What is reactivity in dogs?
Dogs who respond to “normal stimuli with higher-than-normal intensity.”
You may be asking yourself, why does happen?
There may some different reasons for this. Genetics could be a factor (JRTs are bred for their high energy) or it could be because of a lack of early socialization during puppyhood or something else in between.
Many of us adopt from rescues or shelters and many of those dogs are adolescent or older dogs. The same goes for us in Germany. What’s different for us living here in Germany, Americans are only able to adopt from rescues from other EU countries (German rescues and shelters don’t allow Americans to adopt from them). Many of the dogs coming from places like Hungary or Spain are feral or street dogs.
Feral or street dogs most likely didn’t learn what its like to live with people. They have a bit of a learning curve. Some of things they missed out on until you came around was:
Enjoying human touch and petting
Touches around the neck, legs, paws and eye contact
The comfort of living with you in your home, sitting on couches or sleeping on beds
Knowing sounds like the doorbell, alarm clocks going off, pots and pans dropping are normal everyday sounds and it doesn’t mean danger.
Now, what can you do to help your dog overcome some of these fears?
Observe and learn about dog body language. The key is understanding different body postures as a way of interpreting what your dog is communicating to you.
Since reactivity is the “higher-than-normal intensity to a regular everyday stimuli, observing and helping your dogs when they are showing the body language below will be greatly beneficial to you and your dogs.
You will also want to help your dog learn those once scary situations are actually enjoyable.
How do we do this? You will help connect the dots by pairing the things your dogs love with those scary or unfamiliar things. Always going slow and making sure you are watching your dog’s body language. You will also want to keep in mind, keeping these “triggers” under control so you don’t keep your dog experiencing fear.
Also, patience! Behavior change is never guaranteed. Think about those times you wanted to change a habit and finding yourself going back into old ways. The same is true for your dogs. Just like you, the more you practice and the more you learn to “read your dog”, you’ll see progress.
Keep focused on the small successes you see everyday! They are there and this will be the crown jewel of keeping you motivated and excited in strengthening the relationship with your dog.