Just over five years ago I had a highly reactive dog.
I’ll tell you what he was like because everyone’s understanding of “reactive” is a little different.
Riggs was sensitive to touch, noise, sudden changes in environment
Riggs barked at every dog he saw, big whooping, scary sounding barks and lunging to the end of his lead
Riggs barked at every cat, squirrel, bunny and bird he saw and yes, there was more lunging!
Riggs wouldn’t let me come near his toys if he had them, he wouldn’t let me take a chew away when it got too small
He wasn’t a bad dog.
He was a scared dog.
The world made him anxious.
He was worried that every touch might have bad intentions, every noise might be a predator and every new cushion in the living room was a potential threat.
He thought every dog was not to be trusted and every small fluffy was there to be chased.
His toys and food were special and to be protected, not taken away by a human.
Although I understood all of this, it was intensely frustrating and sometimes I didn’t know how to help him.
I’m so glad I didn’t give up on my wonderful boy who I now know can be calm and chilled in so many situations, who I use as my demo dog, who loves agility and learning, comes on holiday with me and who happily plays with other dogs and doesn’t so much as glance at cats.
That’s why when he has a “wobble day” and things seem a little scary for him again I try to push the “oh no, he’s broken again!” thoughts down, park the frustration and remind myself that we all have a wobble now and again.
Riggs barked at a couple of dogs the other day. I took him home and gave him a massage and a chew.
We all act differently when we’re feeling anxious and being “reactive” is just a way of coping with anxiety.
Don’t give up on the tricky dogs, get good help from someone who cares and be the co-pilot your dog needs you to be.