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dogs have anxiety too

I’m a reactive dog

Hello, I’m Chilli, and if you don’t already know I am what they call a “reactive dog”. Basically this means that I don’t cope with many situations that people find normal: for me these situations make me feel anxious, nervous and unsure. On a deeper level my nervous system gets thrown into fight or flight mode (in my case mainly fight) and I want the situation triggering me to basically just go away. 

Can’t touch this!

From my experience there is an expectation that most people have – they feel that all dogs are friendly and approachable, and when they discover this is not always the case people get angry and annoyed that the dog is either barking at them or stressing out. Yes of course, we all love to pet a furry friend but we also need to be aware that not all dogs wish to be touched, stared at or approached. This doesn’t make us any less loving or amazing, we just don’t know how to communicate our boundaries in a soft fluffy way!

Help me, support me

One of the reasons I feel so strongly about this subject is that we shouldn’t write off a reactive dog and only leave him at home. There are so many things we can do to help support them. There will be limits of course, and those should always be respected. But there is some room for us to meet somewhere along the way.

Working closely with a dog behaviourist I really gained huge insight – we had to help change the way Chilli felt about certain situations, not force change in behaviour.

I learned to read his signs and understand what he was communicating with me. I saw this nervous, highly strung little boy who couldn’t relax and felt threatened most of the time. So we created coping mechanisms for him and tried them out.

Don’t leave your reactive dog at home

I had no idea that dogs could have anxiety conditions too, and just like people, they need support and help to find ways to manage daily experiences. Sharing life with a reactive dog can be very challenging, worrying yet also highly rewarding. Chilli will always need my support when we’re out and about. And that’s ok! I love being his Mummy. One of the biggest challenges we face is other people! Most passersby are mesmerized by him and speak to him, give strong eye contact and reach out to touch him. This of course is a disaster and he reacts – some people get very offended calling him aggressive and a bad dog and some are so compassionate and understanding and apologise to him. 

My friend who is a dog trainer often jokingly says that without me Chilli would have an ASBO! And she means it. Without support and continuous training work with Chilli, he could easily become a dog that can’t cope at all.
“Some dogs need space” the Yellow Dog campaign is simply great – it is such a simple thing to do and has a huge impact on the dog’s wellbeing. By simply giving a dog some space, most of the trigger factors are removed and the dog doesn’t feel anxious or threatened. This can be a reactive dog or injured dog or perhaps disabled dog.