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Reactivity is not a training issue.


Reactivity is not a training issue. Yes, training does come into helping the reactive dog on its journey, but it is not where the main focus should be or where rehab should start.


Many reactive dogs have trauma, fear, anxiety, or frustration. These are emotions. These emotions are what cause your dog to display reactivity in the first place.


If we focus on "training" reactivity out of our dogs then we will fail. Here is why.


When your dog goes into a reactive state the autonomic nervous system takes over. This is the system responsible for the fight-or-flight response. The dog has no control over this system. When the dog is in fight or flight mode, the learning part of the brain shuts down, his ability to assess, observe and rationalize goes out the window.


So, you could spend a considerable amount of time forcing the dog to sit and stay while the stimulus goes by, and eventually, after a battle he may be able to demonstrate this, however inside your dog is still freaking out. The dog has learned nothing other than he now HAS to stay in view of stimulus, all the while freaking out inside and building on his stress.


You see the drive for the behavior is simply suppressed, not helped.


Another example is pulling on the lead. So, you will train your dog to heal, right? But wait, why is the dog insistently pulling? Why have all your methods of trying to train heel failed? Why do non of the quick-fix devices that promises to stop him from pulling work?


Ha, quick "fix" devices are for another time, I won't go there right now. But take a step back and ask why is my dog pulling? Is he perhaps anxious in certain environments and is therefore simply trying to get out of it as quickly as possible. Perhaps the equipment he is being walked on is causing him pain because he is touch sensitive or has an undiagnosed joint or muscle issue, he pulls because he is trying to escape the equipment.


If you take the dog that pulls because he is anxious in his environment, focusing your energy on teaching a heel cue is a waste of time. However, when you start helping the dog to build confidence, allow them the opportunity to decompress, and gently expose them positively to the stimulus whilst keeping them underthreshold, then the pulling naturally dissipates. Why? Because the dog has no need to pull anymore.


Now I am not saying that is the case for every dog that pulls on the lead, and those that pull that do not have emotional problems will respond well to force-free heel work.


What I am trying to get you to realize is that we cannot train reactivity out of dogs. We have to dig deep and look at its origin. Only then will you truly be able to help him.


Thanks for reading.

Gemma

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