Managing reactivity in our dogs is tough. Mother Nature can help us give them a less stressful and more harmonious existence.
Reduced Trigger ExposureWith reactive dogs, one of the best management strategies is reducing exposure to triggers as much as possible. Wild spaces often have fewer triggers that can set off reactivity compared to more populated areas like your neighborhood or a busy local park. Common dog reactivity triggers are other dogs, unfamiliar objects, sudden movements, and loud noises.
This controlled exposure can prevent unnecessary stress for both you and your dog, and help in managing their reactivity.
Reduced StressNature as a whole reduces stress and anxiety in our dogs' bodies (and our own). Sunlight boosts serotonin, making dogs feel calmer and happier. Sniffing activates dogs' Seeking System which causes a release of dopamine, the "feel good" hormone. In fact, sniffing is also thought to soothe the vagus nerve in dogs which regulates heart rate and lowers blood pressure.
Additionally, wild spaces offer our dogs solace from the disruptive noise of neighborhoods and everyday life. Disruptive noise primes the body to overreact, contributing to reactivity in dogs and threats to their health. Even common, seemingly mundane noises (things like cars passing, mowers, construction) can activate your dog's stress center and cause a release of cortisol and adrenaline.
Because reactive dogs often have higher levels of stress and anxiety in general, simply being in a wild space can lead to a calmer overall demeanor.
Relaxed EnvironmentBeing in nature allows dogs to be more relaxed and engage in natural behaviors like sniffing, exploring, and playing. Without being on high alert from noise, people, and other dogs, your dog can relax into a comfortable mindset, curiously exploring their surroundings like dogs do in the wild.
This type of sensory stimulation (sniffing, scanning for birds, looking for tasty grass) can help them feel relaxed and less aroused. It's also is an important part of canine enrichment.
Bonding TimeSpending time in nature allows you and your dog to bond and build a stronger relationship. Without having to constantly be scanning for possible triggers, you can focus on your dog, discovering new things together and enjoying each other's company.
Positive interactions during these outings can contribute to your dog's overall confidence and emotional well-being. This helps make your relationship closer and happier.
Natural surroundings can encourage dogs to focus on their environment rather than being hyper-focused on potential triggers. This shift in attention can aid in reducing reactive responses.
It also offers a perfect opportunity to work on training together with your dog. This is especially important because training is one of the main tools for managing dog reactivity.
Space to Flourish
From the sunlight shining through trees to the peaceful cadence of a nearby river, nature is a balm for anxious minds. The next time your dog's reactivity threatens to overshadow your walks, remember that dirt trails and forests offer a space for our reactive dogs to flourish in every way we've hoped for.
*Contributing quote from Elice of @alittlebarleyandrye and the podcast Honest Dog Moms. Barley is her 3 year old Australian Shepherd/Australian Cattle Dog mix who has been reactive since she met him at 4 weeks old. When city life becomes too much for Barley and his trigger stacking, Elice loves to take Barley to a local spot that's familiar and empty so he's still able to get his energy out while also recharging from previous days' triggers.