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Updated: Jul 12, 2021

We have a large group of dogs presenting with reactive behaviors such as lunging, barking, growling. Social distancing has affected many pups with the lack of exposure to new people and experiences causing normal, non-threatening situations to create a dog to become fearful, anxious, frustrated, or a combination of all 3.

If you are struggling with any of these issues know you are not alone! Common triggers to a dog’s unpleasant reactive response are: strangers, acquaintances, other animals or even things like a vacuum.

Working to change a dog’s emotional response to their triggers is one of the most important parts of training a healthy, well-behaved dog.

When we minimize a dog's feelings of fear, anxiety or frustration, the reaction and response will go away.

An example you can relate to -

Say you were deathly afraid of snakes. You are walking along the street and you look down and there is a big black snake. Your body will freeze or jump before you have thought too hard about it. Your heart rate will increase, your number of respirations will also increase. You now assess the situation and realize it is just a stick. It will still take your body a bit of time to self-regulate and return from the fear/ fight or flight response.

Now let’s imagine that just before realizing it was just a stick someone started yelling at you and pulling on you and telling you to sit.

What would it take to get me to sit?

1st - there needs to be validation that there is nothing to be fearful of.

2nd - there is a bit of time it takes for the brain to process the fact that there is no impending doom or need for fighting or fleeing the situation.

3rd - the ability for your body to return to a normal state of respiration and wait for the surge of oxygen, adrenaline and cortisol running through your blood to decrease.

For a dog, sit generally means it is time for love, affection, attention, games, treats, food, and walkies but in the presence of what ever is "triggering" for your dog. When your dog has been triggered it is presented with physiological changes occurring inside of their body causing them to look for safety with loud internal bells ringing and screaming DANGER.

Each dog is different, and triggers can vary. By watching and observing your dog's behavior you can be more aware of the specific circumstances and environmental triggers that set your dog off.

Your dog may begin to show signs of stress and agitation by becoming fixated with darting eyes, stiff body and or tail... this is your dog preparing for action. The physiological changes are an instinctual response which means they are happening involuntarily and are out of your dog's control. Additionally, a heightened alertness and greater sensitivity to sights and sounds follow, as does an elevated startle response, which makes it clear understand that the next thing that often happens is lunging, barking, growling, or snapping at the trigger that prompted the response.

Just like people, a dog’s emotions have a big influence on their behavior.

Changing the Emotional Response (no danger here… it’s just a stick) by

Counter Conditioning and Desensitizing your dog to their triggers is very similar to exposure therapy in humans. When people need to overcome something that causes them fear or anxiety they start with low intensity exposure and gradually build.

By enabling your dog to notice the trigger while just mildly concerned and still able to redirect to something different and disengage begins the process to changing that prior learned explosive response.

By allowing your dog to observe and experience mild feelings of concern then having those feelings dissipate is the key to success. If the dog is repeatedly experience and practicing the explosive response it will continue to escalate.

Through regular steady successful repetitions the presence of a trigger will no longer elicit a highly charged response. Progress can be challenging and certain situations require much time and patience than others. To learn how to apply these techniques to your dog call us at 860-304-1447 or visit bnadog.com. #dogbehavior #bnadog #dogtraining #lunging #pulling #reactive #counterconditioning #desensitization #exposuretherapy #trigger #emotionalresponse #fear #anxiety #frustration #socialization


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