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Opposition Reflex

Many owners who struggle with a dog that is constantly lunging and barking at every dog and person that walks by is doing something subconsciously that is making the situation far worse.

These owners, who anticipate their dog barking and lunging at others, will tighten the leash and wrap it around their hand and then try to bring their dog in closer in order to get a better grip for when the dog explodes.

By tightening the dog’s leash this activates their opposition reflex which will further frustrate the dog and cause them to react by barking and lunging.

Opposition reflex can have a variety of effects on our dogs. In some cases, opposition reflex can create a false sense of security for the dog, they know they are being held back and will act tougher than they  are due to the physical restraint that they feel.

“Additionally, opposition reflex can have a far different effect on the dog.”

This is very similar to two humans that are being held back from one another during a fight, they may throw insults at one another as their friends are holding them back but as soon as their buddies let go of them they then calm down and relax.

Additionally, opposition reflex can have a far different effect on the dog. Dogs who feel the restraint from a leash may feel as if they have no escape and freedom of movement.

This can stress the dog out putting them in a fight or flight response, the dog realizes that flight is not an option due to the restraint of the leash so then they resort to fighting.

No matter how the dog is affected by opposition reflex, whether it creates a false sense of security or makes the dog feel insecure, holding a tight leash will place unnecessary stress onto the dog.

Opposition reflex can have negative effects in other aspects as well.

Walking a dog and letting them pull you along, even when other dogs or people are not around, will contribute to that undesirable behavior in the form of stacking.

Not only does this effect the reactivity issue that the dog has but it dismantles the relationship and engagement between the handler and the dog, as the dog learns that fighting against the owner gets it what it wants.

Although opposition reflex generally creates negative behaviors and stresses the dog out there are some instances where it can be used in order to help train a dog. 

Dogs who are trained in protection work or are trained to do a job need to be very driven, many trainers use opposition reflex to build that drive in the dog. Harnesses create a ton of opposition reflex based on their various contact points; this makes them terrible tools to take your dog on a walk but can be amazing when building drive in a dog.

“Opposition reflex has been used in dog training for hundreds of years to build drive in working dogs.”

By restraining the dog in a harness and letting them chase after a ball while pulling the handler along creates resistance. That resistance that the harness provides makes the dogs desire for the ball grow.

This same technique can be used to create a stronger recall on a dog, by having the dog in a harness and letting them pull some resistance when given the command of “come” their desire and determination to return to their owner is intensified. Other ways in which opposition reflex can work is by having a dog in a down stay position.

The handler can then use the harness to gently try and pull the dog off the stay, if done correctly this will create more desire for the dog to stay in the down position.

Opposition reflex has been used in dog training for hundreds of years to build drive in working dogs. This is the exact same concept that motivates a sled dog to pull a sled. Protection dogs use opposition reflex to create a desire to chase and bite a decoy.

Unfortunately, many owners unknowingly create opposition reflex in their dogs without understanding the detrimental effects it can have if used in the wrong context. 

Dogs that are walked in a harness can develop leash reactivity, loss of engagement with their owners, and become overly stressed out.

In order to prevent this from happening it is paramount to train loose leash walking at an early stage and use classical conditioning to build engagement with your dog.

This along with desensitization will help to create a dog that is socially neutral of its surrounding environment and prevent them from developing any negative behavioral patterns.

“Once we become more aware of the opposition reflex that we are applying on our dogs we can begin to make more improvements in regard to their overall behavior.”

Being aware of the leash pressure that we are applying on our dogs is a very subtle change that we can make in our daily lives, oftentimes this can be a difficult change for owners as we do it naturally and without thinking.

Once we become more aware of the opposition reflex  that we are applying on our dogs we can begin to make more improvements in regard to their overall behavior.

More importantly our dog’s state of mind can change from a stressed and panicked state to a relaxed and calm state of mind. This by itself will not change a dog’s behavior in a day but it will contribute to your long-term success.

Dog training is a multitude of small seemingly insignificant changes that we make that have a significant impact on our dogs. 

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