The reactivity consultation
When I do a consultation for a reactive case, there are several factors that I’m going to be looking at. Behaviour never really comes from one thing, so we need to look at many aspects of a dogs life in order to make improvements. So here’s some of the things I will look at.
Your job is to take a pen and paper, be realistic and write down what you could improve in each area, what’s prevented you from doing this so far and what steps you could do to change it.
Exercise, both physical and mental.
Dogs often just don’t get enough of either. Dogs would naturally roam most of the morning and evening, rest during middle of the day. They would be seeking, scavenging, hunting. Or working.
Of course if we are looking at breeds then a greyhound might need a couple of minutes of mental stimulation, where as a collie is going to need a lot more. So judge it by your individual dog. But if you feel like you could do more, I certainly could! Then make a little plan and start achievable.
So my plan might be,
I’m going to give my dog an extra 5 minutes of mental stimulation through training a day. I struggle to fit that in, so I’m going to get up 5 minutes earlier, drink my coffee, then set 5 minutes aside.
Diet has a huge impact on behaviour so make sure your dog is on the good stuff. I’m a fan of raw but I’ll leave that up to you. Just make sure it’s a complete meal. There is some evidence that white meats and fish can help reduce anxiety and promote calm.
My plan here might be,
My dogs already on a good diet. I’ll try buying chicken and turkey variations for a couple of months and see if there are any changes.
Of course this is mental stimulation but it’s also helping them practice natural behaviours. Could they have more?
I find it hard to prep enrichment daily. I will stock up on kongs and prepare some frozen enrichment for the week so I have something quick and easy to put down at hand.
Medical is hugely important to look into. I ask clients to have vet checks before their consultations but often these don’t consist of much. If you have any doubts don’t be afraid to push for more tests, get a second opinion.
You know your dog, I believe we get a sense when our animals aren’t right or are in discomfort. If there’s an underlying medical issue, then it’s really hard to move forwards.
Relationship and past learning history
You yelled at your dog once? That’s okay, you’re human. Maybe when you first started you read that you need to punish the behaviour, so you used a spray bottle or your voice or a lead jerk.
Don’t beat yourself up for what’s happened. We can only do what we can with the information we have at the time. And the best thing, you’ve advanced and improved!
We need to take these things into consideration though, we might need to start with rebuilding the relationship and rebuild a reinforcement history when we are out on walks.
My plan might look like,
I’m going to forget about working on the behaviour for two weeks. I’m going to reward my dog for every check in, play with toys, engage and have fun times.
I’m going to work on my frustration by breathing and moving away when I feel triggered by my dog’s behaviour.
Without a doubt one of the biggest reasons we fail. Some of the reasons behind this is we don’t try one plan for long enough, we forget to take treats or we run out of treats, the dog is walked by different people who use different methods.
My plan might be,
I get tired at the end of the week and don’t feel like cutting treats. I loose confidence and motivation.
I’ll try to make the end of the week more home based activities, or go somewhere we both love. I’ll stock up on easy to grab treats such as liver paste for these times.
Ah the big one we dream of changing! But let me tell you something, it’s not always greener. I have a stranger reactive dog and I live above a pub! Nightmare. But actually the good thing is I can manage him through busier times by picking him up. I know were I will need to step in. I can work on his confidence in extreme areas. It’s predictable.
When I visit my parents in the country, a whole new set of situations pop up that he has to learn to cope with. People next door in gardens. People approaching and saying hello more. Countryside people are more friendly!
The pub is predictable and we know what we’re dealing with.
And things don’t just disappear in a quieter location. It’s much more unpredictable, people pop up more out of the blue. Then the pub doesn’t seem to bad.
And the truth is, when you are trying to avoid something, it will always find you!
So my plan might go,
I will stop believing that I need to move to make my life better. I will give myself permission to be happy now. I will be realistic about my goals and understand it takes time. I will focus on building confidence around trickier areas. I will reduce triggers where I can with car rides and carriers. And accept when I can’t.
And if it helps, rescues are full of dog reactive dogs, kennelled next to each other, opposite each other, bumping into each other. Your dog is so lucky you are doing everything you can to help them.
This is the hardest one, before you know it, you’re as reactive as your dog.
Your plan might be,
I will admit that my anxiety might be holding me back. I will focus on myself for a while and focus less on working on my dog’s behaviour. I will have a try at a few anxiety management techniques and see if any of them work for me.
Be realistic and kind to yourself, humans can’t control their emotions so it’s normal for your dog to react. Our focus is making recovery time faster. It will take time and it might be something you always have to manage slightly at certain times or in certain areas.
Look at your plan, be realistic about what might be holding you back. What you could do to improve things and how that might look.