Reactivity is a state in which dogs react to a situation, this is based on previous experiences and it happens instantly. Reacting is repeating previous actions, using existing brain paths. The goal is to get the dog to respond instead of react. Responding on the other hand, is a state in which a dog thinks about an answer to the situation. However, responses take thought and time.
How do we change the mindset of a dog this way? As many owners I struggled with the fact that the common “reactivity exercises” aim at tackling the symptoms, but don’t have an impact on the mindset of the dog. They don’t enable the dog to cope with the situation and empower him to respond in an appropriate way. Important to understand here is that this is not teaching your dog a certain action or trick, you try to teach him how to handle his emotional state
THe "COmplete Adult Dog"-Concept
Instead of focusing on the symptoms and work backwards from there on, to identify which skills we need to learn our reactive dog dog, let’s flip the coin and see what skills well socialized, balanced, non-reactive dogs possess.
This is where Turid Rugaas' her “complete adult dog”-concept comes in.
Turid has got a very down to earth approach on living with dogs. Allowing them to be content animals, with good habits, in a human society. She summarizes her philosophy in 4 life skills a dog needs to master to reach this target and become a complete adult dog:
1. Balanced body: The dog needs to be free of any physical discomfort and possess a balanced body. This means having the correct muscles to support all of his joints, allowing him to move freely.
2. Self-confidence: This means having confidence in oneself and in one's powers and abilities. Thus, a dog having the coping skills to deal with the changes in his environment and feeling empowered to do so. Thus being the opposite of a depended dog awaiting instructions from an owner.
3. Social skills: Dogs long for social interaction with people and other dogs, but they need to be able to interact in a correct socially acceptable way. Social interactions shouldn’t immediately mean (rough) play and excitement, it can be part of it but it is more important that dogs learn to be calm around each other and interact in a mature way.
4. Curiosity: Probably the most important skill a dog can have. The power of curiosity, it means having an inquisitive interest in the world around them inhaling it with all their senses. If a dog gets scared of something, it is curiosity that brings him back and brings him to exploring the thing that initially scared him. It is ingrained in their DNA, but often punished by owners and taken for an unwanted behavior resulting in learned-helplessness.
Dogs learn their whole life and it is our job to teach them these life skills, by building up their bodies, brains and minds. Without these they will encounter situations in their life where they will not be able respond to in a proper way.