reactive dogs

Is it possible for a dog to be reactive to the unexpected?

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I had a great question recently:

“Is it possible for a dog to be reactive to quiet and ‘the unexpected’?”

The person who posed this question was puzzled that their dog seemed able to cope with busy or noisy situations, but would react violently to any sight or sound when the environment was otherwise empty or quiet. The owner was worried that his dog may be unusual or wrong in some way.

As I answered, it became clear that quite a few owners of reactive dogs are puzzled by this. So I’m giving you my answer as it may answer a question that you have too!

 

This is a good question! It baffles and misleads a lot of people.  

Picture this: you are visiting your local shops. It’s afternoon, the shops are busy, there are mothers with pushchairs, delivery vans, people with shopping bags, boys on bikes … How do you feel?

Absolutely fine and comfortable, I’d bet.

Now imagine you go there at 1 in the morning. The place is deserted. You hear footsteps getting louder, and peering into the gloom you can just make out a figure heading towards you. How do you feel?

Most of us would be on high alert at the very least, possibly really alarmed.

The same man ambling through the crowds in the afternoon probably wouldn’t have bothered you at all.

There is a technical name for this - it’s SEC or Sudden Environmental Change.

Dogs are designed to spot things which are different, things which shouldn’t be there. They can single out something amiss and focus intently on it. This is one reason why they have earned their place in our homes down the ages. They are alarm sensors!

So your dog is behaving absolutely normally.

 

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Sudden Environmental Change? Wha’?

There is a reason so many of our working dogs are so useful in their work. Take German Shepherds for instance, who can spot an intruder or an escaping criminal in a split-second, and take action.

Border Collies, those wonderful sheep-herders, can instantly spot a ewe whose ear is twitching in the wrong direction, indicating that she’s about to break and take the flock with her. The Collie can get round in an instant to block the ewe and make sure she keeps going in the right direction.

In the image at the top of the page, young Coco Poodle just has to check out this strange sign in an otherwise green and empty landscape.

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Sighthounds can spot the tiniest movement in a still place at a huge distance. Something moving in the landscape could well be dinner!

Dogs searching for evidence may not have a specific scent or object in mind - they’re just looking for something that shouldn’t be there.

And this is why your dog may react dramatically to the doorbell, or a car door slamming outside your home.

WHO IS THIS?

WHAT ARE THEY DOING HERE?

ARE WE UNDER THREAT?

For this ability alone, dogs have earnt their place by our fireplaces for so many thousands of years - it’s about 30,000 years, in fact.

Dogs’ gifts

The fact is that the hearing and sight capabilities of the dog so far outweigh our own. When it comes to their noses, they are unparalleled, and are the reason dogs are an important tool for the police, and in airports and ports worldwide. They’re far quicker at discovering evidence and identifying contraband than much of the sophisticated machinery also in use!

Is it possible for a dog to be reactive to quiet?

Window barking and fence running

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I can’t tell you how many owners of reactive dogs tell me their dog is a nightmare because he barks all day at the window.

“He barks at the window at everything he sees”

“He looks out of the window all day, if anyone comes past he barks and barks.”

“He spends his days attacking my front window as people pass by”

Or races up and down the garden barking at anything the other side of the fence.

He also fence fights with our neighbour’s dogs when they are out so that is a daily challenge”

“The biggest issue is that whenever our neighbours walk past our garden fence she goes on the defensive, jumping up the fence to try and get to them”

He will run the fence if allowed”

There are two problems here

1. The dog is driving the owner mad, so there’s disharmony in the house, frustration from both owner and dog, maybe wrecked furniture or lawn, worry about what the neighbours think.

and

2. The dog is continually wound up like a coiled spring. He’s getting no rest, and his cortisol levels (that’s the fight or flight thing) are continually elevated.

 

We all know how an overtired toddler is impossible to manage. Dogs are the exact same. This dog who spends his days on guard duty at the window, straining for any movement he can see, then leaping about scrabbling and barking at the window, is getting no rest. He’s getting tenser and tenser.

By the time you set out on your walk with him he’s already on his toes, on full alert! There’s little chance of escaping your outing without some kind of incident - barking and lunging at anything that moves, and going nuts on sight of a dog, or a bicycle, or whatever upsets your dog.

The dog who heads out to the garden for a quiet sniff about is not going to get that if he’s hurtling up and down the fence screaming at anything the other side.

I’d go so far as to say that you are going to have little impact on changing your walks to calm, quiet, and enjoyable, if you don’t first fix these problems at home.

So how on earth can I stop it?

Like most problems, it’s always best to prevent it even starting. But that’s with 20/20 hindsight! If you’ve already got this as an established problem, it’s no help to you to say don’t let it start!

But you can mostly certainly change it. For good.

Let’s start with the windows

You need to prevent your dog’s access to the windows that are causing the problem. Probably the front windows. So first stop is not to let him in that room unless you are with him to manage the situation. If you’ve got a tiny home, or an open-plan one, you may find baby gates help (baby gates are most definitely the dog-owner’s friend!).

Or move to Plan B. Which is to use window film! This wonderful invention will still allow light into your home, but present a fuzzy image to your dog. He can only see something really close up to the window, not out on the street. You can get all sorts of designs, and it’s really easy to apply - and just to whip off when you want (you won’t want: you’ll be so pleased with the calm it brings you’ll never want to take it off!).

And you don’t need to cover the whole window. Just the part your dog can see out of.

You may need to move your furniture about a bit, so he doesn’t have a handy perch!

So window-barking is now eliminated! Hooray. You’ll wonder how you ever stood it before. And you will see a distinct difference in your dog who is now getting something approaching the 17 hours (yes, seventeen hours) of sleep he should have every day for optimum health and lowered stress.

“But I don’t want to cover my windows!” Then unless you can keep your dog away from them another way, you will continue this mad barking and over-stimulation, which will prevent you making the important changes in your reactive dog’s behaviour out of doors! Your choice …

So what about fence-running?

Putting film on your fence is not going to work!

If you can, talk to your neighbours and arrange things so that you are all not driven mad. See what this resourceful student does to prevent these senseless and energy-sapping battles at the fence:

“My neighbour and I text each other for the all clear before letting them out!”

Those of you without such amenable and sensible neighbours will have to manage it all by yourself. Careful observation of your neighbour’s timetable will help.

 But in any case, you will always be out in the garden with your dog!

Join our FREE 5 Day Live Workshop and change walks with your reactive dog - all force-free and dog-friendly! | CLICK TO SIGN UP | #aggressivedog, #reactivedog, #dogtraining, #dogbehavior, #growlydog | www.brilliantfamilydog.com

If necessary, you could have her on lead. It’s essential to teach your dog a new way of being in the garden. You’ll find simple counterconditioning very helpful. You just post treats into your dog’s mouth whenever there’s something over the fence that worries her. This way you’ll change her emotional response to the frightening thing.

You may have to start this from inside the house! Wherever your dog is calm enough to take treats will get you started.  

No more barking and screaming!

These problems are very simply solved. Note I didn’t say “easily”. It takes application and observation. But the solutions are simple and straightforward.

All it needs is a little effort on your part, and the deafening noises, frantic behaviour, and over-arousal, will all be a thing of the past.

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Can you help my Reactive dog?

Yes, there is a way to change your reactive dog and enjoy walks again - all force-free and dog-friendly | FREE 5 DAY ONLINE WORKSHOP |  #aggressivedog, #reactivedog, #dogtraining, #growlydog | www.brilliantfamilydog.com

This is a question I get all the time!

You get a dog for your life and for your family because of all the pleasure it’s going to bring you.

You’ll be able to care for another creature, teach her and nurture her. You’ll be able to go for long tramps across hill and dale, enjoy a coffee at your local cafe, with friends. You’ll be proud to show off your dog to visitors to your home, and go for group walks with others and their pets in the park.

NOT.

It just didn’t work out that way for you.

Your dog is difficult. She barks at all comers. She shows her teeth to other dogs. You daren’t let her off the lead for fear of what may happen. And as for sitting quietly in a coffee shop or enjoying family visiting your home … that seems a pipe-dream.

And naturally you are grieving for the loss of your dog. The dog you thought you were getting.

I get that. I really do.

But all is not lost!

You really can enjoy many of those things. But you have to change a few things first.

 You think I mean you have to change your dog, don’t you!

Train him to within an inch of his life. Stop him pulling on the lead. Force him to change his attitude to other dogs, bikes, joggers, visitors …

But no, I don’t mean that.

What you have to do is change what you’re thinking! Yes, really! It’s not about teaching your dog a different way to be. It’s about looking at a different way YOU can be. A better way to reach your dog’s mind and make the changes you so devoutly desire.

Many people come to me in a state of near-despair. They think it’s all their dog’s fault. Or they think it’s all their fault.

Can you imagine the relief when they find that it’s neither their dog’s fault NOR their fault?

And the flood of relief they get when they find how easy it can be to change things - once they make the changes to their own thoughts first!

Results

I absolutely love it when I get emails like this one:

“Zoe is so much better in every way – much calmer, gaining confidence, more trusting of life. Thank you Beverley, for being there, and for all you do.”

Or how about this one?

“These training sessions with you really have been invaluable and Romy’s really benefitted so thank you very, very much from the three of us.”

 Or even this:

“The best thing that has come out of this program is that our relationship has just grown and grown – we both trust each other and look out for each other.”

I am touched that I have been able to help these good people and their equally good dogs!

And their results came mainly from how those owners changed their own thoughts and feelings about the whole “reactive dog” thing.

What to do next?

So, in an effort to reach more of you, and to help transform the lives of even more dogs and their people, I’m running a 5 Day Live Workshop specially for Growly Dogs (that’s shy, anxious, reactive, or aggressive, dogs) - entirely free.

I’d love you to come along and start on your own new journey with your much-loved dog.

Click here to find out just what you’ll get and how to sign up!

Yes, there is a way to change your reactive dog and enjoy walks again - all force-free and dog-friendly | FREE 5 DAY ONLINE WORKSHOP |  #aggressivedog, #reactivedog, #dogtraining, #growlydog | www.brilliantfamilydog.com

“I was feeling hopeless, overwhelmed, stressed and isolated. I felt like a failure because I did not know how to help my reactive dog ..... and then, one fine day, I found Beverley Courtney.”

 

This could be your story too!

 

Reactive dog? Anxious dog? Aggressive dog? Calling all Growly Dog owners!

Great excitement here at Brilliant Family Dog HQ! We’re getting ready to host the first Growly Workshop of 2019. Click here for details and to sign up, free.

Brilliant Family Dog is becoming known for the free 5 Day Workshops we run. They are hugely rewarding - both for the students who work along for the week and for me watching their fast and genuine progress.

People who had almost given up hope of finding a way forward with their difficult dog find a home with us. A nurturing, friendly, supportive home. They are amazed - not only to find they are no longer alone - but to feel the warmth of hundreds of others who are in the same boat with their dog!

Transformation stories abound:

“Love your workshop! Looking forward to tonight’s live training.You should be so proud of yourself taking the time to help and guide us -  thank you from me and Barney xx” SS

“Beverley you are a marvelous teacher and trainer and writer!!! Way to go! You make it easy to understand so I can follow your directions.  Thank you so much.” SH

“Just want to thank you for giving your time freely for the five day course, I found it very interesting and informative. I did not realise just how anxious my dog actually is. It is also lovely to interact with others who experience similar problems.” JC

“Hello! I just wanted to say thank you so much for the course that I did. I thought you might like an update! My working lab is now eleven months old and from pulling like a steam engine he is now walking beautifully” SO

“Thank you Beverley for your generosity and time over the workshop. I look forward to continuing along this path with you!” AG

“Lulu is taking things slowly but already I have seen a difference. Went for a walk on Sunday with friends and their dogs and she behaved better than any of the others!” PM

 

How about you and your dog?

Join our FREE 5 Day Live Workshop and make huge changes with your reactive or anxious dog - all force-free and dog-friendly! | CLICK TO SIGN UP | #aggressivedog, #reactivedog, #dogtraining, #dogbehavior, #growlydog | www.brilliantfamilydog.com

 Will you be with us?

As you can see, in just five days you can get a huge boost forward in your journey with your dog. I’d love to reach as many dogs as possible, to change their lives and the lives of their bewildered but devoted owners. That means I need you to spread the word!

Go and sign up straight away and see what you get (there’s a new surprise gift for everyone who joins! Don’t you love surprises?).

But don’t just bring yourself - bring a friend too. Another dogwalker who struggles with their dog. Or someone who tells you they can no longer walk their dog at all because they’re too ashamed and embarrassed.

So if you want to enjoy walks with your dog - to beaches, forests, fields, parks, cafes; to have visitors in your home again for the first time in years; and to simply accept your dog for who she is and KNOW how best to help her enjoy life too, come and join us now.

 

I’ll close with a moving note from a previous workshopper:  

“There are no words for how grateful I am for the start Beverley has given me.” VB

 

Here you go - this is where you can join us all, free: www.brilliantfamilydog.com/5-day-growly-workshop-march-2019

 

 

I have a difficult dog - How can I get a break?

Lacy barking in the field.png

If there’s one thing Growly Dog owners know - it’s that sometimes you just need a break!

However much you love your gorgeous darling reactive dog, it has the potential to become wearing. You don’t want your dog to become a burden! So taking a break, whether for work or pleasure, can let you see how the other half lives while reinforcing your good feelings for your dog - Absence makes the heart grow fonder, and all that.

A change can also be a good thing, so holidaying with your pet is way up there on the to-do list for many reactive dog-owners. And it may not be as difficult as you think!

How to get a holiday at all

As I have four dogs, holidays in hotels and b&b’s - though possible in theory - really were not fun. All this changed when I got a campervan and I’m now able to swan off with my dogs to all sorts of interesting places - beaches, forests, fields, moors - and enjoy the trip thoroughly.

No campervan? You can rent one!

There are also many places - certainly in the UK - where you can rent a holiday cottage in the depths of the countryside, and dogs are welcome. They often have a well-fenced garden and ready access to walking country, though you’d need to check that first. For me that’s definitely the second-best thing to the van (well, first-best thing in the depths of winter!), and I’ve been introduced to some great new places to explore that way.

So holidaying with your dog, even a very reactive one, is definitely possible. And I know that lots of people set off with some misgivings, only to find that the whole family has a wonderful stress-free time - including, sometimes much to their surprise, their dog!

What about when I can’t take my reactive dog?

But what happens if you can’t take your dog with you and you have to travel? This was me recently, with a business trip. I was fortunate in that I know an amazing place where dogs - especially reactive dogs - are not just welcome, but thoroughly catered for and pampered. It’s not near me - I have to travel two hours to get there - but is it worth it? Heck, yes!

The comfort I get from knowing my precious dogs are in safe hands, with someone who absolutely understands their needs, their individuality, their fears, is priceless. And, of course, this 5* treatment is not cheap. But how much value do you put on your dog’s safety and your own peace of mind?

Now I know a safe place for them, I need have no qualms about future trips away from them.

Previously I would only be away for a day. Then I’d get a carefully-chosen dog minder to visit them two or three times in the day. I didn’t want them walked, just given a break, let out, and played with. This works very well for me, but is limited to just the one day - and a minder who they’ve met and “approved”!

“My dog is such a tie”

So don’t let the fact that your dog does not strew rose petals and rainbows wherever she goes prevent you from taking a holiday - with or without her.

The time to do your research is now, not five minutes before you want to go. You’ll have time to seek advice, check out the places, and carefully get to know the person who will be caring for your dogs.

You’ll have some searching questions if you’re leaving your dog with someone else, and you need to get those questions answered thoroughly. In the case of the place my dogs stayed at, several visits beforehand are a part of the package, so your dog isn’t dumped in a strange place with strangers, and so that you can check out the carer and the premises.

You can see the bond they developed with Clair in this video of the welcome they gave me on my return. They kept running back to her (with the camera) to tell her the exciting news! This is one of many videos and photos sent to me, most while I was away.

 

How does your reactive dog impact the rest of your doggy family?

How does your reactive dog impact the rest of your doggy family? You need to ensure you give each dog in a multi-dog household just what he or she needs | FREE EMAIL COURSE | Reactive dog, problem dog, fearful dog, dog behavior | #problemdog, #reactivedog, #dogtraining, #growlydog | www.brilliantfamilydog.com

It cannot be denied that if you have a reactive dog you have a completely different owner-dog relationship from the average pet-dog-owner. 

You have to invest time, maybe money, and much thought, into making life better for this little dog you have taken on. And in so doing you travel a road with him that most dog-owners don’t. This is why many people become devoted to their “special needs” dog, and fiercely protective of them. 

While this is a good thing - any deep relationship has the potential to be life-enhancing - sometimes your other family pets get elbowed out in favour of the special one, who gets the lion’s share of attention.

Reader Harriet made just this point to me recently, when she confessed that she felt her non-reactive dog was missing out: 

“She's the kind of 'no trouble’ dog it's easy to overlook when you are investing most of your energy in a more challenging one.”

Sometimes these feelings get mixed up with guilt - something most humans are SO good at! But really, there’s no point in blaming yourself, or the breeder, or the shelter, or another dog, or the stars … It is, as they annoyingly say, what it is. This is where we are, and blaming and guilt are not going to help you one jot!

  • Maybe you got your dog as a puppy and something happened to upset him.

  • Maybe you got him from rescue and the sum of his life experiences have made him reactive.

  • Maybe he ended up in rescue because his previous owners weren’t prepared to dedicate the necessary time to him. OR

  • Maybe your dog is just the way he is.

However it came about, it’s time to roll up your sleeves and get to work helping your dog.

But you don’t want to forget your easy-going dogs!

It would be easy to focus entirely on your neediest dog and let the other/s coast. But that would be as bad as neglecting your reactive dog and letting him get on with it. 

All the dogs in our care deserve equal respect and attention. But that doesn’t mean they all have to be treated the same!

The joy of a multi-dog household is the contrast in characters, the differences in likes and dislikes. You find the joy for each dog and give them what they need. 

In my own household I have four very different dogs! And they are each treated as individuals.

Rollo, the herder, gets to mind his chickens a lot of the day, usually with a large soft bear in his mouth. This harmless pastime employs his herding instincts, and keeps him happy. 

Lacy, the most challenging of my dogs, gets plenty of solo walks where we can work on changing her response to sudden environmental change, people who shouldn't be there, other dogs.

Cricket the Whippet has her physical comforts tended to ceaselessly! She loves warmth, so she has duvets, jumpers, access to squares of sunshine . . .

Make sure your easy-going dogs get as much attention as they need while you focus on your challenging dog! Juggling the needs of individual dogs in a multi-dog household takes skill and thought | FREE EMAIL COURSE | Reactive dog, problem dog, fearful dog, dog behavior, multi-dog household | #problemdog, #reactivedog, #dogtraining, #growlydog | www.brilliantfamilydog.com

Coco Poodle gets precision Obedience Competition training (a bit like dressage for horses) as this gives his fertile brain very tricky puzzles to solve, and builds his much-needed impulse control. 

 

They all get frequent free-running, exploring walks where they are free to be dogs.

And, of course, all four dogs get similar individual training in general household obedience, and can all perform tricks for fun. Different tricks for the different characters.

One thing I have found helpful to keep track of all these dogs with their different needs, is to have a whiteboard with the following categories:

Solo Walks
Training/Outings
Group Walks

Each dog is ticked off for each activity as it happens. This means I never get to the end of the week and wonder when I last paid any attention to one of the quieter dogs!

Keeping the world at bay

Harriet again:

“I think what happens when you have a reactive dog - not only are you investing a lot of time and effort in behaviour change, there is also the emotional investment in defending them from the rest of the world which is labelling them a bad/aggressive dog (and often you as a rubbish handler!).”

It’s easy to slip into a defensive mode when you feel people are judging you and your dog. 

This is a corrosive frame of mind and will not move you forward!

When it comes down to it, other people’s opinions (and they are in the main uneducated opinions) count for nothing. While you don’t want to feel like Evelyn Waugh’s character “Sebastian contra mundum” (Sebastian versus the rest of the world) - and we certainly have to have consideration for our fellow-residents on this planet - this doesn’t mean we have to feel inferior, just because others don’t understand.

People can be very quick to judge when they don’t understand something. Because they don’t understand, they become fearful, Hence the awful gang attacks on “different” people. 

Parents of challenging children have to put up with this ill-considered judgy-wudgy attitude daily, from those who have no conception of what it is like.

Enjoy your easy dog!

So if you have an easy dog, you can enjoy a holiday from the stresses and strains you may be feeling at the moment with your reactive and sometimes trying dog. 

Take your easy-going, friendly, happy-go-lucky, untroublesome dog out alone with you on walks or outings - to a cafe, perhaps - where you can relax and enjoy not getting glared and stared at. Enjoy a bit of dog-therapy with her. Remember why you wanted a dog in the first place.

You never know, some of those judgers may see you and realise that perhaps you aren’t such a “rubbish handler” after all.

 

For help with your reactive, anxious, aggressive, “growly” dog, join our free 5 Day Video Mini-Course here

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