Did I Cause my Dog’s Reactive Behavior Problem?
I think that everyone with a reactive dog wonders if they are part of the problem. Sometimes the answer is, yes. Other times the answer is, no. To answer this question properly we need to explore a lot of factors.
What does it mean when a dog is reactive? It means that it reacts in a way that is unacceptable in today’s urban environment. So the German Shepherd who wants to keep all dogs away is only labled with a behavior problem because that dog doesn’t live in a field guarding sheep. The behavior that might make that Shepherd the world’s best sheep dog is the same behavior that makes it reactive in our society.
Why won’t BAT and TACT and CAT, or ‘Look at Me’ cure my dog?
The answer is mainly because there might not be anything wrong with your dog. If you have a high drive dog, or a working breed, then you are fighting instinct. Have you ever been to a Schutzhund trial? All those dogs are crated, in cars, waiting for their turn. They are not allowed to meet each other or socialize, because ‘prey drive’ means they have the instinct to hunt down and kill their prey or anything that is a threat to their survival.
Other dogs are high activity. Or they may be over stimulated. Border Collies and Australian Sheep Dogs are a perfect example. We took dogs that were designed to work for hours in the field, running constantly, working the sheep. Then we forced them into an urban environment where they are forced to endure far more stimulation than they would in a field. We also reduced their exercise to an hour.
The Behavior modification programs are often designed to help you manage your dog’s over stimulation and ‘reaction’ to something they see as dangerous. We can learn to manage our dog’s reactions, and even teach it to relax and not react. But we can’t take away instinct. We cannot eliminate fear.
What Does This Mean For Me and My Dog?
It means that you can learn to cope. Your dog may never be the ‘life of the dog park’, but that doesn’t mean you cannot enjoy your dog.
Is There Hope?
Yes, there is. I work with many dogs that go from being reactive to loving and fun dogs. The one common denominator in the success stories is the owner’s willingness to help the dog. Put your personal goals and agenda behind you. Think of yourself as a coach and counsellor. Teach your dog that you ‘have his back.’
Put your dog first and adjust your life to helping your dog heal. You may be pleasantly surprised in a few months.