|Phoenix wearing her Gentle Leader Head Collar|
Hi everyone! I hope you are all doing well! Today I wanted to talk to you about dog reactivity. I was just reminded of an incident that recently happened at my apartment complex that I'm going to share with you. We were not involved in the initial incident but the fallout from the incident happened to us.
I'm going to start this off with a question for everyone to ponder. Do you want to be the owner of a dog who traumatizes another dog for life?
Okay, okay.. I know.. I went dark, right? But it's an important thing to think about. No matter what size of dog you have, management is huge. Every single dog who has teeth in his or her mouth could potentially do damage to another dog or human. Every dog. It's an even more important thing to think about if your dog is reactive. People say, "Oh my dog is all bark. If he got off his leash he wouldn't know what to do.. He would never actually bite anyone." Those people are WRONG. So wrong. I've personally had this happen to me with Zoe and a small dog. The small dog reacted at her for months, one day the owner got complacent and just opened their door and the dog came charging out and attacked Zoe. I had to pick Zoe up and the dog was still jumping and biting at us. It was awful.
If your dog could potentially get away from you while they are reacting and harm another dog, you need to re-evaluate what you're doing. If your dog is going to turn around and come up the leash on you and bite you because they are reacting and frustrated that they can't get the "thing", you have another problem to deal with. What if your dog goes up the leash, bites you and you drop the leash? Now your dog is loose, you're potentially hurt and the thing they were reacting at is now at risk for being harmed, too. This is where the management comes into play. I know muzzles are wildly unpopular but when they are conditioned properly, most dogs are fine. If your dog redirects on you, I would highly recommend seeking professional help for them. (For links to professional organizations scroll down)
Keeping our reactive dogs under control is so important. You may need to teach them to wear a basket muzzle (Muzzle Training Tutorial) or you need to teach them to wear a head collar. Maybe you have a double leash attached to multiple points on the dog but if you're taking your reactive dog off your property or you live in an apartment complex, you need to make sure that you have that dog under control. You can't fail your dog because it could literally mean life or death.
|Zoe showing off her multi leash attachments!|
In addition to the management, I would also highly recommend working with a qualified Positive Reinforcement trainer. Training is just as important as management. There are things you can do to make your dog feel better about other dogs and the environment in general. There are also some super fun impulse control games you can play with your dog to help them, too. You can find trainers in your area by going here: PPG or here: CCPDT
If you're just starting your "reactive journey" I would recommend that you do as much research as possible on the subject of reactive dogs. A great website to start at would be: http://careforreactivedogs.com There are also several support groups on facebook you can join.
There's an amazing training book called "Fired Up, Frantic and Freaked Out" by Laura VanArendonk Baugh that I would recommend checking out. I really liked the book and the training plan is very easy to understand.
I would also recommend watching Kris Willson's series on her dog Luna's emotional recovery from being attacked: Behavior Modification Training with Luna Session 1 There's some great body language from Luna in these videos and Kris explains them in great detail. Dogs can be really subtle and she does a fantastic job explaining everything the dog is doing.
These are training tutorials by Emily Larlham: How to stop your dog lunging and barking- Train 'Let's Go!'- shy reactive dogs & Giving into leash pressure- for shy reactive dogs In the videos, Emily shows you how to train your dog to move with you and to turn away from scary things. The second video shows you how to teach your dog to recognize and give in to leash pressure. They are both excellent.
You can also rent dvd seminars of trainers doing presentations on reactivity by joining Tawzer Dog.
Depending on the severity of the reactivity, you might need to go to a Vet Behaviorist. You may need to get your dog a prescription for anti-anxiety medication. That's up to you and your vet to decide but please don't discount medication and think of it as a last resort. Medication has been shown to be extremely beneficial in helping dogs to feel better about the world. You can also request that your own vet consult with a behaviorist over the phone. If you need help finding a Behavioral Consultant please go here: http://iaabc.org/
Your dog might just need a smaller world. Which means instead of walking during high traffic times with other dog owners around, you play fetch in your yard or play other indoor games, like trick training. You might need to save the walking for early in the morning or later at night when there are less people around. Maybe you need to turn down that super fun invite to meet up with other dog owners for a romp on the beach. You have to do whatever is right for your dog and if that means staying at home then that's okay.
It is always okay to advocate for your dog, even if it means disappointing someone.
|We stayed home today.|
On the day of the incident, my other neighbor was walking his young dog and the GSD happened to be out and he began reacting. The GSD ended up getting away from his owners and he attacked the dog. He completely flattened her on the ground. It was awful. We were inside and we could hear the screaming. The young dog ended up being physically okay but the psychological damage was done.
My neighbor's young dog is now reactive and on Tuesday evening, she went after me and my dogs as we were passing her. The dog was barely under her owner's control. She almost got away from him. Luckily, I was far enough away from her that we were able to get away and she didn't get us but she is at least twice the size of my dogs and could potentially do damage, not to mention my dogs would defend themselves. This could of been a really ugly situation but I'm glad we came out of it okay. What makes me really sad is that neither of these two dogs are getting the help they need. Their owners are ignoring the problem or worse using punishment.
So if you have a reactive dog, please, make sure your dog is under control. Get help from a professional if you need it! Don't wait around and hope the reactivity gets better on it's own. It won't! There is no shame in using a basket muzzle. There is no shame in using a head collar for better control. If you're not comfortable with a head collar, then at least a double clipping harness that clips to the front. Maybe your dog just needs that smaller world and that's okay too! Not every dog is capable of being out in the environment or in crowded places. If your dog is happier at home then that's fine!
I know I am mostly talking about big dogs here but trust me when I say that all of these same things apply to people with little dogs. Little dogs with reactivity are not cute, either! Yes, they could potentially do less physical damage than their larger cousins but they can still emotionally damage another dog. Remember the little dog that went after Zoe in the beginning of my post? That dog was only 10lbs and Zoe was always scared to walk past their place after the dog attacked her. Also, little dogs can get hurt very easily (bigger dog goes to defend itself or won't put up with being bullied by a small one) so it's really important to keep them from going after other dogs.
I'm just going to throw this in right here: NO Flexi leashes!!!
If your dog is reactive the last thing they need is to be on a flexi leash! Those things break all the time, not to mention the damage the cords can do. They are dangerous with even the most friendliest of dogs. The only time I would ever say a flexi leash is okay is if you are in a wide open space, you're alone, you have 100% visibility and your dog is very well trained.
|Long Lines attached to the harnesses at the beach.|
Long Lines can be a great alternative to using a flexi lead.
Now lets talk about Phoenix. I usually call Phoenix my "highly functional" reactive dog. She is able to go out in public and she is generally not leash reactive (she's triggered by dogs being excited or playing roughly, she will want to chase and nip at their butts). Unless a large dog happens to get into her face and scares her, then she might think she needs to defend herself. 95% of the time she will avoid interactions with other dogs if she is given the choice. Even with that being the case, I've conditioned her to wearing a muzzle (both kinds, soft and basket) and I've also conditioned her to wearing a gentle leader head collar. We don't need these tools very often but it's good to have them available and she's already used to wearing something on her face if she needs it (ie: vet visit).
I'm hyper vigilant when she is out in public. That means that I am never on my cell phone, I never use headphones with music. I don't allow other dog owners to distract me and I give my dogs my full attention. Complacency is a killer. You cannot afford to be complacent when you have a reactive dog. I am always on the look out for trouble and planning our escape if we need to. Even with all of this, we've had our share of mess ups. Off leash dogs have run up on us, owners have let their dogs drag them into my dog's faces, excited dogs have accidentally run into us. Phoenix has occasionally threatened to snap at those dogs. Luckily everything turned out okay but I would never want my dog to traumatize another dog so I am constantly working with her.
I really feel that it's important to protect other people's dogs from our reactive dogs, if at all possible. No one is perfect and sometimes stuff happens but being proactive is so important. We can't be normal dog owners, as sad as that is. We have to better than everyone else.
What do you do to manage your reactive dog? Comment below!
I have additional training resources on my training page so be sure to check that out!