What is it?
In chemistry reactivity is the rate at which a chemical substance tends to undergo a chemical reaction. In terms of our pups it’s the change in body language from relaxed to tense, unhappy, excited, fearful or aggressive response to a stimulus. The stimulus could be another person, a dog, rabbit, squirrel, did you say SQUIRREL!!? Deer, sheeps cats, skateboards etc, etc Basically anything that grabs your dogs attention so much that all thinking goes out the window and you simply cannot get a response.
The majority of people seeking help with reactive dogs are having issues with dog to dog aggression that manifests itself as barking, pulling, lunging, growling, fighting and other such undesirable behaviour.
This article is about prevention, not cure. If you have a reactive dog already then you should seek the help of a veterinary qualified behaviourist. We can go over some things that will help when you speak to them though. I will do this at the end of the article.
The first important to do is to look at our puppers body language when they are out and about. Does anything startle them? What excites them? The range of environmental stimulus (or triggers) is huge and varies from one dog to another. If you go through the socialisation sheet and make positive associations with all these things then you are probably way ahead of the game already.
What if something stands out?
Depending on your breed there may be certain stimulus they find irresistible. For collies-sheep, for hunting breeds – fast moving animals, for spaniels- birds, these are examples of genetically programmed triggers, so a bigger challenge for most pet dog owners. This working drive can be transferred to other things too, cars, bicycles or children can sometimes become chase targets if we are not careful to recognise and redirect that working mindset, give a working dog a job or they might just make themselves self employed. That is not to say other breeds won’t do these things too, or your pup may be just be so uber friendly that you find yourself being dragged to meet every dog or person in the neighbourhood. The solution to preventing these problems are the same.
Building up your engagement with your pup means they have more value in being with you, and less worry about other environmental triggers. Having a good repertoire of engaging games and building up your pups level of focus, and impulse control will mean you never really have to worry about taking your pup out and about.