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So you adopted a reactive dog?

Updated: Jun 5


Maybe you got a small puppy or maybe you brought home an adult dog. Everyone told you it would take time for your dog to settle in, and so you gave it time. However, as time went on, the dog you thought you met at the shelter was not quite what you expected it to be.


While it may be difficult to admit, reactivity in dogs is fairly common, and the shelter environment does little to help with this type of behavior. The stress of the environment and the hours spent in the kennels put dogs under constant stress. During their time at the shelter, they may not exhibit reactivity because they are "shut down" or they may exhibit more reactivity because they feel unsafe. It highly depends on the dog.


Regardless of the level of reactivity your dog has, I understand how difficult it can be to manage the behavior. Every walk is dreaded, and the jangling of another dog's collar tags makes you tense up in anticipation of a reaction. I get it. I do.


But the first thing you need to do is relax. I'm not saying your dog does not have reactivity, but if you get tensed up, your dog is going to be expecting a dog to show up around the corner and already have their hackles raised before the dog has even appeared.


Instead of letting the behavior continue on, contact a behavioral modification specialist. Despite what the public thinks about dog trainers, dog trainers exist to teach you how to manage your dog. We should not work solely with your dog because then the behavior will disappear after we leave.


Understanding Reactivity in Dogs


Reactivity in dogs can manifest in various ways, such as barking, lunging, or growling at other dogs, people, or even inanimate objects. This behavior often stems from fear, anxiety, or frustration. It's important to recognize that reactivity is not about aggression but rather a reaction to a perceived threat or overstimulation.


Why Shelters Are Challenging for Dogs


Shelters, despite their best efforts, can be overwhelming for many dogs. The constant noise, unfamiliar smells, and lack of a stable routine can heighten a dog's stress levels. Some dogs may become withdrawn and exhibit less reactivity, appearing more subdued than they naturally are. Others might display heightened reactivity due to the lack of security and predictability.


The Importance of Professional Help


While you may feel equipped to handle some aspects of your dog's training, addressing reactivity often requires the expertise of a professional. A behavioral modification specialist can provide a tailored approach to your dog's specific needs. They can help you understand the triggers and underlying causes of your dog's reactivity and develop a comprehensive plan to manage and reduce these behaviors.


Techniques for Managing Reactivity


  1. Desensitization and Counter-Conditioning: Gradually expose your dog to the trigger at a distance where they feel safe, and pair the presence of the trigger with something positive, like treats or play. Over time, this helps change their emotional response.

  2. Building Focus and Engagement: Teach your dog to focus on you in the presence of triggers. Commands like "watch me" or "look" can redirect their attention away from the trigger and onto you. Practicing pattern games can be particularly useful

  3. Using Physical Barriers: Sometimes, creating a physical barrier, like a car or a bush, between your dog and the trigger can help manage their reactivity. It allows them to feel more secure and less exposed.

  4. Positive Reinforcement: Reward your dog for calm behavior around triggers. This reinforces the idea that remaining calm is more rewarding than reacting.


Self-Care for Dog Owners


Managing a reactive dog can be emotionally exhausting. It's important to take care of yourself as well. Seek support from online communities or local support groups for dog owners dealing with similar issues. Follow our instagram account to get to know other pet owners who are struggling with the same issues are you. Remember that progress can be slow, and setbacks are part of the journey. Celebrate small victories and remain patient.


Long-Term Commitment


Changing reactive behavior is not an overnight process. It requires consistent effort, patience, and time. With the right strategies and professional support, many dogs can learn to manage their reactivity and lead more relaxed lives. Remember, the journey you take with your dog to address their reactivity will not only improve their quality of life but will also strengthen the bond between you and your furry friend.


Contact K9 Wellness Academy to get started @ k9wellnessacademy@gmail.com

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