Reacting to Reactivity

  Once we accept our limits, we go beyond them.

  Albert Einstein


I think it’s about time that we have a shout out to all those owners who have dog reactive issues with their four legged friend. We go through a lot as a group. In fact, sometimes I feel like we should have a support group. To be honest, there are really 5 emotional stages to dealing with dog reactivity as an owner.

5 Stages of Dog Reactivity:

  1. Denial – We all go through it. You don’t want to admit that your dog might have a behavior issue when it comes to other dogs. You always imagined having a dog that was Mr. or Ms. Congeniality. You didn’t imagine the snarling, barking, crazy eyed beast that comes out when there’s another dog walking towards you. Nope, there’s no issue. It was just this one time.
  1. Anger – The next few times the reactivity happens, you get mad. How could your dog act like this? This is unacceptable. There may be some name calling and some serious frustration.
  2. Bargaining – Now you start questioning your efforts and playing the “what if” game.  If only we had had this dog from a puppy, would he still be dog reactive? What if he hadn’t gotten into that scuffle with that other dog at the dog park?
  1. Depression – Somehow you feel like you’ve failed as an owner. Your dog is a direct reflection of you and you can’t control him around other dogs. How embarrassing! You don’t want to show your face outside in your neighborhood again. It’s all too much.
  1. Acceptance – You realize your dog has an issue and you need to work on it. This is sometimes where we come in! It’s also the point where you realize you’re not the only one with this issue. It just feels like it. Trust me.

For those of us who have dog reactive dogs (Hi, my name is Danika and my dog is dog reactive…) we’ve all been through these stages. When you first realize what’s going on it’s beyond frustrating. But, you need to know that you’re not the only one out there dealing with dog reactivity. And we all go through these stages. Quite honestly, you’ll go through them more than once. But here are some things to remember when you’re feeling these stages.

  • Pilot. Pilot. Pilot. The more you Pilot your dog, the more successful you’ll be with dog reactivity. Answer their questions constantly. Is this dog a threat? Nope. And keep on moving.
  • Be BORED. When you’re walking and see another dog, fight every instinct you have to tense your body. You have to pretend that seeing another dog is the most boring thing in the entire world. The minute you tense up your dog will feel that energy shift and he’ll go on high alert.
  • Pay attention your dog’s body language before an approaching dog is within your personal space. Look for ears perked, a wrinkled brow and a forward neck. That’s when you want to start answering your dog’s question:  Is this other dog a threat? You’re going to diffuse the situation before it starts.
  • If you’re not up to it, go the other way or cross the street. Don’t push yourself into a situation that you’re not ready for. There’s nothing wrong in admitting that you’re not up to dealing with it that day. You’re being smart, not a quitter.
  • Nothing is your fault. You didn’t do anything to have a dog with this issue. Don’t take it personally. It’s not a direct reflection of you. However, it is your responsibility to use the tools that you have to help with the issue.

If your dog does get to the Cujo part of the dog reactivity, remember to stay calm and know that it will all be over in about 120 seconds. If you need to reboot your dog and take a minute, do it. Don’t let what other people are going to say or think about you dictate how you handle this situation. You know the best way to get your dog under control, so do it.

120 seconds. That’s it. Then your dog will go back to being your dog. If you can get through those few seconds you can do anything. I commend the others that have a dog reactive dog. Every day is a new adventure to say the least. Some days are better than others. It takes a special kind of owner to take on this challenge. If you’re having a particular bad day, just know that tomorrow’s another one and it will get better.

Keep calm and pilot onDanika Migliore
Darwin Dogs, LLC
Dog Training in Cleveland, Ohio


4 thoughts on “Reacting to Reactivity

  1. My dog is fine on a path or Road with approaching or passing dogs. It’s when we walk past houses where the dogs are out, usually inside invisible fence. She goes crazy EVERY.SINGLE.TIME. I put myself between her & the other dog(s). I stop and tell her ‘leave it’ (a command she knows with inantimate things). Eventually though, we need to pass the house to get home. Advice?

    • Hi Sheila –

      It’s easy for her to leave inanimate things because they don’t post a threat – she just wants them. What you are dealing with is fear-based reactivity.

      Please give this post a read to find out the causes and how to deal with reactivity.

    • Don’t think in absolutes such as “alpha”. Just like humans, dogs fall somewhere in the gray areas. Think of it more along the lines of self confidence. A Pilot merely has a lot of confidence.

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