Monday, August 15, 2011

Reactivity - Part 1; Bark-Lunge-Growl

A recent post on an online GSD forum got me thinking about dog reactivity and the many facets that are involved in any dog behavior, not just reactive dog behavior.  Living with two GSD's, both of which have their own triggers that cause them to react, has been very enlightening.  These dogs (damn them at times!)have forced my husband and I to become better dog owners and better people, in general.  They have also opened our eyes and made us appreciate dogs for what they are...they are just dogs, reacting to any given environmental "ingredients" the best way they know how. 

Take, for example, the post I wrote about the freak out session Oscar had at agility one week ago.  He was just acting in a manner that he thought was right for that, specific situation.  I often times ask myself, "Do dogs really know right from wrong?"  Some people would say yes, but I tend to think of it more if I was a dog.  If I were a dog, I would view the world more as either safe or unsafe and act accordingly.  Some situations might have me freaking out and wanting to run away, other situations might leave me with no other choice than to physically express my frustration, anxiety and panic with a good bark-lunge-bark-snap-growl fest. 

When you do think about it - and I don't like to anthromorphize dog behavior - humans act out much in the same way dogs do, but it seems to be more accepted.  People raise their voices, yell, flail their arms, stomp their feet, slap, punch, name it.  We have our own freak-out sessions when we are pushed past our threshold because of a series triggers (or just a single one!) that pile up and we just can't take it anymore.  Different people cope in different ways.  Why should we expect our dogs to be perfect all the time then?

If you're still reading, and are interested, I hope to make a series of posts on reactivity...talking about different facets along the way.  Triggers, thresholds, management, counter conditioning, caning body language, etc. 

But for now, I leave you with a unrelated photo of the current state of our backyard.  OK, I is somewhat related.  A brief history; the back portion of our yard had gotten torn up from playing countless hours of fetch with Oscar.  He officially turned "his" area into a burn out zone where he would slide on the ground into his frisbee.  Being an understanding doggy momma, I really didn't care, but as spring moved along I knew we needed to do some much needed beautification.  So, here's where we are at. The part area will be mulched so we can toss the ball back there without grass being torn up.  The middle area will be a hardy grass blend - once rooted - that the dogs can romp around on.  Next year we hope to put in the second half of the plan, which will finish up the new patio and plantings along the long fence line.

The back area with the relocated compost bin (that huge wood thing) and the new plantings.

That's a lot of dirt!  The area along the fence line will be a new hardscaped garden bed.


  1. Excellent insight. Jean Donaldson mentions many similar things in her books (specifically "The Culture Clash"). Dogs are expected, by many, to be perfect creatures who never get over-stressed, frustrated, or lash out in anger. If humans can't do it, why do we expect dogs to? :)

  2. Thanks Jamie! I have learned so much from so many people that this is all starting to make some sense! :)