Ways to prevent reactivity in dogs
Reactivity is a huge problem with dogs today
As a trainer I see the struggle owners have socialising young puppies appropriately. It is so hard to do this but keep them safe from diseases before they are vaccinated.
This page covers a few ways to safely socialise your puppy while in those crucial early weeks. There is also a few tips on how to prevent reactivity in older dogs.
Crucial Social Period
A puppies crucial time to learn everything about the world is around 4-16 weeks of age. During this time it’s so important to let the puppy interact with as many living things and environments as possible. However, this is also very risky...
Diseases like Parvo Virus are a puppy owners worst nightmare. It’s a terrifying disease and young puppies without their vaccinations are at most risk. This is why it’s so important to socialise in a safe way at this age.
Safe ways to Socialise
One of the ways to prevent reactivity in dogs is to carry them in new areas outside your home. Take them for a walk down the street in your arms, in a cart or even in your car.
Let them smell all the exciting smells, see other animals and hear the interesting noises. Just don’t put them on the ground or let them touch any of these things.
Make sure if you have them out and they do show fear towards a noise or animal don’t force them to stay close. Instead reassure them, give them some treats and positive associations with the thing they fear.
It’s important to never force a dog to be near something they fear as they cannot go through their natural response of fight or flight. They will only have the option to fight, this can cause aggressive behaviour towards the thing they fear in the future.
Organised Puppy Playtimes
Another way to socialise safely is to organise to have some family members or friends and their older vaccinated dog come to your house, make sure you have the visitors take off their shoes before coming in your house and wash their hands before touching your puppy.
Make sure the older dog is a calm and social dog. A bad social experience at this age can set your dog up to be reactive towards other dogs in the future.
Ensure all visitors are calm and quiet around your puppy until you see how the puppy will react. If your puppy is scared let them approach when they would like and ask everyone to ignore them. If your puppy is confident and happy then allow for supervised interaction and play.
Be especially vigilant when letting Puppies and Children interact. Children can be accident prone and puppies have sharp teeth.
Make sure your puppy doesn’t get overwhelmed or overtired. Short and sweet visits are the best.
Puppy Socialisation Classes
Puppy Socialisation classes are a great way to socialise your puppy. These are normally run in a safe environment. This is one of the most important experiences your puppy will ever have.
When selecting a school make sure you ask what the trainers qualifications and experiences are and how the school is run. You want to find one where socialisation is the main focus but they also teach the importance of teaching puppies to ignore each other as well.
Dangers of Over Socialising
We’ve just covered why socialising is crucial but you can also over socialise.
It’s important to make sure when socialising your puppy that firstly they have some downtime, so they aren’t overwhelmed. Puppies get tired easily and a tired puppy is a cranky puppy, just like a child.
To prevent reactivity in dogs, it is also very important to ensure you teach your puppy that they can’t say hello to every person, animal and thing that they want. A lot of people make this mistake and they unintentionally create a frustrated greeter (a.k.a. a reactive dog).
Make sure when your puppy has their vaccinations and you have them out that you teach them to also focus on you and don’t let them see whatever person or animal they want whenever they want.
Instead, ask them to look at you and reward them for staying calm. Make an effort to only let them greet every 3rd or 4th dog or human. Make sure they understand that more times than not they must pass them calmly and ignore them.
Asking them to sit and look at you before you let them approach what they want is a good way to calm them down and prevent an overexcited greeting.
A puppy or dog who is allowed to greet everyone they want will eventually come into a situation where they can’t approach another animal or human. Maybe that dog doesn’t like other dogs, that human may be allergic to dogs or scared. Suddenly your dog is overwhelmed with frustration because they aren’t used to not being allowed to greet everyone they see.
This then converts into growling, barking and lunging behaviour. These sorts of behaviours are often thought to be aggression when in reality this is all really fuelled by pure frustration and confusion.
Adult dogs can still be very social but are more aware of the dangers of the world and may be more likely to show antisocial behaviour if they haven’t been around other people and dogs.
To prevent reactivity in Adult dogs work on some simple exercises. Start these before you introduce your adult dogs to other dogs so you aren’t setting them up to fail.
You are your dogs biggest advocate!
The most important thing when socialising any dog or puppy is to stand up for your dog!
You are your dog’s biggest and only advocate. If they are uncomfortable it is okay to say no. Don’t let that strange dog or person near your dog. It could set your dog up for a bad experience and always trust your feelings in these situations.