What the ffff
Most of you have heard about flight or fight, it being the most basic emergency response ingrained in all animals and humans. It is not the only ones though, there is also freeze and fornicate. The last two often gets over looked, but they are just as important as fight and flight.
When we look at reactivity in dogs, we need to consider all four F’s. Freezing, is a reaction as much is fight is. Fornicate is a reaction as much as flight is. When your dog offers either one of these types of reactions, it means your dog is overwhelmed, and the best response from you would be to move your dog away from whatever is causing him to react. To give you and idea about what these behaviours might look like, here are some examples:
Fornicate: Your dog might start offering appeasement behaviours, he might start to bite the leash or jump up against you, roll onto his back looking like he is asking for tummy rubs. Your dog might also start humping you or something else that is close by. Stress signals might include: developing a sudden itch that needs to be scratched, yawning, stretching (play bow), etc.
Freeze: Generally the dog’s body would stiffen up, his movement will be slow and his body lowered to the ground (almost like he is sleep walking). Or the dog might not be able to move at all. Stress signals might include: Whale eye, closed tight mouth, tail wagging while the body is stiff, etc.
Flight: This one is kind of obvious, the dog will run away. In an enclosed area, the dog will keep away by ducking and diving into different directions. On a leash, the dog might prefer to stand or walk behind his owner and continue to put as much distance between him and whatever is scaring him. Stress signals might include: Looking away avoiding eye contact, turning his body away, yawning, keeping his nose on the ground, sniffing, etc.
Fight: Generally when a dog is not able to escape the scary thing that keeps on coming into his space, he will learn to fight, and this is really his last resort. Dogs will never choose fighting as their first response. If you meet a dog whose first response is to fight, it only means that previous attempts from his side to make the scary thing go away failed or was ignored. Stress signals might include: Whale eye, avoiding eye contact, hard stare, baring teeth and lifting lip. From here it could start escalating towards more aggressive signals like, growling, snapping, lunging, nipping (front teeth) and finally biting. Please note that there are also different levels of a bite. A lot of people mistake mouthing for biting.
I have only mentioned a couple of behaviours, with each individual dog it will be different, and you know your dog best. Knowing calming signals, stress signals and the onset of aggression are very good guidelines to follow, but it is not one size fits all.
Basically, you will find that during any of these four reactions your dog will seem unresponsive to your cues and there is a good chance they will not take food. The reason being is that they are stressing. When dogs (and humans) stress, new information can not be taken in and food can not be consumed. Your best bet would be to make the scary thing go away without any fuss about it. Help your dog to calm down a little and your dog will become more responsive to you again.
I have a very simple little formula which I follow, and teach others to follow, when it comes to their dogs starting to show signs of discomfort and reactivity. And the name pretty much says is all.
Observe and Respond.
When you are spending time with your dog, put your phone on silent close the laptop screen and be present. Interact with your dog, praise desirable behaviours and observe your dog’s responses to his environment. If you notice any sign that your dog is uncomfortable with something, you need to respond to it by either moving your dog out of the situation or by changing what you are doing. Never ever put your dog in a situation that you know he will not be able to cope with, and if you find yourselves in such a situation without have known it will happen, breathe, stay calm and move through it as if it is really no big deal. Your dog will respond to your behaviour because he will look to you to see if it’s all good. Please note this is not a good time for training, just get out of the situation without any fuss.
If you follow this little formula when you are with your dog, undesirable behaviours will never pop up out of the blue, small issues will not escalate into bigger issues and chances are that Fool around will not escalate into Fight. We all want our dogs to fit into our lifestyle, live by our rules so that there are as little conflict as possible. But we do need to teach them, the first thing we need to teach them is that we will listen to them and respond to them, especially when they are unsure or scared.
By Tersha, Team Leader