Reactivity is the propensity of a dog to go over-threshold when they observe a stimulus (often a dog, person, or vehicle) that makes them nervous or uncomfortable. The classic example of reactivity is a dog that lunges and barks repeatedly when they see another dog while on a walk.
Reactive dogs are often mislabeled as aggressive. And while reactive dogs can be aggressive, many reactive dogs just need thoughtful introductions to other dogs. Just like humans, dogs react differently in different situations. For example: If a tall, imposing person comes around the corner and almost walks in to me, I am going to feel like I need to protect myself. I am going to feel differently about that person if my best friend introduced them to me as a pal.
Here are some resources regarding reactive dogs:
Bull in the City: How to live with a dog-reactive dog and not lose your shit: An (im)practical guide is an hilarious article that hits the nail on the head with how to handle reactive dog ownership with humor and grace.
“The other day I was talking to a gentleman from my neighborhood while out with Jersey. A dog appeared around the corner and I literally just darted away mid sentence without another word to the man. I have not seen this man since.”
Dog Star Daily: Counter Conditioning Leash Reactive Dogs-Less Stress More Success goes over how to be patient, understanding, and positive with a dog who is reacting and the various potential causes for a reaction.
“Remember the results of legit and effective desensitization is the dog will feel better and eventually have at least a neutral association to the stimulus. “
The Whole Dog Journal: Across a Threshold is an in-depth look at what threshold is, how your dog can react, and what to do to stay under-threshold or bring your dog back from the brink.
“Anything that creates stress, high arousal or overexcitement is a possible trigger. Identify both positive stressors (like rowdy play, chasing toys or hunting) and negative stressors (like scary dogs, strangers, or loud noises).”
Love & a Six-Foot Leash: Five phases of reactive dog ownership describes some of the stages that a dog owner goes through once they realize their dog is a reactive dog. I know that when I first realized I had a reactive dog, I stayed in the panic phase for almost a year. For inexperienced dog handlers it is a difficult stage to overcome because it feels like you’re losing control.
“The panic phase is characterized by the kind of handling that actually exacerbates the dog’s reactivity rather than helping the dog make better choices. Every time we seize up on that leash or yell at a dog who is barking and lunging, we are sending a message: “There is indeed something to be worried about. I am worried too.” “
Pitties in the City: City Dog: Managing a Leash Reactive Dog in the City describes utilizing distractions and managing space to make for a positive walk in a cramped environment.
3LostDogs.com: The Reactive Dog Survival Guide by Katie Buvala goes over almost everything you need to know as the owner of a reactive dog, including what threshold is, management and training strategies, behaviors/calming signals to watch for, and training exercises.This is a lot of the same information I first learned when I hired an APDT dog trainer to help with my first reactive dog. If I had had this information then–I would have still had to call for help (because nothing beats one-on-one training) but I could have come into the training sessions a little more informed.
Positively: Teaching a Leash Reactive Dog to Make the Right Choices by Victoria Stilwell is an excellent little article outlining what a powerful tool choice is while dog training.
“Teaching your dog to make the right choices involves catching actions and behaviors that you like and marking them with rewards that your dog finds motivating. These actions and behaviors can then be the dog’s ‘default’ behaviors that he or she can use in certain situations. A default behavior gives the dog an alternative and makes him more positively confident in a situation that previously made him insecure.”