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Labels are for clothes, not dogs!

Any dog can show reactive or aggressive responses in certain circumstances. This doesn’t mean they are inherently aggressive or ‘dangerous’ in any way. TRUE aggression is actually very rare.

Many dogs have specific triggers to their reactive responses - for example certain breeds/types of dogs, runners, noisy people, large vehicles. Often, if the dog isn’t in the presence of these things, they are completely fine. Some dogs are also reactive depending on their mood and the specific events that have happened during their day. Things like the weather can even influence selective reactivity.

So when we label a dog as reactive when they respond to specific triggers under specific conditions, are we being fair to them? Labels can be helpful for some people, but in my opinion, saying “I have a reactive dog” can cause us to have a certain mindset about our dogs which can lead to assumptions being made. We might assume that a dog can’t do something/go somewhere/meet someone because of their reactivity, when we haven’t even given them the chance to try.

I’ve worked with people who wanted their ‘reactive’ dog to achieve certain things but assumed they couldn’t. Things like visiting a pub for lunch, going on holiday and even welcoming a new family member. Just recently, I worked with a family who were safely able to have a full house for Christmas - including a very young baby - despite their dog being labelled reactive. None of his triggers were present during the visit, so he was quite happy.

Rather than using the limiting term ‘reactive dog’, I prefer to talk about the specific things the dog struggles with. I don’t like to put dogs in a box and limit their potential by assuming they can’t do things, can’t learn and can’t change 🐾

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