A day in the life of a reactive dog
Hello. I’m a reactive dog. People call me ‘reactive’ because I sometimes bark, growl and lunge towards other dogs, people, cats, cars – some of those things, or all of them.
‘Reactive’ is a label though and I would like you to understand what it’s really like to be ‘reactive’ and how I actually feel when I ‘react’.
If you are a ‘reactive’ dog, certain things, taken for granted by other dogs – such as a simple walk in the park or a trip to a dog show, become a bit more complicated. While I would love to be able to investigate all the fantastic smells in the park, or have a great time in a training class, scoffing off some yummy treats and exercising my brain cells, life for me is sadly full of anxiety and fear, and instead of enjoying these events, I am constantly on edge.
Why, you might want to ask? Can’t you just, like, get over it?
Nothing ever happens to you when you are out, why get yourself so worked up?
The problem is, ‘getting over it’ is not that simple. My anxiety and fear stem from many things – I might not have been socialized properly when young, or I might have had a bad experience. That means that certain things (other dogs, small children, load noises, people coming up to say hello) fill me with anxiety, fear or sometimes even panic. In many of those situations, if I could, I would probably run away, but many a time I can’t as I’m attached to a lead or cornered (like when another dog comes up to me and doesn’t want to leave me alone). But what sometimes works to make scary things go away is barking and growling at them – even bouncy dogs eventually get it. And while I might not look pretty or friendly when I growl and bark and lunge – hey! It works to get me out of a sticky situation and makes me feel safe again.
It’s not easy to feel scared every time I leave the house, and it’s not nice to see my owner tensing up or upset every time I feel I need to react. People shout abuse at me sometimes, ask my owner to muzzle me or even never walk me. But frankly, I don’t mean anyone any harm, I just want to be left alone. My owner works so hard to convince me that life isn’t all that scary after all – she feeds me yummy treats when a scary things approaches, she keeps me safe by helping me move out-of-the-way rather than walk towards what is bound to upset me, she really, really tries, and I am slowly learning to trust things that used to freak me out loads.
But every now and then, just when I start thinking that maybe other dogs, people, cars etc. aren’t that scary after all, someone or something comes up a bit too close and my old fears come back – and all I can do is panic and scream (that is bark, growl and lunge) to make them go away.
So next time you see one of us – reactive dogs – out and about, please please – don’t judge. Don’t shout abuse at my owner who is trying all she can to make me feel safe. If you’re asked to call your dog away, please do, and don’t ask questions or claim your dog can do no harm as he’s friendly (to us, reactive dogs, that’s sometimes even worse!). Don’t let your children stroke us unless our owner says it’s fine. Just give us a bit of space so we can be on our way.
Thank you so much!
Written by the team at Pets in Practise “where determination and positivity, works!”