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Reactive Dog? Aggressive Dog? What’s the difference?

Reactive Dog? Aggressive Dog? What’s the difference?

Aggressive dog snarlingThe terms, “Reactive” and “Aggressive” are sometimes used interchangeably. Neither word defines the dog, but both words describe behaviour which is very often rooted in fear, and rarely, in dysfunctional social skills.

The only way to fix reactive dog behaviour permanently is to change the emotional response of the dog to the scary thing is by carefully applying a program of progressive counterconditioning and desensitization and having the dog practice self control through specialized interactive games. Changing reactivity to non reactive, calm behaviour requires changing the dog’s emotional response to a perceived threat, whether we are dealing with leash reactivity, resource guarding, or any other situation where the dog becomes aggressive.

Why not just correct the dog with a tug on a training collar, or another physical or verbal correction when he acts aggressively? There are several good reasons not to correct your dog for aggression. The first is that most dogs will figure out that when scary things approach, you become aggressive and confusing. This will stress a dog more, and the dog will often learn to associate the scary thing with stress and getting a physical correction. Then when you aren’t around, the aggressive behaviour tends to increase, and new anxiety related behaviour may show up. Science has shown that dogs who are trained through the use of corrections are more likely to show an increase in aggressive behaviour. Since the early 21st century, at least two published studies have found that dog aggression and anxiety behaviours increased when punitive training methods were used.** Meghan Herron and her colleagues from the School of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania reported in the journal Applied Animal Behavior Science that using punishing techniques when training dogs tends to increase the aggression in the animals, rather than decreasing it.** Not surprisingly, dogs trained using corrections don’t learn as quickly as dogs trained using positive reinforcement with a scientifically designed training protocol. One study even found that most owner directed aggression would cease when the dog owner stopped using physical corrections in training.

The only long term, effective approach to training a reactive dog is always to use a counterconditioning and desensitization protocol.

How long will it take? The time it takes to thoroughly fix any behaviour problem depends on the individual dog, owner compliance to the training program, and how many times the behaviour has repeated itself successfully before the training program began. While improvement is typically seen after the first session, each repetition of the new, calm behaviour will help to make the threat response disappear for good. It can take up to 3 months of practicing controlled repetitions before the new, confident, controlled and relaxed emotions are solid enough to be reliable.

** Dog Training Methods: Their Use, effectiveness and interaction with dog behaviour and and welfare, EF Hibey et al, Journal of Animal Welfare (2004)
**Survey of the use and outcome of confrontational and non-confrontational training methods in client-owned dogs showing undesired behaviors Meghan E. Herron *, Frances S. Shofer, Ilana R. Reisner, Journal of Applied Animal Behaviour (2009)

5 tips to help keep senior dogs healthy and happy

5 tips to help keep senior dogs healthy and happy

Senior dogs can stay active and healthy as they age.  Although there are definitely genetic components to aging, here 5 tips to help your dog to stay healthy and happy during their senior years. Please click on the links for even more information!

  1.   Keep her physically active.  Walks can become several short jaunts at her own pace instead of one long hike.   You might find she still likes to zip around a bit off leash, so go to the dog park when there aren’t a bunch of young dogs there.  Play a little fetch if she likes to play fetch.  Besides walking, older dogs can benefit from doggy exercises like a sit/stand sequence, and mild pedestal exercises. Exercises like these help to keep the hip joints active and limber, so your dog can stand up more easily.
  2. Help her to stay mentally active with interactive games, tricks, and even puzzle toys and chew toys.  Staying mentally active helps to keep dementia at bay.  Your old dog might not be up to going for a run anymore, but she will certainly appreciate any chance to show off her mad skills at “high-five”.  Check out theses activities from Petful.com
  3. Keep her from gaining too much weight.  Excess weight is really hard on the joints and organs like the heart.  There are many senior diets available that are lower calorie and protein than the ones made for all life stages.  You may find that switching to one of these diets helps to keep the pounds from adding up to excess.  If your dog is on a raw or home cooked diet, adjust the ingredients as necessary by adding more fresh vegetables.
  4. Keep toenails trimmed.  Some senior dogs become sensitive about nail trims.  If this is the case with yours, your veterinarian can very likely assist with this.
  5. Take her to visit the veterinarian.  A veterinarian can give her a thorough check and make sure bumps and lumps aren’t cancerous tumors.  Your vet might prescribe a non steroidal anti inflammatory (like Metacam)to help your dog feel more comfortable.  More vets are prescribing CBD oil for dogs, which is proving to be effective for many of the ailments caused by the aging process.