Dealing with Dog Reactivity

Original post: January 2018

For those of you who have met Denzel in recent years, you see a sweet and quirky little fruitcake. People are always amazed when I relate the terror he used to be when he was younger. At 6 months old, Denzel was attacked in a dog park and developed some pretty concerning dog reactivity problems. He is the result of bad breeding, poor upbringing in his early developmental windows as an "only pup", and negative experiences during his secondary fear period. It has taken time, patience, and hard work to get him to where he is now. It hasn’t always been easy, but it has been worth every second. He is my demo dog, my “Walmart greeter” at events, and a regular in local schools and daycare groups giving presentations on the importance of safety around dogs. More importantly, he now has four legged friends – something I was positive 5 years ago would never happen.

In an ideal world we wouldn’t have reactive dogs. Myself and many others would be out of a job. Prevention is always the best policy.  By setting your dog up for success early in life with proper socialization and lots of effective conditioning towards people, dogs, cats, cars, fireworks, leaves blowing in the wind.. the likelihood of a dog developing reactivity problems decreases enormously. However, life is never that straight forward. We as owners can screw up even with the best intentions (like I did!), dogs are neglected and abused then adopted out with pre-existing reactivity problems.. There are a million and one reasons why a dog may develop reactivity issues. Life with a reactive dog isn’t easy.

This article is for those who are currently working through their own issues in the hope that I can provide some support and encouragement, and shed a little light on the human side of dealing with dog reactivity. Here are a few tips from someone who has been there, for dealing with life with an aggressive or reactive dog:

Seek professional help, now.

Over the years I have seen potentially great dogs turned away from other trainers because they are too aggressive, too reactive, a “ticking time bomb”, a “weapon”. It’s really sad to see, because not all trainers are equipped to deal with reactive dogs. Comfort and skill level varies greatly.  The owners that spring to mind sought help elsewhere, and with the right help saw their dogs go from strength to strength.

Always remember, a second opinion can’t hurt – in fact, it could save your dog’s life.