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Understanding reactive dog's psychology

Updated: Jul 6, 2023

By Kierin Lund

July 18, 2022

What does it mean that my dog is reactive?

Instead of being neutral, happy, or calm while experiencing a situation the pup reacts in a way that society finds socially unacceptable. The dog is internally unsure of their surroundings and what might happen- the unpredictability of not knowing what to do in the situation.

The psychology of the dog is affected in a way that they are not able to think through what is happening and will lunge, bark, scream, or bite. Their frontal cortex is not using the executive functioning and is instead in the fight mode.

The way to get out of the fight mode and into using the executive functioning mode is to give them experiences that ensure their success. Little steps towards building confidence in ways that the dog enjoys will help to change the mindset. The Wonder Gym is a great way to do this!

Assess your dog's reactivity level on a scale of 1 to 10, where 10 represents the highest reactivity and 1 indicates the lowest. Neutral behavior falls at the midpoint, with a score of 5.

There are also the Zones of regulation for dogs. Zones of Regulation are based on the human Zones of Regulation which are Blue, Green, Yellow and Red. Blue is usually bored, Green is usually good, Yellow is usually yikes (time to act), and Red is reaction (too late!).

As the human who can help with the change of mindset, it is necessary to be in the moment with your pup and plan ahead for what may happen to upset their balance.

Green Zone

​Calm- Focused- Relaxed-Engaged-Happy- Ready to learn- Safe- Proud

Blue Zone

Exhausted- Tired-Hungry-Bored- Sick- Thirsty- Sad-Moving slowly

Yellow Zone

​Excited-Uneasy-Frustrated- Worried-Suspicious- Unguard- Silly- Annoyed

Red Zone

Angry- Aggressive-Terrified-Shocked- Out of control- Growling- Horrified-Elated

Here is a table of what happens in each Zone. Silly, and excited in the Yellow Zone could cause an older dog to react to a 6 months or younger puppy and elaon in the Red Zone could elicit the same reaction with an older dog. As the trainer, and behaviorist for your pup I will slowly and steadily help to build the confidence, and be the predicable constant so they will begin to trust the situations that they are in as we will experience the very things that had caused the reaction in the first place. As the pawrent of your reactive pup, you will need to follow the prescription that is prescribed so your pup will succeed in becoming the secure and sure pup they were meant to become.

What You Need To Do:

  • Be consistent

  • Be predicable

  • Be receptive

  • Be prepared- Where they are on the scale at all times and know what Zone your pup is in at all times

  • Be patient

  • Be an advocate with your love and attention

The Wonderpup Way:

  • Homework prior to meeting our trainer.

  • What are the main 3 things that cause your pup to get into the Yellow Zone?

  • What do you do when this happens?

  • What is your goal with your dog?

  • Where is your dog on the scale of 1- 10 in reactive behavior?

  • What zone is your pup in 60 percent or more of the time?

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