Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Why is my dog snarling in the window?: A Breakdown of Barrier Reactivity

My Aussie Marco is a really friendly and well adjusted dog. He came to me with a great temperament at 8 weeks old and through mountains of socialization he has continued to be my most trustworthy dog around other dogs, small animals, babies and of course new people. Marco however has a secret... he use to be extremely barrier reactive. What does this mean? 

Barrier reactivity is when you put a dog behind a fence, kennel door, window, leash, etc. and they see a person or another dog or small animal. An over reaction follows that might include lunging, growling, showing of teeth, barking, snarling, etc. Marco literally went from wiggling, happy puppy to full on vampire face. Even my trainer friends thought he was aggressive until of course I opened the kennel door and poof it vanished and my happy boy was back. 

Marco had a very specific form of barrier reactivity that occurred only when he was in his kennel and saw another dog. It also had to be a dog he didn't know well (the other dogs in my house didn't elicit any sort of reaction from him). I deduced that for Marco it occurred because he was extremely frustrated that he couldn't go meet the other dogs and he would blow up like a toddler having a temper tantrum until he got his way and was allowed to play. This behaviour first appeared at 6 months (right around when adolescence kicks in) and I had solved the problem before he reached 8 months. It did take some work though. 

So now that you have a good idea of what barrier reactivity is you're probably wondering how you can solve it? Well it depends on WHY your dog is reacting. A good trainer can help you figure this one out. A dog that is overly excited is different than a dog that is fearful. Both dogs can demonstrate barrier reactivity. I would address the issues quite differently though. An over excited dog needs to learn impulse control (Marco had to wait to be quiet before I would let him out of the kennel to play so he learned quiet, calm behaviour got him what he wanted instead of growling). A scared dog (like Heidi) needed a confidence boosting program to help her learn to trust not only me but understand that people passing by aren't going to hurt her. 

The good news is that barrier reactivity is one of those issues that can be resolved within a fairly reasonable amount of time and improve the dog's (and owner's) quality of life fairly significantly. 

Where's Your Sit? offers 2 fun group classes that can help both hyper, excited dogs as well as fearful dogs. Check out our Hyper Dog Program or our Confidence Booster Program to help your pup today. We also offer private, in home training that can address this issue. 

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