Dog reactivity is one of the most common reasons pet owners seek professional help, living with a reactive dog can be tiresome and very difficult.
But what really is reactivity?
Reactivity is commonly confused with dog aggression. Dogs that are reactive are those that overreact to certain stimuli or situations. Genetics, lack of proper socialisation, or a combination of the two can cause reactivity, and fear is typically the driving force.
Reactive dogs may have certain triggers, such as bicycles, small dogs, or situations when the dog feels trapped by being on a leash which prevents the dogs natural fight or flight instinct.
Normally when a dog is scared, it chooses to run from what it’s afraid of. But, once on a lead, the dog is trapped and cannot flee from the inciting cause, instead, he will decide to fight to preserve himself.
Fearful dogs may not give any additional warnings other than their body language. The bites themselves are typically quick snaps and may occur when the person is leaving and has his back turned.
Leash reactive dogs tend to growl, bark, and / or lunge toward things that make them nervous or fearful. These triggers may be other dogs, people and can be narrowed down to specifics such as children, men, small dogs, bicycles etc…
Dogs displaying these behaviours are not acting aggressive, they are trying to prevent a fight. They are trying to make the threat go away or increase the distance between themselves and the threat.
If a reactive dog approaches you, the best thing you can do is give him space. Do not approach in an attempt to greet him. The owner is likely trying to train through the behaviour, and by keeping your distance you will help in their training.
If you believe your dog is reactive, then it is best to seek professional help as soon as possible to make both you, and your dog happy.