What is reactivity?
The term 'reactive' refers to dogs who have excessive emotional reactions to particular stimuli or triggers. This can be dogs, people, children, cars, bicycles etc. Some dogs are quietly reactive, seeking to get away from the trigger and hide. Some are loud and more obvious, often lunging towards the stimulus to try and make it 'go away'. Often this is linked to a fear or uncertainty about the trigger, leading to anxiety or panic.
Are reactive dogs allowed in classes?
The short answer is usually no. Whilst it is true that we have had some reactive dogs in our classes, it is sometimes as a result of an owner not realising their pup was reactive until the dog was put into a class environment. However, often the owner has worked with one of our trainers on a one-to-one basis in order to get their dog to a point where they can cope with the class environment first. If a dog is known to be reactive and has had no training around their reactivity, we will not recommend classes for them.
So why do we say 'no'?
Is it because reactive dogs can be disruptive to the rest of the class? This is partially true - a loudly reactive dog in a class makes the other dogs stressed and makes it harder for the both the owner of the reactive dog and the other handlers to both listen to the instructor and to work with their dogs. But this is not the main reason. The reactive dog's welfare is the most important aspect.
Think about the dog!
It is a welfare issue, plain and simple. The issue with reactivity, as mentioned above, is that it is often rooted in fear or worry. If your dog is fearful or worried about other dogs or people, is it fair to put them close to strange dogs and people? We select our class venues carefully to make sure they have adequate space for our classes and suitable flooring and we strictly limit our class sizes to small numbers (usually maximum of 5 dogs) to make sure owners get enough support from the class instructor and dogs get enough space to work. Reactive dogs often need much more space from their triggers than a class environment provides in order to feel relaxed.
Why is this a problem?
A relaxed dog can learn and focus on their handler. A dog who is actively reacting to a stimulus nearby is neither relaxed nor learning. This causes two main issues. The first is that we would be knowingly putting the dog into an uncomfortable situation, which is not how we train at Pawsitive Pooches. The second is that the owner has paid for a class from which neither they nor they dog will benefit much, if at all. This is not what we want either.
Kind and effective training.
We pride ourselves on providing kind and effective training for our clients and their dogs. Is it kind to put a dog into a situation where we know they will feel anxious or panicky? Is it effective to put the owner and the dog into a situation where neither can really take in all the information on offer, or put into practise the exercises shown in class if they are having to constantly manage reactive behaviour? We will always offer you the most appropriate training solutions for you and your dog.
What about the dogs who unexpectedly react in classes?
Part of selecting our venues means ensuring we have some way to give nervous or reactive dogs a quiet place to work out of sight of other dogs or people. This is not ideal, but gives owners who wish to continue the class a way to work, whilst being supported by our instructor. We will often also recommend one to one sessions alongside the class to work on their reactivity.
What can I do if I have a reactive dog.
Drop us a message to discuss your needs. We can determine whether a group environment is right for your dog and offer private one to one alternatives if necessary to help you and your dog to work through their reactivity with effective and, most importantly, stress-free training sessions. Many dogs who have completed one to one training for reactivity have gone on to take our group classes without issue.