Introducing a dog who’s reactive to another dog
Your bound to have a lot of questions as well as having a few doubts when it comes to introducing your reactive dog to another dog, doing it safely, making it a positive experience for both dogs, progressing without risking any bad experiences.
How To Introduce A Reactive Dog To Another Dog
The most important thing to keep in mind is that you should not rush the introduction. Once two dogs are off to a bad start, you will have a hard time fixing their relationship. It is much better to take any introduction gradually and also ask yourself how important it actually is that your reactive dogs gets to meet another dog.
If you have a dog that is reactive, and you are planning to move in to a new home with someone who also has a dog, then its going to be unavoidable that these two dogs are going to be living in close vicinity of each other. When it comes to this kind of situation then you need to start training weeks if not months in advance to achieve having these the two dogs living together in one house. Start training in a wide, open space with a lot of distance between you and the other dog and by having distance you can keep your dog from going over threshold.
Using ample amounts of high value treats should be given to your reactive dog to help them build a strong positive association:
Having another dog there will eventually mean that good things are going to happen!
Don’t yell or punish your dog for any reactive behaviour. This only creates bad association. If your dog has experiences that are negative, then in the future they are more likely to show reactive behaviour. These training sessions should always be positive and rewarding.
So what’s a reactive dog?
So actually what is a reactive dog? A reactive dog shows a response that is distressed based in the presence of a trigger. The dog might lunge, bark, growl and their hackles might raise also known as piloerection. A dog who is reactive might escalate to having a bite incident if they are allowed to approach their trigger or be approached.
Reactivity sometimes gets mistaken for hyper-arousal. The two have different origins but can look very similar. With a reactive dog they have a response that is highly negative towards their triggers. However a dog who is hyper aroused is highly motivated, say by other dogs for example, because the dog is wanting to play with them. More so when the dog is on the lead, as this motivation can very quickly turn into frustration which also results in barking and lunging, this is also known as lead reactivity or barrier frustration.
Dogs who are reactive can be reactive due to many different reasons. It could be that in the past they’ve had some sort of traumatic experience. Some breeds can be more reactive than others, especially the breeds that are high strung, like the herding breeds such as the Australian Shepherds or Heelers, Shepherd breeds or their crosses. Those dogs who are bred to guard livestock or guard their homes are also more likely to show reactivity.
Reactive dog’s vs aggressive dog’s
With reactivity and aggression the difference in the two will be different for every dog, A lot of dog’s who are reactive will become aggressive if the behaviour is allowed to go on long enough and is not dealt with. Reactivity is a reaction due to triggers such as other people or other dogs. Aggression is a behaviour that is completely aimed at the trigger and will nearly always escalate.
Some dogs are bred on purpose with natural aggression, like the breeds that are used in protection sports like Schutzhund and IPG. These working dogs are trained to a very high level of obedience to control their drives.
Some dogs will develop aggressive behaviour because they don’t get the training they need for their reactivity. And the more a reactive dog gets pushed over their threshold, then its more likely they will start to show true aggression towards their triggers.
Dealing with a reactive dog
Unfortunately, dogs that are reactive, sadly never grow out of this behaviour. They will only change if the training is consistent.
If you find yourself in a situation in which your dog shows reactive behaviour, the most important thing you can do is to remove your dog from it.
The more time your dog is in a reactive state of barking, lunging, growling etc. The worse this behaviour is going to be. Responses and emotions will soon become deep rooted and the dog will become more and more reactive the longer they are over threshold.
If you're out on a walk with your dog and you spot another dog, then be proactive and create a large enough distance between you and that dog so your own dog doesn’t go over threshold and becomes reactive. If you get surprised and you are unable to create distance, then you need to move away as quickly and calmly as you can.
It is not helpful to tell your dog to Sit, Leave It, No etc. They are in such a high state of arousal that they will not be able to understand you and they will not be able to follow any of your cues.
Getting away from the situation as quick as you can, preferably under 20 seconds, is a priority.
Dogs who are lead reactive
A familiar behavioural pattern in dogs who are reactive are their reactions are a lot more determined when they are on the lead. In reality, some dogs are able to interact quite well with other dogs when out on a walk or even when at doggy day care, but when they come across a dog when they are on the lead they go crazy.
This is mainly due to the way that the lead restricts their movement. Alternatively, they might be feeling frustrated because they can’t get to another dog on their own terms. And then on the other hand, the lead also stops the dog from being able to use any body language to communicate. Dogs have a vast assortment of movements and behaviours that they use to communicate to other dogs what their intentions are. The lead physically stops dogs from doing being able to do this.
When pulling against the lead, the dog will be put into quite an extreme and intimidating position. A dog that is pulling towards another dog looks a lot more threatening than a dog who is moving freely when off the lead.
If you do have a lead reactive dog then, work with them whilst they are on a long line and at a distance that is far away to their triggers. This way your dog won’t be experiencing being on a short and tight lead and can successfully practice calm behaviours.
Reactive Dog Training
When you start doing reactivity training with your dog, That its imperative that you are consistent with your training. There is no dog trainer in the world that can “ fix” your reactive dog within just one session or with their magic wand. The key to being successful is committing some of your time to doing training with your dog, at least a minimum of 3-4 times a week.
Socialising a reactive dog
Should you socialise your dog if they are reactive? This will all depends on your dog and their particular behaviours, whether and how this is done. A dog that is lead reactive might get on really well with other dogs when off the lead. So In that case you can allow your dog to play and socialise with dog friends.
However, if your reactive dog shows extreme reactivity and you are unsure how your dog would actually be if they were to meet another dog, your advised to keep them on the lead and keep them at a safe distance from other dogs at all times. Even though every reactive dog can make some progress when using the right approach, not all dogs who are reactive will be able to play with other dogs.
Don’t feel guilty though if your reactive dog isn’t able to socialise with other dogs. It is however important that you watch your dog well and make the correct conclusion based on their behaviour. If you sense that your dog won’t do well interacting or coming near to other dogs, then this is exactly what you should be doing for them.
You are an advocate for your dog and you know your dog better than anyone else! Don’t put them in a situation where they won’t succeed. If you set your dog up to fail, then your dogs reactivity will just get worse and worse.
Socialising your dog is not the only way that dogs can be enriched. There are many other things that you can do with your dog that will not trigger their reactivity. Teach your dog some new tricks, scatter feed some treats for them to find outside in the garden, do some obedience training or do some brain games with your dog.
When trying to introduce a reactive dog to another dog there is no actual guaranteed way of doing this successfully. You need to have time, patience and be consistent. You will also need to keep an eye on your dog and there mental state.
Your dog will become even more reactive if you try and rush any introductions. It is highly important to prevent your dog from going over threshold.
When doing any introductions, the more time you take then the smoother it will be.
Remember it’s okay that some reactive dogs can never be introduced to other dogs! You know your dog the best. Always trust your instincts and only move at your dogs own pace.