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Caring less when your dog reacts.

If someone says they don't care what others think, the chances are they lying. One of our biggest challenges is to focus on what we need to do and less on what we think others think we should be doing.

There's a term for this. In psychology this is known as the spotlight effect. It's where we overestimate how much others observe our behaviour or think about what we are doing. It's funny, because we will all struggle to some degree with this and so instead of others worrying about what we are doing, people are much more likely to be concerned with how they are being perceived as well. So nobody is really worried about us except ourselves.

How does this fit in with dog training? When our dogs react or behave in a way that isn't deemed acceptable we will likely feel an urge to get the situation under control as quickly as possible in order to stop our embarrassment. Unfortunately, we tend to use any means necessary, regardless of whether we know what to do for the dog's wellbeing and overall success of the training.

"An abnormal reaction to an abnormal situation is normal behaviour."

Reactivity and/or aggression is not species specific. Every species displays it to some degree. We have developed these responses to keep us safe and alive. It's expensive behaviour. Meaning it takes a lot of effort and burns off potentially valuable calories so we have to accept and understand that from the dog's perspective they are feeling VERY strongly about something. A simple 'NO!' isn't going to help them through this and cope better in the long run.

We have to realise that in order for us to help our dogs change their behaviour we need to make some sacrifices ourselves and one of those sacrifices should be to accept that if (or in most cases 'when') the dog does react we are there to actually help them and not just to tell them off due to your embarrassment or annoyance.

When dogs struggle with reactivity each outing should be a time to train them. Training isn't just there to teach a dog to sit or down. It's there to help them cope better as well. Appropriate training should alleviate their stress and in turn alleviate ours too - asking a dog to 'sit' when they are clearly struggling is like asking someone who is having a panic attack to simply 'calm down'. It's not fair and it's just bad training.

This is why appropriate training is a must from the get go and not something that should be implemented when you suddenly think 'things are going badly so now I should train my dog.' The longer you leave these issues to worsen the longer the training will take the amend the problems

Here's some options to help initially:

1) Stop taking your dog to the same place where you know they will react and simply hoping they just won't.

2) Get professional help. And chat to a lot of trainers about how they can help you and your dog. The dog training industry is like any of other industry - You'll get the good, the bad and the ugly. It's an unregulated industry. There are lots of great trainers out there, but there are also a lot of cowboys too, in my humble opinion of course.

3) If you have more than one dog, walk them separately so you can focus on one dog at a time. This will also make the walks much less stressful and easier for you all.

4) Always walk with someone else. This will help you stay relaxed and if things go really badly, you have someone there to help and support you.

5) Try to learn what's going on and what is driving the unwanted behaviour. Don't just think 'they are being protective'. That's very rarely the case. The more we understanding something, the better chance we have at resolving the issue.

If you'er having a bad day and think you need to take your dog for a walk but you're pretty certain they will react or simply annoy you in some way, just don't take them out. Quality outings are much more beneficial than a load of crappy outings where you're frustrated and your dogs nutting off at the end of the lead.

Reactive behaviour is like any other behaviour. It's always going to be lingering. It's not something we can 'fix'. Dogs cannot unlearn things they have previously learned. One of the only things us dog trainers can guarantee is that if a dog has practiced a behaviour in the past, they are very likely going to practice it again at some stage. However, with training we can reduce both the intensity and frequency that it is practiced. Once we learn how to deal with it properly and how to mitigate it, walks can become stress-free and beneficial for both species.

But first we have to sacrifice how we look in order to actually help them through these challenges.

Here are links to videos that will get you started:

First things to teach any dog:

Things YOU need to know to help your reactive dog:

How to build engagement with a frustrated and worked up dog:


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