Reactivity has got a serious impact on the body and the brain of a dog. It’s a self-sustaining cycle preventing the dog to return to the balanced state of homeostasis.
Before we can start with working on the reactivity issue of a dog and start turning him into a complete dog, we have to give it the time to reset itself and slowly balance out his hormone levels.
Dogs who’ve been exposed to reactive situations frequently, are most of the time already anticipating on a potential encounter. Even without a trigger being present, they keep themselves prepared for a potential encounter.
For this reason a dog has to go through a decompression-period which can take up from minimal 3 to 6 weeks, sometimes even longer depending on the severity of the problem. During this timeframe there are some items you have to control to allow your dog to reset.
This simply means don’t put your dog in a situation it can’t handle. For this entire decompression period you have to take away the possibility of the dog being exposed to any of his triggers.
Outside, but also at home. If we want to break the cycle and learn the dog new habits and behaviours management is crucial. The existing neural pathway the dog has, guiding him to a reactive response, has to become unused.
Behaviour problems are often caused by some pain. It could come from injuries, headache caused by stress, tense muscles (especially neck and back), sour joints, unbalanced body, gastrointestinal issues, …
It is important to get a full check-up of your dog to rule out any of these possibilities. As long as the pain / physical problem is present, it will not be possible to turn your dog into a balanced animal.
It is “decompression time” for your dog. Take away the pressure from continuous commands and the friction that can occur when a command isn’t executed correctly. It is perfectly possible to live together with a dog without using any commands and still have a dog that behaves.
Take this timeframe to stop using commands as much as possible and introduce the “universal hand-signal” to your dog and teach him the habit of “loose leash walking”.
Mental stimulation is curiosity at work. “Managing” your dog will probably mean that certain parts of his daily routine will need to be skipped, to prevent exposure to his trigger(s). To ensure that the dog doesn’t get bored and to encourage his curiosity, you have to provide mental stimulation.
This can be anything that triggers any of the senses: smelling different objects, feeling different surfaces, tasting different structures and tastes, hearing and seeing new things. Enriched environments are one of the best ways to accomplish this part.
To allow a dog to fully reset we have to ensure that his bare necessities of life are covered. These are proper food, water, enough deep sleep, social contact, pee & poo opportunities.