Not too long ago, President Joe Biden’s pet dog, Major, was sent off to “boarding school” for training. This was after two biting incidents at the White House. In the second incident, Major, who was yet to acclimatize to the new environment, reacted when he was surprised by an unfamiliar person.
Most people are familiar with the bite rule - dog owners are liable for any injury or property damage the pet causes. As a pet parent, an easily reactive dog could get you into trouble. But we are here to help you out. Here are seven tips that will help you to calm a reactive dog.
Photo by Sumeet Singh on Unsplash
- Understand what kind of reactions the dog exhibits
High alert dogs could be a response to different stimuli. It could be:
- Motivated by fear.
- Due to the territorial instinct
- Due to being overly possessive.
- A defensive or protective response.
- Predatory instinct.
- A reaction to physical pain
- Response to frustration.
- Motivated by the desire to mate.
When you know the type(s) of reactions your dog is prone to, you can take steps to avoid the factors that elicit the negative behavior. But first, you need to know and read signs that tell your dog is becoming anxious.
2. Know the signs that show your dog could become reactive
Before your dog snaps, they would usually display one or more of the following behaviors:
- He becomes still and rigid.
- He menacingly shows his teeth.
- He barks from the gut in a threatening manner.
- He displays raised fur, especially on the back.
- He tucks his tail.
- He growls or snarls.
When your dog displays any of the above behaviors, it is almost certain that he will become reactive and act out. Knowing these signs can help you to stop his next move, and could save you a ton of trouble. Take the following steps to avert the immediate danger and avoid damage.
3. Take a deep breath and relax
Don’t get excited or anxious whenever your dog shows signs of becoming reactive. The dog will feed off your negative energy and get further worked up. After all, he may feel like he is protecting you.
4. Change the dog’s environment
Changing a dog’s environment is an effective way to calm him down. Take the dog away from the sight or scents or whatever is triggering the big reaction. It will help him to cool off.
For example, if you were in a dog park, you could go to a secluded part or go back home and let him jump into a calming dog bed. Keep him there until you have a better understanding of why he behaved that way. Then start working on a long-term solution. Whatever you decide to do, never respond to the dog’s reaction with a dramatic one yourself.
5. Consult a vet
Due to regular contact with different animals, the vet is an excellent place to get help dealing with a reactive dog. If the dog is overly excited and becomes reactive due to his desire to mate, the vet will neuter him. Neutering can also take care of this type of behavior due to territorial instincts. Vets can also help to unearth underlying medical issues. Painful injuries and ailments like hypothyroidism, epilepsy, and brain tumors, could trigger reactiveness. Such issues often surface when the dog deviates from his normal behavior. If the dog exhibited regular pup energy to adulthood and suddenly became overly reactive, check with the vet.
If the problem is not physiological, reach out to a dog behavior expert.
6. Reach out to a professional trainer
Does your dog have poor social skills? Is he overly possessive? Or does he often default to instinctive reactions like being territorial, protective, or defensive?
A professional trainer can help to build the right skills and responses to external stimuli.
But don’t let the trainer work alone. Also, don't send the dog off to “boarding school.” Work together with the trainer and learn more about your dog and how to care for him.
7. Know your dog and take care of him in the right way
Before you decided to adopt a dog, did you ask yourself if you are a dog person? Being a pet parent means many aspects of your life will change. Check if your lifestyle matches the dog’s breed. A dog can sometimes be reactive because something is lacking in his life. Breeds like Rottweilers, Pitbulls, and Dobermans still have strong animal drives. They require owners who are firm leaders. People who can command their respect and regularly exercise them to quench their energies. Are you available to do that?
A final word
A reactive dog is usually a sign of an underlying issue. Don’t just brush it off. That’s not how pet dogs naturally behave. Take these steps to control the immediate danger, and avoid future incidences.