Anxiety Awareness | Loki's Reactivity Journey

Reactivity is often confused with aggression and whilst some of the reactions can often look similar, they are not the same.

As part of our Dog Owners Guide | Health & Care Awareness Blogs, we take a look at; What Reactivity is, What some of the common triggers are &why reactivity often gets mistaken for aggression. Plus we share Loki's, Reactivity Journey.

All information shared within this blog is for awareness purposes only & not medical advice. If you have any concerns about the Health and/or Care of your Dog please seek medical advice from a professional veterinarian.

What is Reactivity ??

Dog Reactivity is usually caused by anxiety or simply feeling uncomfortable, this can manifest itself as defensive because something seems threatening.

Sometimes it can even be caused out of frustration of not being able to do something and your Pup simply not knowing how to control these emotions. It can then very quickly be reinforced that how they are acting is correct, as the threat may go away. Much like us humans they need to be guided on how to handle their emotions calmly. It's not always easy to read your Dogs body language, particularly their early warning signs. Some of these emotions can present themselves as:

- Barking & lunging
- Whining
- Yawning (when not sleepy)
- Cower and hide
- Shaking
- Lift one paw

    What are some of the Common triggers ??

    Every Dog is different, just like us Hoomans and what makes one Dog reactive could be completely different from another! Some of the most common triggers that set off reactive Dogs include:

    - Loud vehicles such as motorcycles and semi-trucks
    - Strangers approaching the house (such as a delivery person, or gardener)
    - Other Dogs or people passing by or approaching them quickly
    - People wearing hats or anything that covers their face
    - Barriers such as crates or fences prevent them from accessing an area


      The reason that reactivity very quickly gets mistaken for aggression is that a reactive dog's excitement and anxiety can cause them to exhibit aggressive behaviour. If left unaddressed, the aggression may get worse. 

      Aggressive behaviour is about creating distance from something; the dog is essentially trying to drive a threat away. Most aggressive behaviour stems from fear.

      If a dog frequently acts aggressively (and not necessarily in response to an understandable stimulus), there's probably a deeper issue going on—possibly even a health concern. If this behaviour has suddenly arisen from nowhere, your Dog could be trying to tell you they're in pain! 


      How to Reduce Reactive Behaviour ??

      Helping your pup overcome reactive behaviour involves both understanding his triggers and doing some training.

      - Figuring Out Your Dog's Triggers: keep a journal and write down when your Dog has a reactive moment, noting as many details as possible - this will help you spot what's triggering your dog. A Veterinary Behavioural Specialist will be able to help you with this, as it can be genetic or environmental.

       - Desensitisation: Reactive dogs have learned to be afraid of certain things, you need to help them develop new emotional responses and feel comfortable around what previously set them off. 

      Loki's Reactivity Journey

      Loki is a 4-year-old Dalmatian with fear-based reactivity and his Hoomans have been kind enough to share his journey about coping with & improving his anxiety.


      Loki had several negative encounters with Dogs as a puppy. He started showing signs of fear-based reactivity around his first birthday (2019). A few of Loki's early signs of reactivity were; shaking off when we saw dogs from a distance, being overexcited and appeasing them. Then, it began to escalate to lunging, growling, and barking.
      This is when his Hoomans tried some reward-based training, which included counter conditioning/behavior adjustment therapy (BAT).


      A few months later his Hoomans decided to speak with a Vet and get a Veterinary Behaviour Referral. They were finding reward-based training a struggle, as they weren't 100% sure of the cause. 
      Working with the Veterinary Behaviour Team they had a full behaviour report and some focused reward-based training sessions, set up within environments that allowed for success. Through this Loki's reactivity turned a corner and within 6 months he was able to enjoy a few dog-friendly holidays and beach trips.


      The Veterinary Behaviour Team help Loki's Hoomans identify that Loki's reactivity has both genetic and environmental components.
      Genetic Components - Loki was one of ten pups but unfortunately, his litter's birth was complicated. His 10th littermate didn't make it and was stuck, almost killing his mother in the process. His mother was rushed to the emergency vet for a spay and removal of the dead puppy. This high level of cortisol (stress hormone) then went into all of the puppies' first milk, which likely had negative effects on the development of the puppies.
      Environmental Components - Loki's early negative encounters with other dogs played a big part in his reactivity. These included a lot of negative encounters with off-leash dogs and being bitten several times as a puppy. He was also a winter puppy and due to the snow his early exposure to the outside was restricted, which will have had a knock on effect on his confidence.


      Once Loki's Hoomans knew the cause they were able to use focused Reward-based training. Fast forward to 2022 and many training/desensitisation sessions, Loki has now been able to mix with new dogs - which is leaps and bounds from lunging from across a field.

      2023 UPDATE

       Unfortunately, Loki recently had a huge setback, after being attacked by an off-lead dog. This encounter traumatised him and set back months of training, as it affected Loki's newfound trust in dogs.
      To help get Loki back on track his Hoomans decided to try a medication to lower his anxiety levels a bit. Loki has now been on this medication for a few weeks & his anxiety is slowly easing again. 
      Follow Loki's Journey @Polka_Dot_Loki

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