Frustration Based Reactivity? What’s That??

My husband, Derek, was telling me about his day at work last night, specifically that one of his co-workers asked him about how Odin was with other dogs. Derek explained that Odin was reactive and to his surprise, the co-worker actually had heard of reactivity because his dog was also reactive! This was really refreshing as most dog owners do not know about reactivity (unless they have a reactive dog).

His story reminded me of the non-stop questions I had received when talking with friends/co-workers about his reactivity. This made me think that there isn’t enough information out there about reactivity. And those that had heard of reactivity did not know about the difference bases of reactivity. Odin displays both frustration and fear based reactivity. There was plenty of information in regards to fear based reactivity, however there was very limited information on frustration based.

So, in response to the little information I could find, I have created my own explanation of fear based reactivity:


Picture this, you are driving past Disneyland (with no intent of visiting) with your kid (or niece or nephew or some little kid). The kid can see the top of the Matterhorn and the entrance to the park. They can smell the popcorn and can hear all the sounds of joy protruding from the park. They get excited because come on, it’s Disneyland! They excitedly ask you if you guys can go inside the park. Sadly, due to unforeseen circumstances, you cannot stop (whether it be because of your schedule or monetary reasons). This makes the kid upset and they start crying and throwing a temper tantrum because they do not understand why they cannot go. All the other kids around them get to have fun and get to meet Mickey Mouse, but they are stuck in the car.

This is exactly how your dog feels when they have frustration based reactivity. They see the other dog (Disneyland) and due to their super noses they also smell the other dog. They want to play; the other dog looks like sooo much fun. However, due to unforeseen circumstance (you do not know the other dog owner, or you need to finish up your walk) you cannot let your dog go meet and see the other dog. So they throw their version of a temper tantrum. They do not understand why they cannot go to see the other dog (and you cannot communicate to them why) so they become frustrated with the situation. Instead of crying like a little kid would, they bark and lunge at the other dog.


This is frustration based reactivity. And after a while of seeing other dogs (or Disneyland) time and time again and not getting to have fun, they become frustrated at the first sight of another dog. They know from past experiences that they cannot get to this other, super fun dog. So they throw their temper tantrum. Disneyland is no longer a fun place; instead it brings back the feelings of what they are missing out on.

Overall, frustration based reactivity is your dog’s arousal and stress of seeing another dog and not being able to interact socially with them. Leashes interfere with normal social interactions. Creates a barrier between dogs. They cannot greet each other which may create a stressful situation for your dog. That stress and arousal turns into frustration and prompts their aggressive behavior. Generally, frustration based reactive dogs do great with other dogs during off-leash situations. However, once leashed they become frustrated with their new barrier. In my next post, I will discuss how to overcome the pesky, unwanted behavior of frustration based reactivity.


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