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What is Reactivity?

Updated: Apr 25, 2023

Rescue black lab mix with a tennis ball upside down

Does your dog bark, lunge or pull you when you see other dogs or people on walks? If that is the case your dog is likely reactive. This can feel so frustrating for you as the human, so we are going to explain more about what reactivity is and why it happens.

Soooo…. What is it?

Reactivity is an over reaction to stimulus in the environment. This can also be referred to as a trigger.

Some examples of these triggers are:

· Other dogs

· People

· Bikes

· Strollers

· Cars

In a situation where your dog sees these, the reactivity will present in barking, growling, lunging, pulling on the leash, or whining. There are different types of reactivity, but it is important to remember that reactivity does not always equal aggression. Reactivity can be due to fear, excitement, and frustration as well. Our dogs are typically trying to communicate in the best way they know how which comes out as an overreaction to the stimulus. This can feel really difficult and overwhelming to humans, as it is tough to not know how to help them correctly in this moment. It is also totally normal to feel frustrated with your dog due to them having this overreaction and us not understanding why it is happening.

Why does it happen?

Reactivity can happen for a multitude of reasons. It typically boils down to over-arousal. During the socialization period of the dog's life, it is important to teach neutrality to stimulus, this helps set them up for success in the future.

Reactivity can also stem from many other things, like a situation the dog deemed scary, too many on-leash greetings, or not enough exposure to that stimulus, and even genetics.

With any of these, dogs will struggle to regulate themselves in these moments and display the over reaction we were talking about above. That is the only way they know how to communicate to us that they are having big feelings.

Training will go a long way in working with your dog's specific needs.

What is the goal of training?

When working through reactivity training the goal is to create a solid plan that works for everyone involved. We are working to help our dogs to learn the skillset to cope in these situations.

This can be done by making sure all of the dog's needs are being met, working at thresholds that the dog is comfortable with, and learning the smaller queues our dogs are giving when they are uncomfortable or overly excited.

When you learn to work together as a team you will be able to help your dog regulate their big feelings in these uncomfortable situations, which will ultimately stop the overreactions from happening.

Stay tuned for some fun next steps!


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