Friday, 13 September 2019

Why labels matter – is your dog “reactive”?

Human language is full of labels. It’s a verbal shorthand, one or two words to use instead of a long sentence of explanation.

But sometimes we might have different understandings of the same word or label.

And then that convenient shorthand gets in the way of developing our understanding.

In the dog world, there’s been a noticeable shift away from describing dogs as aggressive or dominant which might feel like a positive step forwards.

Instead you’re more likely to see words like reactive.

Beware of trainers who use the word “reactive” and then use" dominance reduction" and  punishment as a training technique. 

“Reactive” as a label can feel like it carries less judgement than “aggressive”, but it still fails to accurately describe what our dog is doing and how they are feeling about that.

Reactive usually seems to mean “my dog will bark and or lunge at….” either people, dogs, or both in a particular set of circumstances. So your dog isn't "reactive", they lunge/bark at men walking past wearing hats!

What about the dogs that "react" by going quiet?

Choosing to back away, avoid confrontation, retreat from the situation or even freeze.

So, from now on you’re more likely to see Clare and myself writing and talking about sensitive dogs.

Dogs that struggle in specific situations.

This includes dogs that find life difficult for whatever reason, and whose responses are problematic to both the dog and you.

Sensitive dogs might
  • struggle to concentrate and fool around when they get overexcited
  • lunge or bark when they feel frustrated, or threatened
  • shut down when they feel like there’s a lot of pressure to do something
  • get worried when they hear loud or unexpected noises
 Sensitive dogs often struggle to bounce back from stressful situations-but this reaction can look very different for each dog.

Practically here’s what that means for WCC!

We are updating our courses workshops and classes to clearly label some as S-Rated, that means suitable for sensitive dogs!

Social Skills
Rehab club has been revised and renamed to focus more on social skills for dogs that struggle
  • I want to be your friend (I think!) is designed for dogs who really do want to make friends but might be lacking in the finer social skills. Frustrated greeter is another common label! 
  • I want to be alone is designed for dogs who will have happier lives if they can learn to tolerate the presence of other dogs around them, but have no real interest in making social connections. 

We think labels matter.

Labels can make it easier to communicate about our dogs, their needs, and find effective interventions.

Labels can also conceal acres of misunderstanding, influence your attitude to your dog (are they stubborn or struggling to hear you) and sometimes accidentally exclude the very dogs we want to help.

If you feel like you have a Sensitive Dog, get in touch to talk about how we can help you both enjoy life together with less stress (email:

Completed an Orientation or Behaviour Assessment with us already? One of these activities might be just what you’re looking for!  Look in the private Facebook Group or email us for the booking link (that way we can make sure you book onto the most suitable session)

Have a wonderful weekend with your dogs!

Morag and the beasties

No comments:

Post a comment