I just returned from a tour of London and Paris. As expected, the Eiffel Towel was magnificently lit up as our boat glided past it on the Seine River. As expected, the Tower of London housed beautifully jeweled crowns of monarchs past and present.
What I didn’t expect was the consistent calm behavior in dogs at both European cities. I never witnessed any leash tugging, nuisance barking or lunging by dogs big and small, old and young.
But back in the United States, there is a rising number of dogs emerging from the lockdown that are hitting the streets on leashed walks that are highly reactive when encountering other dogs and people. And one of them now is Pet Safety Dog Kona. Like many dogs, she was isolated from other dogs during COVID.
Kona is my 8-year-old terrier mix who assists me in my hands-on, veterinarian-approved pet first aid classes online and in person. She also travels with me as a therapy pet to visit residents at memory care centers and to schools.
The Two Sides of Kona
When she is in work mode, Kona walks easily on a leash, heeds all my cues quickly and basically ignores other dogs in our classes held at dog training centers and doggy daycares. But when she knows she is “off duty” and being on a neighborhood walk, she transforms into 35 pounds of excitability when she eyes another dog. Now, she isn’t aggressive, but she is animated. She squeals with joy, yanks on the leash, and tries to muscle me toward an approaching dog.
Kona is among a growing number of American dogs who are reactive to people, dogs and situations. The reactive spectrum ranges from happy, over-the-top excitement in dogs like Kona to the other end that includes dogs who being highly agitated, even aggressive when another dog nears on walks. They may engage in fights that result in injuries.
Fortunately, help is here. More certified professional dog trainers are adding classes on helping people deal with canine reactivity. I reached out to a top duo dealing with this issue: Dr. Lisa Radosta and Mindy Cox from West Palm Beach, FL. Together, they are known as The Real Dog Nerds.
“Canine reactivity is a blanket term that depending on the dog, can be displayed as a dog being overly excited, extremely fearful, overly aroused or aggressive when on a leash,” says Dr. Radosta, a board-certified veterinary behaviorist who operates the Florida Veterinary Behavior Center in West Palm Beach and Coral Springs. “They may be afraid of stuff in the environment: cars, trucks, construction noise. Basically, reactive dogs have abnormal responses to normal situations.”
Adds Mindy, a certified dog trainer and certified animal behavior, “It is important to know that this reactivity is not a choice a dog is making. The dog is out of control and emotions can control actions,” says Mindy, a former veterinary hospital administrator. “How people react to their dogs can unintentionally make the situation worse.”
New Course Offered to Address Canine Reactivity
Together, they have created an online reactivity course called, From Anxious to Zensational. It features 15 chapters, multiple video lessons and direct access to them. You are also invited to join a private Facebook page on canine reactivity.
You can enroll for free for the first seven days. Then the course costs $35 per month that you can cancel at any time. To learn more, please visit www.therealdognerds.com.
They unleash a few things never to do with a reactive dog:
Don’t yell at your dog spiraling out of control.
Don’t pull hard on the leash to get your dog to move backward.
Don’t blame yourself or your dog to those you encounter on a reactive walk.
Don’t take advice from well-meaning neighbors or those not certified in dog behavior and training.
It is critical to first book a thorough medical examination by your veterinarian to rule out any possible underlying medical issues that may be contributing to your dog’s reactivity.
“Sick dogs can act weird,” explains Dr. Radosta. “I had a dog come into my center for reactivity. I could not touch him in the exam room because he was too aggressive. But I watched him walk and saw that he was shifting his weight off his left hind leg and his toes were spayed. We sedated him and discovered this dog had arthritis in both hips and in one elbow. I put him on pain medication, and he was no longer reactive. If your dog is scared or can’t be touched, please see your veterinarian. A medical condition may be the reason for your dog’s reactivity.”
As for Kona, she is my best friend. That is why I will be enrolling in this canine reactivity program. I know not to expect overnight results, but steady progress.
Parting advice from Dr. Radosta: “Accept this is not about you. It is about your dog who needs help. Don’t let guilt paralyze you. We are here to help you and your dog.”
Learn Pet First Aid
Learn more on ways to keep your cats and dogs safe by visiting http://www.propethero.com. Consider taking our veterinarian-approved online pet first aid/CPR course. Enter this code: CPR – ARDEN MOORE and receive a 10 percent discount! And, if you are interested in becoming a Pro Pet Hero instructor, please click on the BECOME AN INSTRUCTOR button on the home page for more details.