Reactivity...and What I Learned From My Dog
I am a huge dog lover. I volunteer at a local shelter and last year my husband and I adopted a dog from there. She came to the shelter with five other dogs who were rescued from what sounded like an abusive breeding situation and she was the oldest of these dogs at five years old. Each of the dogs came in with some issues and the shelter very clearly stated that they would need to be introduced to anything new slowly as they had some prior experiences that made them very nervous of the world around them. I don’t know exactly what the situation was where they came from but I heard some stories and got to spend time with each of the dogs and see their reactions to new things. We were told they probably had never lived in a home before.
I fell in love with Gertie, who we adopted in March of 2014. We brought her home and watched her check out her new surroundings with a curious wonder. It was beautiful. We could tell she knew she was home with a family who would take care of her forever.
As beautiful as that first day was, we soon ran into some other dogs and people while we were out on our walks and noticed that this dog did NOT feel safe around those other dogs (and many other people). She would lunge and bark to the point we weren’t sure exactly what she would do if she were off her leash and could really get near them.
I called the amazing trainer who helps out the animals at our shelter, Leanne Falkingham, and she instantly knew what was going on. “That’s reactivity,” she told me. Hmmmm…Reactivity? Like, reacting to a situation or person without really knowing why? Maybe out of fear? How terrible must her situation have been to have this…reaction. It made me sad to think about, but we can only control the present and future, not her past.
It made me think about how many of us (human beings) may be considered reactive if we used this word to describe people. Lots of us. Probably not to every situation, but I started thinking about how my past conditioned me to automatically make some snap assumptions about things. We are so conditioned to make automatic assumptions about things in our day that we just go on autopilot without really thinking about appropriately responding to situations. We often react, we don’t respond. Think about times in your life when you got angry at someone or at a situation. Did you automatically get angry without really taking the time to take in the situation and understand? This happens a lot with strong emotions, not just anger.
So, back to our sweet and wonderful Gertie. Yes, she was reactive because of whatever happened to her in the past. We worked with Leanne for a while to help us understand where she was coming from and to help Gertie start to learn that she does not need to jump to these automatic conclusions every time she sees another dog or a person. As we worked with her, we could see a difference in her behavior. She started to think before she automatically jumped and lunged and barked. Sometimes she would look to us to see our reactions. Other times, she would think for a moment before she did anything. Sometimes she would sniff out the situation. She learned she had a choice in what to do in the situation. She started to appropriately RESPOND instead of automatically REACT.
The same is so true in life. We all have a choice in how we respond to everyday situations. Next time you feel yourself getting angry or making assumptions about a situation, take a moment to think of Gertie and choose to Respond instead of React. Yoga teaches us to take a deep breath before we let our emotions take us over. Take a deep breath. If Gertie can learn that the world around her is not all bad, we can too.
PS--I include our trainer, Leanne's contact information by clicking here for those of you that are local and interested in a dog trainer. I am not an affiliate, but I know from working with Leanne that no one will be kinder, more patient or care more about your dogs progress (besides you!) than her.
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