Well over 75% of owners struggling with reactivity issues put it down to the fact their dog missed socialisation for some reason or it wasn’t done correctly.
From lockdown getting in the way, your dog being a rescue and the previous owner just not doing it when they should have all the way to owning a dog that in its previous home was kept locked in a cage, whatever the reason it happened if your dog missed completely or had a bad experience when being socialised it stands to reason that you are now picking up the pieces.
Fortunately, the solution is an easy one and I’m going to share it with you below.
Before we begin and I pull this apart and then explain to you exactly how to transform your dog’s reactive behaviour let me throw an idea out there;
“It’s not the incorrect or lack of socialisation that’s the issue but rather that your dog doesn’t know what to do instead”
Now I can already hear you questioning that statement. Of course, it’s the lack of socialisation that’s the problem? Right? WRONG!
Let me explain why I say that….
I’ve spent the last 17 years working with my own dogs, other people’s dogs and specialising in resolving reactivity issues. At WKD, we do it day in, day out.
As a result of the amount of work we do with reactive dogs, I’ve had huge insight and have, using our analytical approach, come to some interesting conclusions. Here they are;
- Just as many dogs who were correctly socialised have reactivity issues as those who weren’t
- A large proportion of dogs are never socialised and never have reactivity problems
People like to find a reason for why something is happening and incorrect/missed socialisation often gets the blame.
Now I realise that what I’m saying is likely to be raising even more questions from you but before we get into that, I want to tell you why I believe that socialisation, or lack of socialisation has absolutely no relevance to reactive behaviour.
I NEVER socialise my puppies, and never have problems.
That’s actually a bit of a lie, let me rephrase it. “I no longer socialise my puppies and never have problems but, some puppies I DID socialise did have problems”
I’ve raised loads of dogs and overseen the raising of many more in the past 17 Years. 2 of them had issues with reactivity at some point in their lives. The two that had the problems, were two of the dogs I socialised.
Nowadays, I don’t do any other socialisation than that which my life dictates will happen. For example, I don’t make sure my puppies meet lots of different people of differing gender, race, size, clothing choices, etc. I also don’t have my puppies meet as many dogs as possible.
They just meet the few visitors I have at my home, they meet a few people at work if I happen to have the puppy with me when the person is at WKD. They meet my dogs at home and a few at work.
In fact, I’m currently raising Two puppies, Pip and Poppy, they are now 20 Weeks of age, they haven’t been anywhere other than my home and WKD. They’ve met a handful of people and a handful of strange dogs. I’m also well outside of the “socialisation period”.
Am I concerned? Absolutely not and here’s why.
- Character dictates if a dog will be reactive, not socialisation issues
- Dog’s have their own individual characters just like people do.
If you walk into a pub or a coffee shop you will witness this with people. One person is sitting in the corner reading a book and won’t engage with you even if you say hello. One person will be at the bar and say hello if you say hello to them. Another will be at the bar and say hello as you take your seat, one person will talk to you so much you want them to go away and, inevitably, especially at some point in the evening in a pub, somebody will cause trouble.
Having spent so many Years temperament testing and working with dogs, I’ve realised that no matter a dog’s previous experiences or socialisation issues, some dogs were always going to be great with people and dogs and others weren’t. Their character dictates this.
If you don’t believe me, tell me why there are untold numbers of dogs out there that have had the most traumatic experiences with dogs or people, and yet they are still extremely happy in the company of people and/or dogs?
It works both ways.
The reason that, regardless of socialisation or bad experiences some dogs are reactive is down to a flaw in their character. The perfect dog, with a stable character is essentially resilient to the things that life throws at them. They are effectively like the person you know, who, no matter what life throws at them, are always happy and have a positive outlook.
The dogs that have reactivity issues have a character which dictates they will find certain situations overwhelming and, when they do, when their fight or flight response is triggered, decide to either move forwards aggressively to get rid of the source of fear or, they will try to create distance by moving away from the source of fear until they feel far enough away that they can calm down.
My first ever dog, Diesel, was reactive. Really reactive. Yet, he never, that I remember, had a bad experience, he was heavily socialised (because that’s what trainers told me to do) and experienced loads of different situations as a puppy. Despite all of that, he would react, on sight, to dogs, people, cars, animals the lot.
My next reactive dog would come into my life many years later. He’s called Sid and again, he met lots of dogs, people and saw many situations as a youngster. I heavily socialised him and now, at 4 Years of age, would sooner flatten another dog as look at it.
I didn’t know much about anything when I raised Diesel and can’t really remember seeing any warning signs. When I got Sid though, looking back, I did see them. When I collected him as a puppy I was drawn to his calm nature within the litter. In hindsight, I now realise he wasn’t interacting with them because he didn’t like them. He’s always had a bit of an edgy character. He’s quite sensitive and reactive to his environment, has a strong eye and strong body language. He’s defiant in certain situations and gave me some training challenges. As much as I love him, his character is flawed.
The good news is, both of these dogs, once I know what to do and stopped giving them excuses, were dogs I could fully include in my life and enjoy. They would always jump to reactivity if a certain situation happened however, through good training, those situations never occurred. My point is, you can’t change character but you can train in a manner which compliments it.
I can take Sid into a social situation today and your dog could jump all over his head and he wouldn’t do anything. He’d sure as hell want to, but he wouldn’t. Sid knows what lie down means and that attacking a dog that’s jumping on his head is not part of the lie down command. Essentially, because of his level of training, so long as I give him something to do, something to concentrate on, he will do that instead of reacting.
So why don’t I socialise my puppies?
Firstly, because Sid is living proof it won’t make any difference. A dog either has the ideal character or it doesn’t. With one that doesn’t have the ideal character, I feel that the chances of further damage being done from a bad experience during socialisation are far more likely to have a negative effect than just not being exposed in the first place.
If a dog has the ideal character, socialisation will make no difference anyway.
Secondly, because I know that when dealing with a reactive dog socialisation won’t cure it but good training will, I spend my time training my puppies rather than socialising them. Don’t get me wrong, I use dogs, people, and environments as distractions whilst training them but I don’t let them meet the dogs or people, or even pay attention to their environment.
I spend my time teaching them what I do want them to do. Things like;
- Always pay attention to me not the other dog, person or car going past
- Sit, lie down and stand when I ask
- Play with me because I’m more fun than anything else
- Walk, nicely and attentively by my side regardless of distractions
By training my dogs to be “all on me” and teaching them the key commands as they grow and develop, as their characters show I’ll find out if they have character flaws. If they do show themselves though, I’ll control those undesirable traits through the level of training and understanding I have put in place.
It’s an approach that has served myself, my staff, my friends, and tens of thousands of clients very well.
If you have a reactive dog and you aren’t having success with your current approach get in touch with us today by emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org or sending us a message.
Dog training is simple, when you follow the right approach, if it isn’t working so far it’s because you’re working with the wrong people!