Dealing with the aggressive or reactive behavior in dogs is very challenging. Likewise, a snarling dog isn’t only intimidating, but also dangerous. The human reactions most likely worsen the problem and even employing training techniques may intensify the dog’s anxiety and fear. In order not to violate the “dangerous dog laws” and to solve the problem, many dog owners whose pets are aggressive were surrendered to shelters.
Fear and stressful environmental triggers are the most common culprits why dogs develop such coping mechanism of being reactive. Just like humans, animals also want to feel safe, but when they feel scared or intimidated, the first response is to fight. Another reason why dogs develop such behavior is when they are contained in a small space or held on a tight leash. The anxiety increases when your pet feels scared or nervous.
Dogs have their own way of showing what they feel manifested on their body language and indirect communication signals. With this, dog owners must understand and learn an integrated approach that will help both the dog and the owner to reduce stress, thus become more adaptable. The main objective of implementing an integrated approach is to let the dog feel relaxed, safe and in control in spite of challenging environment.
Whatever the reason behind why your dog develops reactive behavior, the best solution is to change how your pet feels and thinks. However, modifying the behavior of your pet isn’t an easy task because you need to know first the triggers and how to get him out of the reaction zone. This will facilitate easy implementation of the counterconditioning procedures.
Identifying the Threshold
Prior to modifying the reactive behavior of your dog, the first thing to do is to identify the threshold. It refers to the distance of your pet from the trigger or the object that makes him overreact. It’s important to know the proximity of your dog towards the trigger that may result to over reacting both physically and emotionally.
If your pet is in the state of being highly over-reactive, you should expect that it is impossible to change its behavior and way of thinking.
Taking him away from the threshold of reactivity will make him calm and think rationally. Thus, implementing the counterconditioning procedure is possible.
How to implement counter conditioning
Counterconditioning is the process of modifying the reactive behavior of your dog. The process will help in reducing the reactivity issues, particularly when your dog sees an object that triggers him to become anxious and aggressive. The process includes techniques such as food stimulus close to the trigger so that your pet develops a new impression towards the trigger.
However, bringing your dog too quickly and too close towards the trigger can intensify aggression and fear, thus your pet would not be able to respond to cues or corrections. With this, dog owners must learn how to impose the process appropriately in order to achieve positive results.
Steps in determining the reactivity threshold of your Husky
- Find an object that triggers your dog’s reactivity or another dog or a person.
- Determine the distance that your dog becomes mild reactive and highly reactive towards the trigger.
Counter-conditioning your dog may work positively within the Safe Zone. That is the distance between the mild reactivity to high reactivity. Such distance is called “Under the Threshold” while beyond that is “Over the Threshold”.
Once your dog is overly exposed to the Trigger, he will become less sensitive to it. This is the right time to extend or expand the Safe Zone until he becomes used to it and develops a more pleasant experience. As an owner, you must be watchful about the progress of your dog. Don’t rush or force him towards the Trigger as it won’t help. Make sure that your pet is emotionally or physically stable before continuing the process.
Guide to counter conditioning
- Start the process from the first outside marker and moving slowly going to the Trigger.
- Give simple instruction to your dog once you notice a mild
- Give your dog a reward once your pet completed the first circuit.
- Progressing to the second circuit, you should watch for signs of a mild reaction. Do the same way that you did in the first circuit.
- Completing every circuit without noticing aggression and fear would mean that your pet is ready to go beyond the Safe Zone.
When is the right time to move towards the inner marker?
As you move towards the inner marker, you should watch for any reactions from your dog. This will tell you if there’s development in the behavior of your pet. The steps in moving towards the inner marker are similar with counterconditioning. The only difference is that you need to create a new circuit while moving inward.
Once you go beyond the Over the Threshold zone without noticing any reaction from your pet, then you can slowly walk closely to the trigger. If there’s no reaction apparent, progress to passing by the trigger. In case your pet doesn’t show any reaction and passes the trigger successfully, then you have succeeded in implementing the process.
This time you can expect that your dog has been developing a new behavior and response. The feeling of fear and aggression were replaced by the pleasant experience of getting a reward.
The duration of the process depends on the severity of the reactivity of your dog towards the trigger. Obviously, if your pet has been living with aggression and fear for a long time, then it would take a long time to implement the process. It can be difficult to change the reactive behavior of your dog once it becomes a habit. That’s why dog owners must have patience and determination to practice the process diligently in order to reduce the fear and stress.
It is also essential to be considerate in giving cues or instructions to your dog. If you notice that your pet is emotionally tired, stop the session. Instead of adding stress to your dog, the best thing to do is to make the process fun and pleasant in order to achieve success in modifying the reactive behavior of your dog.