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Responsiveness is described by your dog producing one or more undesirable behaviors when a trigger is present. This is one of the most common problems we find in our dogs in Montreal. It occurs when the dog feels fear, frustration or a predation instinct occurs.
The most common behaviors are: yelping, growling, lunging and showing signs of stress vis-à-vis the trigger. Behaviors are only the surface of the problem, because the source of the reactivity is mostly related to a strong emotion that the dog feels. He can also react to different stimuli like the sound of tags, smells or people walking their dogs. . The fear can be in relation to other dogs, humans, bicycles, etc. Frustration reactivity is mostly seen when the dog wants to join its mates and play, but does not have the access and predation reactivity usually occurs with small animals.
A bib like the one Choko is wearing in the photo above will be very useful for you so that people avoid approaching your dog. Distance plays a very important role in rehabilitation, because it allows the dog to feel comfortable and safe in the situation. We must make sure to observe the canine language of our dog and note what is the distance where he feels comfortable to possibly reduce it with ethical and science-based training techniques. Some dogs will need the help of medication to be able to be in a mindset where learning and emotion change is possible. We may also have tools and teach the dog behaviors to seek attention, associate the sight of other dogs with a game where he receives several treats and showing him that there are other ways to get away from what scares him instead of yelping, growling or rushing towards it .
Your dog will need time, distance from what makes him react, repetition, consistency on your part and techniques for behavior modification like desensitization, which is going at the dog's pace, working below threshold reaction and doing the exercises gradually + the classic counter-conditioning, which is to come change the dog's emotion and associate the stimuli with something amazing. It is important to have these techniques applied by a certified dog trainer in this issue. Some emotions take a long time to modify. and even with a certified trainer it will not be possible to modify behaviors and the underlying emotion 100%. It is our responsibility as a dog owner to have realistic expectations based on our dog's personality, needs and experiences. You can find several trainers specializing in the field of reactivity on the website of the Regroupement Québécois d'Intervenants en Éducation Canine www.rqiec.com
In a situation where you have a reactive dog, be sure to give him space from what makes him react: if you are walking behind another dog with a good distance and your dog is comfortable in the situation, take the opportunity to give him high-value treats. A high value treat is essential and perhaps sausage, cheese or beef liver. Find something that will literally make your dog drool so he's super motivated. The treat can even be given to the dog if he has started barking, but be sure to step away afterwards to create distance if he is having strong reactions. One trick I love to use with Choko is to toss the medium sized treat in front of him to really grab his attention and go for a jog.
Avoid making your dog react by taking him to places where he will be uncomfortable and putting him in situations where he might be scared or too frustrated. We want as far as possible that our dog no longer needs to react in this way.
If you walk up to a reactive dog, be sure not to stare at him, stay away from him, and avoid talking to him to help him feel better about the situation. Always ask the owner's permission to approach you, learn to read canine language to make sure the dog is comfortable in the situation, do a consent test and let the dog come to you. If he doesn't come on his own or doesn't seem to want to participate or continue the interaction, respect his decision and move on.