Dog Aggression Vs. Dog Reactivity: Part 2 – The Continuum

Featuring Sarah Alvarado, CPDT-KA & Bart Emken, CPDT-KA
Concept by Courtney Emken

The most dangerous thing about aggression is actually the label of aggression. Most dogs with behavioral issues ARE NOT aggressive, they are more often reactive–meaning they are reacting in an over-aroused manner to a particular situation. Watch to find out more about the difference and how you can help your dog move past this behavior.

Check out Part 1 to learn more about the differences between aggression and reactivity

Transcript:

Sarah:

Aggression is typically fear-based, based in fear. There are other types of aggression like resource guarding, we might label that aggression, it’s a type of aggression. Reactivity, I think aggression can present as reactivity, but all reactivity is not necessarily aggression.

Bart:

Correct, it’s excitement.

Sarah:

Yeah. Reactivity is just an over-aroused response to a particular situation. So if my dog sees another dog across the way or across the street while we’re walking and starts lunging or barking at the end of the leash, and it’ll sound really ferocious usually. It’s like woof woof woof at the other dog. And often owners will interpret that as aggression. Sometimes it’s something as simple as leash frustration or barrier frustration. Barrier frustration is something like if you’ve ever locked your keys in the car, and you can see them sitting there on the front seat. That creates frustration, and that frustration often can lead to something that we might label aggressive behavior, like smashing the window. And so, that is what we create with our fences and our leashes with our dogs, is that we create a barrier, which stops our dogs from exhibiting or practicing the normal behavior that they would to greet another dog across the street. And, because the dog has a history of reinforcement with that behavior, it escalates and becomes worse and worse as time goes on. And that’s when people call us with a dog that is really, you know, just lunging, feet up off the ground, barking at the other dog across the street, and the owners come and say, oh my gosh, this is really embarrassing behavior. I’m embarrassed because other dog-owners are looking at me like I have this crazy dog. Please, please help. So sometimes the reactivity is a product of leash frustration or barrier frustration. Sometimes it can be a distance-increasing behavior, where the dog really does have a little bit of fear and says, I’m not super comfortable with that other dog. I’ve barked at that other dog, and what happens? The other owner and the person keep walking. And so, just like with the mailman at the front door, the dog learns, well, that behavior worked, I made that other dog go away. I made that person and the other dog go away, it worked. And that adds to that reinforcement history that the dog has with that type of behavior.

Bart:

So if a dog is barking, like at the back fence, because there’s some kids coming by, he’s doing that, not because he wants to get out and bite those kids or bite the strange man. There is some fear or uncomfortableness, so that’s a really good point. They’re saying, go away from here ’cause I’m anxious about you being here. And then the kids leave eventually. They’re just walking to get some ice cream. So the dog’s like, okay, that worked, so.

Sarah:

The environment reinforced that behavior.

Bart:

The most dangerous thing about aggression is actually the label of aggression. So if people start using the word that, my dog’s aggressive, or he’s a bad dog, just all the negative connotations that come with that.

Sarah:

So I think that there’s less of a black-and-white, what if something is aggression or reactivity, and it is a continuum or a sliding scale. Many of those behaviors are based in the same emotion that’s happening in our dogs, and we want to address that first and foremost, to help a dog who’s experiencing either fear or anxiety. Behaviors that people are likely to label aggression are typically stemming from some negative emotion. Yes, would you agree?

Bart:

I totally agree. Generally, the way I describe it is there’s levels of bites. So if a dog muzzle punches you or nips your arm, you know, that could be just a fear-based reaction to you startling the dog, or you grabbing the dog by the collar, or a kid going to hug a dog or jumping on a dog while he’s sleeping. So that, to me, that’s not aggression. That’s just a reaction. For me, it’s aggression when there’s like full dentation on a bite, or very deep bite marks.

Sarah:

So if you suspect that your dog is experiencing any of these problems, reactivity or aggression, the first and most important thing you can do is contact a professional. They’ll be able to speak with you, go through all of your concerns, and help you implement a training plan that’s safe and appropriate for you and your dog.

Bart:

Definitely not make it worse. A lot of people will watch things on TV by pseudo-trainers or people, they’re like, hey, it makes sense, it looks good. Often stuff you see on TV can have the exact opposite effect, so I would second what she’s saying, and say number two, contact a professional.

Sarah:

And contact a professional.

Bart:

And, oh, and contact a professional.

By |2018-07-19T10:53:18+00:00July 19th, 2018|Dog Behavior, Dog Safety, Dog Training|0 Comments

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