This sounds crazy, doesn’t it? With all the whining and complaining I do regarding Risa’s dog reactivity, you’d probably think that I wouldn’t consider such a behavior to have any benefit. But it does. If it weren’t beneficial, it wouldn’t exist in so many dogs!
In this case, I’m not really talking about fear reactivity specifically. While the term ‘reactivity’ is generally used by many to mean a dog who behaves aggressively out of fear in an attempt to drive away that which frightens him, I’m speaking more about the dictionary definition. How quickly a dog responds to a stimulus.
Reactivity is incredibly common in herding breeds and sighthounds. It occurs frequently in terriers as well. When you think about the history and purpose of these breeds, it’s not hard to see why reactivity is so common. All were bred to be incredibly in tune with movement. The herding dog needed to be able to change directions quickly to keep the flock in line. The sighthound needed to be able to adjust its position rapidly to keep up with the hare. And terriers needed to be able to keep track of the vermin they hunted. All of these dogs needed to have quick reaction time to do their job properly. All of these types tend to be very visually oriented and in tune with movement. This reactive behavior makes them incredibly good at what they were bred to do. But it can also turn into a disaster when they overreact to things in their environment.
Even outside of their original purpose, these reactive dogs tend to make excellent competitors. Y’know. . .if you can manage to get them in the ring without having a reactive meltdown. 😉 Their keenness on movement makes them outstanding at reading your cues and body language. They’re also quick to adjust themselves to your cues (which can be good or bad depending on your skills as a handler). With a reactive dog, you can really harness their ability to make quick decisions. Especially in fast-paced sports like agility.
Of course, I’m not implying that your next competition dog should be a highly-reactive one. Reactivity, especially fear reactivity, brings about a whole other set of potential problems that might keep you out of the ring. Just saying that reactivity isn’t really as much of an anomaly among dogs as one might think. That it truly did/does have a purpose. 😀