Editorial June 2017 Issue

Reduce Reactivity

Itís not just dogs who seem ever more volatile and on edgeĖ itís dog owners, too. Think thereís a connection?

Whole Dog Journal editor Nancy Kerns

It’s been widely observed that our society has gotten increasingly polarized over the past few years, with massive breakdowns in civil discourse between not just acquaintances, but also good friends, work associates, and even family members. Our most recent presidential election seemed to boost the level of tension and intolerance into the red zone. Many of my friends seem to be on permanent boil; others seem to have just checked out, distancing themselves from all forms of socializing.

Is it any wonder that this could also describe many of the dogs I hear about today? Owners today have more information about dog behavior and training, and more resources and innovative, high-tech equipment available for helping monitor, train, and entertain their dogs, and yet I hear about even more behavior problems than ever – especially dog-dog aggression.

After hearing one story about a dog killing one of the other dogs in its home, Training Editor Pat Miller and I have been discussing writing an article about the phenomenon of intra-pack aggression – and since we started discussing the idea a few months ago, we’ve heard of six additional cases.

I don’t claim to have all the answers, but, in my opinion, becoming aware that we have a problem is how we start fixing it. Much of our society is anxious and mad right now – and so are our dogs. For their sake, and ours, and that of our country, I think we all need to take a breath and practice calming ourselves and each other. We can use the techniques trainer Stephanie Colman describes in her article, "How to Help a Leash-Reactive Dog," in this issue! Changing our own emotional responses to things that reflexively make us angry and anxious can’t help but improve our moods – and just may improve our dogs’ moods, too.

My own calming haven, a local open space preserve, reopens to off-leash dogs at the end of this month. I’m so looking forward to getting back out there with my dogs, so we can fill our lungs to bursting with fresh air, and work our muscles into that good kind of tiredness with swimming and running and playing. If you have any such place – or some other sort of all-consuming activity that you can enjoy with your dogs – please take the time to enjoy that, and recharge your and your dog’s mental and emotional batteries, soon! (For more ideas on summer fun with your dog, see trainer Helene Goldberger’s article, "Summer Activities for Your Dog and You.")

I sincerely believe if we all do our part to center and calm ourselves (and our dogs, too, of course), we can reduce the aggression in our society, human and canine. And trying certainly can’t hurt anything. Join me?

Comments (1)

Thank you so much for bringing this out. The mental atmosphere in a dog's home, and in society at large, certainly can affect a dog's response to triggers. I often bring this up in client consults re: dog reactivity/aggression--have them think about whether there are things going on in the homes/minds of the people who live there that are causing or expressing stress or conflict, and how this might affect the dog(s). They don't need to tell me but they can if they want to, and then we can brainstorm ideas, at least about how to keep the dog out of the crossfire. If we humans can chill out, it will do wonders for our dogs.

Posted by: hg | June 18, 2017 3:24 PM    Report this comment

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