Preventing Reactivity In Young Dogs

Preventing reactivity in young dogs and working with reactive dogs. To show both adult dogs and puppies you’re their ultimate guide and safety net and help them display calm canine behaviours.

Dogs and pups need to understand we are their ultimate support and calm guide. We need to understand their behavioural displays, (Importantly the small ones before they get out of hand) and act as nature intended as a mother to a child or mother dog to her youngster. Show them we understand new things may cause alarm and a fear response

Our Training & Treats range can help

In our busy and often cramped human work, dogs are not given enough time or space to evaluate situations, new animals whether human, dog or other. Socialisation has become rushed and our expectations are too great for many characters.

As puppies we put them face to face with new things on a daily basis and, as a matter of urgency to ensure they become familiar and relaxed with all we encounter in our world. 

Your puppy or new rescue or already reactive dog needs space and time to work things out their way with your support. There is little point in flooding either your puppy or reactive dog with situations for them to “Get used to it”

11 Top Tips to help reactive dogs & prevent reactivity in pups

  • If you spot an anxiety trigger, Walk away with your dog before they show major anxiety and in full barking and lunging mode or cowering or laying flat in submission.
  • Build your dog’s and pup’s connection and trust in you in low stimulus places. At home, garden, low people, dogs, traffic areas like industrial estates, enclosed private fields.
  • Less about a walk and more about connecting and wanting to engage with you.
  • Relaxed you, dog or puppy as opposed to hyper-vigilant within your surroundings is where you need to be.
  • Take your dog to a secluded environment, just be, stop and relax, have a snuffle mat or treats in long grass for them to forage for. Recall to a log smeared with pate or a toy they can search for, pick up and bring to you. 
  • Whatever your dog is reactive to on walks, stay away for 6 to 8 weeks and work on enhancing your unspoken bond.
  • In time experience these at a non reactive distance and practise, the curve away, the 90 degree walk away and forage time.
  • Socialize pups with gentle adults and same size same age pups
  • Keep distance from new experiences so your pup can evaluate in safety.
  • If you are using an appliance at home and your puppy attacks it, that puppy isn’t playing, they are feeling vulnerable in the main with no understanding of this noisy vacuum. So stand between you and the appliance and if it’s a moving one,then point it away from your dog or puppy. Towards them will seem like an attack
  • When you have your pup on a lead, curve around, walk away 90 degrees and when at a distance your pup relaxes and engages a little, drop some treats in the grass to forage or smear some pate on a post or tree stump. Licking and sniffing helps to relax and bring peace of mind. 

Educating dogs runs parallel to how we bring up children to become confident adults.

What we say many times can be translated into children growing up with a parent who teaches by example. Be their rock.

As Caroline and Lesley wrote in “Parenting Your New Puppy” the similarities in bringing up, educating and preparing them for the fast world we live in is so comparable when we talk about both children and dogs in our care. When we write and talk about deep-seated fears (and other behaviours actually) in dogs you could so easily be talking about children and adults post-trauma.

Fear can be a result of an ongoing situation or a one-off past incident

We are often called  for help with reactionary / fearful dogs. Sometimes this is the result of a ‘one off’ incident, where something startles the dog – usually when it was a puppy or adolescent as a general rule, fairly easy to deal with (if you are aware, and quick off the mark) effectively and forever. With desensitization and patience alone.

However, if a dog has become reactive or fearful of a situation, object, person, or dog, and the issue has developed over time, the triggers stack up day by day. Solutions are always trickier than prevention. A cure for aggression will be hard to find and for some characters and personalities of dogs management needs to take a role.

Preventing Reactivity In Young Dogs
A yawn and face away. A canine display to calm an intense situation down.

How Do You Know If Your Puppy Or Dogs Is fearful or Simply Lacks Patience

They can look one and the same. Take a look below at a few examples. Whatever the cause let’s do what would come naturally if they were educated by canines.

What do dogs mean when they lunges or jump up

Your dog may be fighting restraint, lack patience, or respect for the personal space of yours, dogs, and other people. Or maybe forcing the intruder to back away. Either way, we need to educate our dogs about the niceties when we live so close to one another. Instinctively dogs need space, more personal space than us in general. For whatever reason, they do this behaviour the answer from you is the same. Walk with me, be patient with me, and trust me to keep us safe and in return you will learn appropriate canine skills to keep safe as you mature.

What is a dog saying when it rushes up to other dogs and people when off lead

If you have no connection and recall then your dog (dependant on character or personality) will most likely rush up uninvited and miss the cues from other dogs as to whether their approach is welcome. A dog invading space can be either intending to push the other out of the area or completely unthinking in an unrespectful approach. So whether in the home or out on walks, help your dog to make better choices.

A dog who backs away, whine & those that bark with forward motion

Pups do not generally bark until about 4 months, some later some never all depending on their character and personality. A little one who backs away is in need to remove themselves from the situation and not engage, Help them outwalk them away. A dog or pup who barks standing forward or lunging wishes the intruder to back away, whether that be a lawnmower to dog to anything. Either way, help your dog out, acknowledge and use the option of flight.

If your dog barks at other animals it could be revving up for the chase, fear or anything in between. Show your dog it’s of no consequence and walk them away. You neither need to chase or worry.

Dogs become lead reactive when encourage long close encounters as youngsters and they are unable to display natural behaviours

The Option of Flight cures many misdemeanors hand in hand with decreasing distance work facilitates respectful encounters

Connect your dog to you. Education is not only patience and self-control but also in polite approaches or no contact. To work and be with you as they mature to become a thoughtful canine.

Fears Can Become Deep Seated For Us & Our Dogs

We may fear certain things (for example, mice or spiders) but we know that our fear is irrational. We can work on ‘curing’ ourselves. A dog does not have this rational mind. To him, something he does not understand and causes him to feel uncomfortable is to be feared. If he is continually exposed to this without guidance, the fear will become deep-seated.

We need to show our dogs, either that it is not to be fear as we put ourselves in the position of his seeing us dealing calmly without fear with the object of his distress, or in the case of (for example) fear of loud noises, dogs people, traffic, etc, we walk away with our dog in an upbeat manner ( flee) and reward with play, massage or food or all three when you see your dog relaxed and looking towards you. It’s I get you a little worried, let’s increase distance. It’s we are not afraid so you need not be either.

So fear can strike on many levels, with various triggers from noises to experiences. The main point is that whatever our dog is fearful of. Do not force them to confront those fears. Look at how your dog copes with life in general. The key is to be that person who guides your dog away from their fears and be the calm confident presence.

Escalation of Reactivity in Dogs

These ‘coping’ solutions can take many forms, from a dog growl that escalates to a bite. This canine behaviour keeps over-exuberant and invasive children, animals, cars, or humans at bay (or more sadly and darker – abusive humans from hurting him).To a dog that has been attacked by another dog deciding that attack is the best form of defense, thus becomes a ‘5 am walker’

There are so many scenarios that cause a negative reaction, the behaviour escalates when the subtle signs in puppyhood remain misunderstood as happy and fun-loving. The fear will grow, and the reaction more intense as the dog feels the need to find coping behaviours of its own.

What Can You Do To Retrain Reactive Dogs?

With the right help, there are very few problems that cannot be reduced to the level where the dog can lead a safe and good life. However, you have to be realistic.

A deep-seated coping behaviour is never really eradicated. It can be successfully addressed and managed to the point where it is well within acceptable boundaries. If you are fully aware that this is what you have achieved – and no more.

I call these coping strategies ‘default mode’. The dog has found something which either soothes him or has worked to repel unwanted ‘invaders’. This never really goes away, but if you are vigilant, not to put your dog in situations that you know could trigger this default mode. If this is unavoidable, be extremely watchful and ready to take action. You and your dog will be fine.

Subtle signals. Stress lines of the cheek, ears backward tilt, and a slight upturn of the tongue

Any habit good or bad is hard to kick into touch

My favorite bad human habit comparison is nail biters. or a useful habit of how to ride a bike. Here is a fun clip of just that and that to retrain our brains takes time, patience, and commitment.

You can school yourself to leave your nails alone, you can find lots of reasons not to do it (dogs rarely can), but in the end, no matter how old you are, stressful situations will see your fingers creeping up to your mouth for a good old chomp! You don’t know you are doing this, it is an unconscious coping mechanism learned as a child and buried so deep in your psyche that it is part of you.

Remember this when you become so confident that your dog has let go of its coping behaviour that you feel it has gone and you can call it ‘job done.

It almost certainly has not. Enjoy your rehabilitated friend- but remember always to be vigilant.

Caroline Spencer & Lesley Harris

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