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Reactive Dogs: Over-Excited and Fearful, Two Sides of the Same Coin

Reactivity is often seen as ANTI-SOCIAL behaviour, but it can in fact be OVERLY SOCIAL as well!

The OVERLY SOCIAL DOG reactive Dog Don't let someone fool you when they tell you their dog is "friendly" when the dog is in fact the rudest dog on the planet!

Running up to greet your dog, being IN HIS FACE, maybe even jumping on your dog or you, without proper and calm mutual introduction.....

This is an over-excited greeting that may look friendly but in reality, the dog is making very poor choices, racing up to other dogs who may not be at all comfortable with this type of approach and may include obsessive face licking, squeaking or barking, pulling towards other dogs.

Such a dog actually tends to be socially awkward and may not know what a proper greeting cycle looks like.

This kind of interaction can easily lead to a tussle or even a full-on fight, and then we tend to blame the dog that is just defending itself, even though the instigator is the "friendly but over-the-top" approaching dog.

The ANTI-SOCIAL DOG reactive DOG This dog may show signs of shying away, staring, growling, barking, lunging and offering DISTANCE INCREASING behaviours ( and that can include proactive lunging to make the other party back away....) Most of their communication is to try to tell other dogs that they need more space and to please leave them alone.

They are easily overstimulated and pushed over their comfort threshold and tend to easily panic into reactive bluster instead of being able to think and learn and feel comfortable. This often explosive interaction leads us to feel embarrassed and lost as to how to act and what to do. When we do not know what to do, we often resort to "correct" the unwanted display with a stern voice, or forcing the "offender" into a sit, to face its worst fear. Of course, this is most likely going to backfire, and perpetuate the cycle of fear, as the person they rely on to help them is making the situation worse by Flooding the dog and actually forcing them to "face their fears" So what can we do to help reduce reactivity?

  1. Creating calmness in the body and mind through relaxation games will help the reactive dog to be able to "think" through a problem. Teaching your dog to settle on a bed or mat to teach them to calm themselves.

  2. Make good use of pattern games which are simple actions or patterns that you and your dog can do together to help reset the brain to working mode while rehearsing well-practiced patterns that the dog finds familiar and calming. You can also use pattern games to pass distractions or let your dog get more comfortable.

  3. Counterconditioning exercises, where the dog starts to associate the triggers with pleasant or calm things instead of excitement or fearful things. That will be a game-changer! Simple games such as COOKIE BOWLING and LOOK AT THAT make up a small portion of the change.

  4. Our smart use of rewards and pacifiers ( food, toys, touch, voice, praise, movement and functional rewards) will help as well. Pay the dog well for making efforts that are NOT COMPATIBLE with the unwanted behaviours, and there will be a change in the behaviour, as it is true what they say: YOU GET WHAT YOU PAY FOR!

  5. And Management is another important piece. Not putting your dog in situations their brain is not ready for or getting out of trouble rather than letting your dog continue to rehearse poor choices.

Remember, reactivity is your dog COMMUNICATING through body language! Our job as pet parents is to READ and UNDERSTAND our dog's needs TEACH them how to do better and PROTECT them from physical or mental harm.

Distance is always your dog's best friend when it comes to reducing your dog's overly emotional and inappropriate reaction!

There is HOPE for all reactive dogs! Best Paw Forward and DAWG Academy offer training opportunities to help reduce stress, put your dog's brains to work and improve canine communication that allows them to make better choices. We are Fear Free Behavior Modification Coaches and BCSPCA Animal Kind Certified and would love to help make the world a better place for you and your dog!

Keep your dog safe! Create Distance until you know what to do and do it better!

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