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When a client calls me on the phone and describes their dog as “aggressive,” I have my own picture in my head of what aggression looks like. But what is their picture? What exactly does aggressive look like to them? So I ask.  And I ask a very specific question.

“How do you know? What exactly does your dog’s reactivity look like that makes you think this?”

Did you see what I did there? I changed their word “aggression” to “reactivity” because the bottom line is, the dog is simply reacting to a stimulus. The severity of the reactivity is what I’m trying to find out.

“My neighbor came over and my dog jumped on her and barked” VERSES “My husband was in the ER because our dog bit him.”

I never give advice about reactivity/aggression over the phone. Not until I see it in person, I need too much additional information before I can begin. However, there is some information that I can give that is an overview no matter what or how severe the reactivity is.

Reactivity is mostly fear-based. I would even go as far as to say 99% of all aggression cases are based and rooted in fear or they started there even if they have morphed into something else today.
The humans frequently make the reactive behavior worse on accident because of how they react. You should become aware of how you react and everything you do. This includes your voice and your body language.

Threshold. No matter how reactive the dog is, no matter what the dog is reacting to, no matter the location where the dog is reacting, the dog cannot have his mind changed about anything unless he is under threshold. The dog must be in a position to learn. Once a dog has reached the height of his reactivity, it is too late to train or learn, the only option then is management. Begin implementing training under threshold. This usually means distance from stimuli. Distance is always your best friend.

Counter Conditioning. When a dog is reactive, the dog has already made a decision about how he feels about the stimulus. That’s why he is reacting! Changing how the dog feels about the stimulus is the most common, and often, the easiest technique. Associate a positive interaction with the aversive. Present a beloved chewy water bottle as you need to pass another dog on a leash.  Allow the dog to begin to associate happy things happen when the bad things enters the scene.

Incompatible Behaviors/Replacement Behaviors. IBs teach the dog to do something that causes him to be physically unable to do the unwanted behavior and RBs are performing a wanted behavior instead of an unwanted one. For example, it is physically impossible for a dog to jump if he is sitting. This same idea can be used with reactivity. Replace lunging at the end of the leash with eye contact to you. Or train the dog that a tight leash is a cue to find you so if he does reach the end of his leash, he is able to cue himself out of lunging!

Be a Detective. Why is your dog reacting? Sometimes if you can find the root, you can fix the problem. Most of the time we don’t have the originating situation to cause this but sometimes we do know! A client called me recently about their dog now displacing reactivity to anything that beeps. But she also knows the exact moment it happened! The dog was home all day when the smoke alarm battery started chirping. The dog now associated the obnoxious noise with being afraid and fear turns into “aggression.”

Earlier the better. The sooner you can recognize there is a fear or reactivity starting, the easier and quicker it can be reversed!

No practicing. Practice makes perfect so every time the dog gets to practice the reactive behavior, it gets better and stronger and more default. Management and prevention can play a huge part in reversing a guarding behavior.

Don’t hesitate to consult a positive reinforcement trainer or your veterinarian for more information.

 

 

 

2 COMMENTS
Anuj Agarwal
April 1, 2017
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Hi Two Bostons Team,

My name is Anuj Agarwal. I’m Founder of Feedspot.

I would like to personally congratulate you as your blog Two Bostons has been selected by our panelist as one of the Top 100 Pet Blogs on the web.

http://blog.feedspot.com/pet_blogs/

I personally give you a high-five and want to thank you for your contribution to this world. This is the most comprehensive list of Top 100 Pet Blogs on the internet and I’m honored to have you as part of this!

Also, you have the honor of displaying the badge on your blog.

Best,
Anuj

Lisa Spaeth
April 3, 2017
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Wow!!! Thank you so much. We are very honored to be a part of the list.

Thank you, Lisa

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