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November 5, 2022

Addressing Dog Reactivity: A Case Study

In this follow-up blog post, we dive into a case where a lady tried various solutions for her dog, C, but the problems persisted and worsened.


Understanding C’s Threshold and Reactivity

C exhibits a low threshold, reacting intensely to minor triggers. I needed to determine if C’s threshold was naturally low or if experience and training sensitized him. The threshold can be genetic, limiting a dog’s development. However, if C’s threshold results from sensitization, desensitization training can help.


C’s Habitual Reactivity and Training Approach

My assessment revealed that C’s reactivity had become a habit. C needs to learn how to assess threats accurately to avoid responding inappropriately. With bullies, the best defence is a good offence, skipping other forms of communication. Using the Layered Stress Model, we can establish a communication system, teach commands, and identify activities to help C decompress.


Anxiety and Victim Mentality

C’s long-term anxiety may stem from not understanding the consequences of his decisions. He relies on the threat of violence for safety but must learn that other choices can provide security. By teaching appropriate communication techniques and advocating for C, we can help him feel safe and change his behaviour.


Possessiveness vs. Protection

C’s possessiveness of people, belongings, and territory is often confused with protection. However, these attitudes differ, and possessiveness is never appropriate. C must take cues from his owner, N, and her partner, learning when protection is necessary and when to correct his behaviour.


The Importance of Owner Commitment

N feels guilty for not helping C, but this is a failure of the dog trainer who did not adapt their methodology to suit N and C’s needs. Positive-only trainers may insist on trying longer, but there’s a point of diminishing returns. If no progress is made after six weeks, it’s time to change tactics.


Key Training Concepts for Reactive Dogs

Many dog trainers overlook critical aspects of training reactive dogs, including behaviour-consequence links, emotional attitudes, mindset, operant conditioning quadrants, and the extinction burst. With consistency, commitment, and support, N and I can work together to improve C’s behaviour in the future.

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