All dogs are reactive, it simply means that they respond to things in their environment. The term ‘reactive dog’ is commonly used to describe those whose response to certain things has become problematic in some way.
In Willow’s case, if she gets overwhelmed her reaction can involve dancing and shouting at strange dogs. This is usually just in public but she can also feel overwhelmed by views out of windows in the home too.
The most extreme reaction Willow has displayed is a rare one, there is usually a long build up of clear stress signals which gives ample opportunity for her handler to take her back to more comfortable surroundings and avoid it altogether. She will sometimes ‘redirect’, which means she nips her lead and handler through frustration. This has caused bruising in the past but not broken skin, she now happily wears her muzzle anywhere where other dogs may be around which prevents any nipping from occurring. Willow is learning new coping skills for the rare situation she gets this upset and we are thrilled with her progress but her confidence could be easily knocked, especially if her handler’s confidence takes a hit.
For this reason it was imperative that her adopters could be sure that if a situation like that arose they won’t ever become nervous of her. If you have experienced ‘reactive dogs’ before you may agree that she is currently right at the lower end of the spectrum, nevertheless we needed to ensure that her adopters had the ability to help her and stay calm in a high stress situation.
Her adopters needed to be people who wouldn’t feel embarrassed by her performance, able to proactively move her away and praise her for calming down when the concern is out of sight. Sometimes a quiet walk doesn’t go to plan and an unavoidable, unexpected, out of control dog may come into the mix. This problem is sadly more prominent than ever for ‘reactive dog ‘owners, especially with so many undersocialised lockdown pups being allowed off lead without having first learned recall.
Willow’s adopters have been fully clued up on how to choose the best walking spots and how to help her to a safer area if she begins to feel overwhelmed. Everything is managed very calmly and simply, her training plan was practiced thoroughly before her pre- adoption settling in period began. It is becoming increasingly easier to manage as their bond strengthens, she is now thoroughly enjoying attending additional weekly group classes at her local dog training school,
Willow’s progress is proof that positive reinforcement really does work!