Reactive Dog Myths

By Zara Lipsett, Wagging Wonders Lincoln

Dogs who bark and lunge at other dogs or people are often very worried dogs. It can be a big challenge to live with a reactive dog who is struggling with triggers and walks. There are a lot of myths out there, too, which don’t help.

I hear this one often. People contacting me with reactive dogs, under the impression that it is because they were ‘too soft’ with their dogs or not firm enough. The reality is that reactivity has very little to do with rules or firmness. Reactivity is generally an emotional response, which needs addressing to ensure the dog becomes more confident. Being ‘firm’ or harsh often has the opposite effect

A lot of people assume their reactive rescue dog must have been abused if they are nervous and jumpy. However, this isn’t strictly true. The dog’s reactivity could have been a reason for surrender, or they might have had a bad experience with their trigger, or it could simply be poor genetics. Sometimes there is no obvious reason. It’s important not to dwell on a rescue dog’s past, instead focus on their future and how you can work together as a team.

Dogs are experts in self-preservation in the main. They tend to react to help themselves rather than to help you. While it is true that certain breeds might display guarding instincts or protection in the right circumstances, if a dog is regularly reacting to triggers, it is unlikely to be about you. Your dog is more concerned about themselves.

Reactive dogs who are anxious or learning appropriate manners do not need to be ‘socialised’ around their triggers in a traditional sense. The critical socialisation period ends when a dog is still a puppy. Beyond that, a dog who develops reactivity issues needs careful and considerate exposure to boost positive experiences. Often, the worst thing you can do is take them on ‘pack walks’ or off lead sessions. These will likely just flood your dog and make the issue worse.

Fact: Your Reactive Dog is Having a Hard Time

A reactive dog is one who needs a careful plan of action to help them learn that they don’t need to react to triggers and they do not need to worry so much. They need patience and understanding. Short cuts will interrupt progress. A modern dog trainer or behaviourist will be able to help you learn to read your dog, make plans to succeed and help you in your progress to help both you and your dog become more confident.