Maizey is daily teaching me about reactivity. An interesting part of Maizey’s reactivity has required me to learn to distinguish between true reactivity and a very interesting behavior chain of “pretend reactivity”.
The first thing I noticed her reacting to was other dogs. This started in her puppy class. She reacts instantly to a strange dog, but once they meet she calms noticably and over time will become comfortable.
Maizey’s true reactivity has now transferred to many animals from cows to horses and even a moose! The most obvious sign of true reactivity in Maizey is what earned her the title “princess-of–the-shrill-bark”. It is a bark that is higher pitched and more intense than her normal bark.
Body posture is also a very evident signal in that she leans into the stimuli, stretching her body forward to the point where from nose to tail you could almost draw horizontal line down the length of her body. This was an important sign for me to pick up on as when I see that posture start I am learning how to help her stop the reacting before it escalates.
The reactive posture looks like this:
|photo taken 9/2009 at 9 months old
You can see how she is hunched back on her haunches yet at the same time stretching toward the trigger. Her tail is a key signal here because it is stiff at the base and standing straight out from her body.
This is the face of one stressed out Maizey
|photo taken 9/2009 @ 9 months old
Signs of stress can be seen in the tenseness of her jaw and what we call “whale eye” or “pop eye”.
Another less obvious sign shows up in a general jumpiness. This can show up even in completely calm situations, like when she is laying on the bed, hears a strange noise and visibly jumps as if startled. But it also manifests itself in true reactivity around other dogs. Mainly this shows up as her running and playing with all appearance of calm, but she startles easily at the other dogs movement and responds with a twitch, or jump. Then I know that she is still feeling stressed but on a much smaller scale and she is managing it herself.
For my own record keeping purposes I measure what I observe in her on a 0-10 scale. Its technically called the “Maymay can’t think anymore, help me Crazymomlady my brain is exploding” reactive scale. As is sits better on the tongue and the typing fingers, we’ll just call it the “reactive maymay scale” The stretched out princess-of-the-shrill-bark gets a 9-10/10 on the reactive maymay scale. Depending on other signs the jumpiness may get as low as a 2/10.
Knowing these signs, and many others, has an interesting place in our calming process because Maizey has learned a fascinating behavior chain that starts with barking. It looks like this: see something, bark, look at crazymomlady in an imitation ‘watch’, get a treat, immediately go back to barking and start the whole thing over again.
This is “pretend reactivity”. She is not really anxious over anything. She has simply learned, because I unwittingly taught her this and she is simply brilliant, that “watching” mom after barking gets rewarded. Thus you can see how discerning between real, (“help crazymomlady lady I’m flipping out and can’t calm down”) and pretend, (“oh good crazymomlady wants to play that game where I make an unholy racket over nothing and she gives me treats”) reactivity has become very important in our life.
So what does you 4legged friend look like when reacting to something? What are the signs you see in them when they see something they aren’t happy with?
You will see just how vital it is to accurately read your reactive 4legged friend when you check back tomorrow for “What is Dog Reactivity Part 3- Anecdotal Evidence Illustrates Maizey’s Reactivity.”