For the first part of our Reactivity series, we are looking into the various causes of reactivity in dogs. If you have ever wondered ‘why is my dog reactive?’, especially around other dogs, you are not alone. There are three main causes of dog reactivity are; genetics, learnt behaviour, and the dog’s relationship with the owner.
Genetics is the most overlooked factor in what causes reactivity in dogs. Just like you and I, dogs are born with unique character and temperament. Dogs aren’t born reactive, but genetics can make them susceptible to learning that behaviour. Most people attribute their dog’s reactive behaviour to a certain traumatic event in the dog’s life, and while this is true, the way dogs react to life events and how quickly they recover from them is down to their genetics.
Recognising potential genetic frailties in dogs and controlling how they experience life is extremely important, and one way this can be done is by socialising your dog in a manner that is empathetic to its needs. We have covered how to socialise your dog in another video as part of our Reactivity Series on YouTube. Click the link down below.
As previously stated, dogs aren’t born reactive, they learn this behaviour. How quickly and at what level it reaches are dependent on the dog’s genetics and its life experiences. Reactivity generally isn’t a result of one particular traumatic life event but can happen due to a series of incremental ones that causes this behaviour. From the moment dogs are born, they are learning 24/7, and they have limited tools to control that process. People like to think dogs are extremely good communicators in terms of body language, but they actually only have three ways of communicating. These are through noise, such as barking, spatial pressure, like lunging or chasing, and force, when they bite.
When faced with pressures that life presents, dogs, especially young ones, quickly learn that these factors, or a combination of them, make the things they are frightened of go away. Dogs do not process information like us, so if dogs find something is working for them to alleviate life pressures, whether we perceive it to be antisocial or not, they will keep repeating these patterns of behaviour. This behaviour overtime, if left untrained, will become muscle memory for the dog. If at some point in the future this pattern of behaviour doesn’t work, dogs will not abandon it but take it to more extreme levels to see if it gains the outcome they desire.
How you guide your dog is key to preventing or successfully training reactivity but this is not to place blame on owners of reactive dogs. Prevention is far better than a cure, and a lot of the information online is unreliable and counterproductive. Often the advice given encourages situations that are convenient and easy for us humans but has little understanding of how this affects and influences dog behaviour.
Dogs are not children but can often hold a similar place in our lives, which is why Platinum K9 speaks regularly about parental leadership as a style of dog training. Good parents are very careful to shape and mould their child’s development and as children, we have restrictions and control placed on our exposure to life in accordance to our age and character, with the aim of keeping us safe without stifling our ability to grow and develop. It is exactly this style of leadership and relationship needed with your dog to promote confidence and reduce anxiety or stress which in return promotes reactivity.
Make sure to check out our Reactivity Series on YouTube for more information and advice about reactive dogs. Watch our Reactivity Series on Platinum K9 YouTube channel