog or child, nothing positive results from being an entitled, spoilt brat. Dogs should need rules and boundaries. Which leads me to issue number two…
  2. People are afraid to say NO to their dogs

I have literally seen people holding onto a leash for dear life while their dog nearly pulls them over on their hind legs lunging and barking or screaming at another dog and the person (no doubt feeling quite helpless) has tried to get the dog’s attention by calling their name and begging them to stop.

Or people that are frantically waving a treat at their dog to try and get their attention back.

But any chance of getting the dog’s attention has gone out the window long before that point.

Yet, even though the dog is risking the lives of the owner, themselves and the other dog, the owner is afraid to punish the dog in case they cause the dog any discomfort or pain.

Let’s talk about something else that is uncomfortable and painful for a moment: euthanasia.

Dogs are being killed by the thousands DAILY because of this issue and other behavioural issues like it. Dogs in shelters often can’t find homes because they have this exact issue. And dogs are being surrendered to shelters or taken for a one way trip to the vet by their owners, even at the recommendation of trainers because they can’t fix them but are unwilling to use corrections.

This is not okay.

Every individual, be it trainer or dog owner, has the right to choose what training methods or tools they want to use or not use on their dog. If an owner has a difficult dog, they don’t feel great about it. The last thing they need is shaming for their choice of tool or technique.

My training program for reactive dogs is heavily based in rewards and also includes corrections.

Can you do it without corrections? It may be possible if:

  • You are okay with it taking up to several years to see results, with regular sessions
  • You are okay with avoiding taking your dog out on walks at any time you might come across another dog

When deciding on a training approach, the dog’s welfare is a high priority, but so is the owner’s. An approach that includes corrections and achieves quicker results and is clear to both dog and owner so that everyone can move on with their lives makes sense to me.

I believe that BOTH the dog and the owner should be helped as kindly and efficiently as possible. It will serve no one if the training is so long and complicated that no results are seen and the owner gives up, leaving the dog to be confined to the back yard, or worse…

We do lots of foundation training with lots of rewards to set the dog and owner up for success and then we gradually work closer and closer to other dogs using the dog’s new skills. The dog knows what to do to gain reward and then we also show them that barking, lunging, pulling, screaming is NOT allowed.

Dogs like to know what to do as well as what NOT to do. But behavioural issues such as reactivity are on the rise along with the “positive only” training movement that sends the message that saying no is off the table.

Don’t let people make you feel guilty for giving your dog rules and boundaries. Learn the right way to say YES and NO to your dog so that you can BOTH get on with it and enjoy a pleasant walk without the anxiety.

If you’d like to learn more, I can give you a free guide on how to stop your dog from barking and lunging at other dogs during walks.

CLICK HERE TO GET THE GUIDE

Register to my free video workshop: Stop Your Dog Barking And Lunging At Other Dogs And Enjoy Your Walks Again

Barking & Lunging On Walks: There Is Hope!

Barking & Lunging On Walks: There Is Hope!

Barking and lunging at other dogs on walks…

You scan left to right as you slowly exit your doorway… The coast is clear, you go for it. But it may not be safe for long and you find yourself on edge, scanning your surroundings constantly, waiting, hoping it doesn’t happen. Things are progressing nicely so far and it’s nearly time to head back home. You come round a corner and suddenly you see it. It couldn’t be avoided. You tense up knowing an explosion is now inevitable…

It sounds like Mission Impossible but this is a normal walk for you and your dog. While you’re stress levels rise, your dog explodes in a frightening display, all because you’re passing another dog on your walk.

You finally make it home, feeling defeated, embarrassed and frustrated. Your dog is back to his loveable, goofy self and you’d never know that minutes ago he was barking and lunging like a guard dog. You know he is really a sweet dog, why does this happen?

Walking your dog should be an enjoyable experience for BOTH of you. But like many, you may instead be feeling anxious, worried, frustrated and embarrassed to walk your dog because your dog is reactive. This is the term we use when describing a dog that has an undesirable reaction towards their trigger, often another dog.

Why can some people walk their dogs on a loose lead past other dogs, even if the other dog is barking, while others who have a sweet dog at home, face a menacing, barking and lunging terror out on walks whenever another dog is within view?

It’s unfair, but you’re not alone.

Dog to dog reactivity and aggression is on the rise as one of the most common behaviour complaints that dog trainers are called for, including me.

In this post I will discuss the exercises I include in my training programs for reactive dogs and have great success with.

The results I aim for is a dog that can be walked peacefully on a loose lead past other dogs without reacting towards them and as always, that the dog involved is relaxed, happy and clearly understands what we expect of them.

Michaela adopted gorgeous little Hazel from a shelter. She was cute, affectionate and a joy to have around… in the house. As soon as they were outdoors, even in their own yard, Michaela felt invisible. Hazel just did not care one bit about her owner or anything she had to say or offer. Hazel would not work for food ( even steak) and chased at anything that moved – bicycles, skate boards, lizards and most of all, other dogs. She barked and lunged at them and made a horrible screaming noise that could make passer’s by think she was being beaten.

With some regular but short training sessions, we have had success with Hazel. Here’s her transformation:

Here’s some footage of another dog named Marli that has been following my program and was previously very difficult to handle and would bark, lunge and pull with a lot of strength towards other dogs. This footage is from the first lesson that we introduced another dog into the picture, and the third lesson total:

I show you these videos to show you that there is hope and reactive dogs can be trained to be focused dogs that are enjoyable to take on a walk.

Before commencing training with a reactive dog it’s important to have a training plan. The program I use to treat reactive dogs involves some crucial foundation work before training with another dog begins.

As barking and lunging at other dogs, or dog to dog reactivity, is the most common issue I see, I will be referring to other dogs as the trigger for your dog’s reactivity but please know that this training program also applies to dogs that are reactive to other triggers such as strangers, cars, skateboards etc. Their reactions can also vary. Some dogs are just over distracted, some stare and pull, some all out explode.

Dog reactivity 7 skillsBy teaching these foundation skills to a reliable level before adding in training around another dog, you are setting your dog up to be successful a lot more easily that if you just jump right into an environment with other dogs around. It’s important to always work with your dog at a level that he can succeed and be rewarded for.

I’ve put together a PDF guide with all the skills I recommend you teach to your dog to stop them from barking and lunging at other dogs, and why it’s important. It’s always important to know WHY you are teaching your dog something – how it relates to your end goal. You can grab your free training guide below this post.

Teach your dog all of the foundation skills so that they are thoroughly understood by your dog. Once you know that your dog understands the command or skill you can add in corrections fairly but firmly to also communicate clearly to the dog what is NOT acceptable. This is often the missing link when people are struggling to stop their dog from barking and lunging at other dogs.

If this article has been helpful, make sure you also grab the free PDF guide containing a list of all the skills mentioned in this article plus a step by step how to guide on the first skill you need to teach your reactive dog to get a polite walk, that people often miss! Just complete the form below and it will be sent to your email.

Please share this post to help others and feel free to leave a comment below letting me know what it would mean to you to be able to walk your dog pleasantly and without reactivity.

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Register to my free video workshop: Stop Your Dog Barking And Lunging At Other Dogs And Enjoy Your Walks Again