Before I dive into this blog post, I need to clarify two terms:
A reactive dog = a dog who is having an emotional reaction to a completely normal stimulus. This emotional reaction shows itself by excessive barking, lunging forward, growling, snapping, etc.
The pack = a group of two or more dogs.
Now that we all know what we’re talking about, let’s begin!
Last week I wrote about how having a reactive dog affects the pack. This week, we are turning the tables. Let’s look at how the pack itself can affect your reactive dog.
1. It can offer (or take away) the feeling of stability
Take it from me: having a mentally stable dog is a blessing. But having a mentally stable dog within a pack (especially one full of rescues) is an absolute necessity. I personally believe that every pack should have at least one mentally stable dog. Meaning, one dog that is great with dogs, humans, children and is socialized to basically everything. This is my personal experience and I see so much value in it. I’m not saying that you can’t have a fully functioning pack if all of your dogs have certain issues; of course you can. However, in this article I want to highlight how a pack can be both an advantage and a disadvantage for your reactive dog. For us, having one mentally stable dog in the pack who doesn’t react to anything at all is a huge advantage. They are the ones that all of the dogs can count on. They have no triggers and display calm behaviors. Your reactive dog will absolutely pick up on that. It’s not a magic cure that will stop him from being reactive, far from it. But it will reassure him and offer him stability. With time, this does indeed affect the severity of reactivity.
Our Ruby is the only one not a rescue and I swear nothing triggers her. She’s always been incredibly stable and her devil-may-care attitude has impacted the whole pack. She has often helped push Bailey out of her comfort zone; she gave her the feeling of stability when faced with a new situation or a trigger.
However, if paired with an unstable dog, your reactive one can have a harder time. When we added Lady to the pack, she was very insecure and fearful. Bailey found it much harder to trust Lady and relax around her, because Lady was displaying fearful behaviors herself. The two of them needed a lot of time to relax around each other and my sister and I worked really hard on their relationship – it didn’t just happen overnight, like it did with Ruby.
2. It can reinforce the feeling of safety
Having a pack can help your reactive dog with the feelings of safety. Bailey feels much safer when she is in a pack, but even here I have to emphasize that nothing happens on its own. It is up to you, as an owner, to work on it. For example, Bailey feels safe if she is walking behind the other dogs, but if she is the first in line she gets very anxious and agitated. It is up to you to notice that and make the best of it. Reinforce calm behaviors and pay attention to their body language. Be consistent with your directions. Your pack may provide a certain feeling of safety for your reactive dog but it is still up to you to be his #1 source of security.
This can also go in the other way, meaning that a pack could make your dog feel more anxious and less safe. Sometimes the sensation of having a lot of dogs around him, even familiar ones, can be overwhelming for a fearful dog. Luckily this is something you can work on – with positive reinforcement! Start HERE.
3. It offers a variety of interactions
Within the pack, your reactive dog will have a lot of interaction with your other dogs. This can be beneficial, if the interaction is positive and calm, or very harmful, should the interactions take a negative turnaround. What this means is:
- Playing, cuddling, letting each other be, healthily setting boundaries and training together are all positive interactions.
- Barking hysterically, snapping, biting and constant growling are negative interactions.
Got more examples for positive and negative interactions? Write them in the comments below!
These interactions on a daily basis shape the way your reactive dog continues to see other dogs. Make sure you capitalize on the positive interactions as much as you possibly can and limit the negative ones to a minimum – or completely avoid them – by granting your dogs some personal space, time apart and a lot of positive training.
4. Your dog learns constructive (or non-constructive) behaviors
Reactives are highly sensitive and super susceptible to change. They pick up on the smallest changes in people’s and dogs’ energies and act accordingly. Sometimes it can happen that one of the pack members is displaying a non-constructive behavior and your reactive dog will start to copy it, plain and simple. On the other hand, seeing your other pack members display constructive behaviors and recognizing that they get rewards for them is something he will definitely want to be a part of, too. Make sure your reactive dog is around a lot of constructive behaviors and give him an opportunity to use his hyper-sensibility for something really good!
This concludes my two-part series on having a reactive dog within the pack.
If you have any more questions regarding this topic, please ask them in the comments below!