Understanding and dealing with reactive dogs

By Carrie Stuthridge

Not all dogs enjoy a trip to the park

Lunging, barking, snapping and sometimes biting is something you will have come across when you take your dog out on your daily walks. You may recognise that dog is struggling and you give them plenty of space. Or you may be internally thinking ‘why doesn’t that person just train that dog?’ If you haven’t owned a dog that reacts in this way I think it’s hard to understand what that person is going through. I know through speaking to clients and friends, as it was what they thought before owning a dog that reacts.

If you have ever owned a dog that reacts to other dogs or to people, you will be that first person. As you have been there and can understand the stress and worry that person is going through, you will recognise what the frustration, worry, anxiety, embarrassment and stress of owning a reactive dog does to you. The military planning of walks, the worry and dread before even leaving the house ‘will today be a nice walk?’.

You have learnt to become a ninja, to move you and your dog out the way of anything that may cause your dog to react. Walks have often ended up with you in tears, whilst you struggle to understand why your dog is the best dog at home, but a nightmare on walks.

Reactivity is a reaction to something that is scaring or worrying your dog and can often take owners by surprise. In reality, there will have been an accumulative of things that have built up to end up at this stage.

When you own a dog who is normally chilled out and relaxed then has this sudden outburst, it can leave you embarrassed and shocked. I have also been there myself. My first own dog did just this and as he weighed 46kg he was a struggle to hold on to at times. For him the early days were fine. He wasn’t perfect and looking back now there are things I should have worked harder on and improved, but all in all he was a great dog and my world. The problems started when he was older when he started reacting to other dogs on walks. It started just now and again, a dog I presumed he was unsure about, they don’t have to like each and every dog right? To start I wasn’t too concerned about the new behaviour, that was until it got to a point each and every dog we would see he started to lunge and bark at. Soon enough everyone started to give us a wide berth, as due to his size when he went up on his back legs he could be pretty intimidating.

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