When working with a reactive dog it is beneficial to be aware of the triggers; this is where the dog switches from one emotional response to another (Stewart, 2012). Bob’s triggers are: dogs, scooters, cars and people. It can be difficult to keep a dog with multiple triggers under the threshold, because then trigger staking begins. Figure 1 shows Bob’s walks and triggers over a four day period. He managed to keep under the threshold on day one when he saw dogs and scooters, and on days two and three when he saw cars and scooters. However, on day four he saw dogs, cars and scooters and went over threshold; once the dog reacts its puts dog and owner back (Hedges, 2014). It can take three to five days for the cortisol levels return to normal. Working with the dog in this state becomes difficult, so less is more. Instead of walking the dog in an unmanageable environment it is advisable to take it to a quiet location or back garden and occupy it with games involving food, toys or a favourite article until it is calmer, otherwise it will continue with the emotional response (Lenski, 2012)
An aggressive response may be avoided if subtle signs, such as anxiety and fear, are noticed. If the owner recognises these signs he/she can keep the dog away from stressful situations that could take them over the threshold (Frediani, 2000). Other signs include: avoidance of people or other dogs; repetitive yawning and licking of the lip/nose; tense body language; slow movement; low tail carriage; and backward ear carriage (Rugaas, 2013).
Body language is an important means of communication between the dog and owner when trying to avoid the threshold. The environment needs to be managed and distances maintained from any stimulus that causes the emotional response under the dog’s threshold. If at any time the dog becomes stressed or changes its behaviour due to a trigger, distance should be created to refocus the dog’s mind and attention (Richmond, 2013).
3.1 Bob’s fear aggression with Dogs
Bob’s owner looked for help because Bob was reactive towards other dogs. Bob had been to the vet’s and had a full blood works which came back clear. He had been attacked by a dog a month before the reactivity started. The behaviour has gradually worsened and the response has been rehearsed for around a year. The dog has been flooded because the owner thought it best to surround him with more dogs. Bob has been told off for growling so now goes from yawning, nose lick and blinking to snapping; he misses out the growling on the ladder of aggression