What is reactivity?

As a young dog, Layla would frequently erupt in frenzied barking on walks. The target of her barking varied: other dogs, children, creepy gnome statues in yards, or an unexpected noise could all trigger her noisy reaction. Once she started barking, it was difficult to calm her. She had a hard time focusing and responded reluctantly to redirection. Sometimes I would just have to drag her away, still barking for all she was worth and lunging at the end of her leash.

Photo by Quinn Dombrowski

Photo by Quinn Dombrowski

While it comes in many different forms, reactivity is a common behavior problem that many people encounter at some point in their dogs’ lives. Simply put, reactivity can be defined as an overreaction to external stimuli. Dogs may be reactive to people, dogs, other animals, noises, motion, or any combination of the above. Some dogs are very specifically reactive, only responding to certain things (men with baseball caps; large, black dogs; skateboards) while some seem to react to anything. This overreaction can manifest as hyperexcitability, barking, whining, lunging, mouthing, pacing, panting, difficulty responding to well-known cues, difficulty calming down, hypervigilance, or any combination of the above.

Many of the behaviors that mark reactivity are also normal canine behaviors in certain contexts. The defining factor is whether the dog’s behavior is warranted in that situation or whether the dog is overreacting. It’s normal behavior for a dog to bark once or twice if they are startled by a loud and unusual noise. It’s abnormal for that same dog to bark frantically for ten minutes at a stretch every time the wind causes a tree branch to brush up against the house. It’s normal for your adolescent dog to get a little wiggly and excited when he spies a new dog while out walking. It’s abnormal for him to scream and lunge at the end of his leash every time he sees a new dog.

If you’re not sure whether your dog’s behavior is reactive or not, it’s worthwhile to consult with a professional. Reactivity can be motivated by overexcitement, frustration, anxiety, fear, protectiveness, defensiveness, or neurochemical imbalances. Regardless of its motivation, reactive behavior is treated with similar methods (barring a neurochemical imbalance, which requires medication alongside training). It’s important not to punish your dog for reactivity, as this will only increase your dog’s emotional arousal and ultimately may make the problem worse. Instead, work with your dog to teach him new ways to communicate his excitement, frustration, or anxiety, and help him learn how to control himself in the face of triggers.

Next week we will discuss how to work with most reactive dogs. In the meantime, please share your dog’s story in the comments below. Is your dog reactive? When did this behavior develop, and why do you think it happened? What have you found the most helpful to resolve your dog’s reactivity?

73 responses to “What is reactivity?

  1. I haven’t had a dog react this way luckily. But I have had my dog be scared by dogs because of this. For example, there was a chocolate lab at the park every evening when we would go, he would bark and growl and snap at my dog. One day, in an attempt to distract my scared dog, I tried to playfully jog away – but instead the lab snapped at and bit my dog, so he ran in my path causing me to trip on the leash and land on top of him. Both my dog and I were hurt, I bust my knee and arm and he had a limp for a couple of hours.
    We stopped going to the park at that time and would go an hour later. He is fine with other dogs now but it knocked his confidence for a long while!

  2. crystalpegasus1

    My year and a half year old GSD is reactive to people. It started right around the second fear period at six months and never went away. She’s been clicker trained since we brought her home, but she was always very wary, even as puppy, and though we tried our hardest to keep her socialized, put her in obedience training and introduce her to new things early on, she still became reactive. She actively trains in herding, and we use working the livestock as the ultimate reward when we’re doing densensitization. I also have recently begun taking her on specifically focused walks, using our neighbors as “bait”. We approach the stranger just to the point where she alerts but is not reacting then we stop. The instant she turns her head away to look at me, she gets a click, a jackpot reward, and she gets the functional reward of getting to walk away from the stranger. These walks are short, maybe only about 10 minutes, and I set it up so she only encounters at most, three strange people. It seems to be getting much better, and her stress signals are decreasing every day :-) It’s hard to live with a reactive dog, but I know we are going to get there with her and it’s going to be sooo worth it when we do!

  3. We have a reactive dog. She doesn’t react every time but when she does its pretty awful. She lunges and barks like a wild animal swinging me around in circle as I hang on for dear life. We have worked with three different trainers using three different methods (treat, calming, and even shock). She seems to get better for a while then BAM! I currently am experiencing extreme pain in my elbows from her strong jerks and wearing a brace. We adoped her from a pound in California and she was very sweet at that time. We moved to AZ and after a few months here, that is when she changed. As long as she is the only dog around she is the Best. Let a strange dog walk by and she turns into an uncontrollable monster. I am most interested in your ideas to calm this situation. People are starting to tell us that its just the way she is and we need to accept and avoid. She is 3 now. We are an active couple so avoidance is not always the answer for us as surprises seem to lurk around every corner. Then you have those who refuse to stay away because “Their dog is friendly”. ARGH!!!
    Thanks you for your help and others.

    • I have a reactive dog also, and I have found that using a control device such as a Head Halter or Easy Walk Harness has helped tremendously. This will alleviate a lot of the powerful jerking as your dog tries to pull (especially the head halter if you can get her to wear it, though some dogs don’t like it). Also, I know it can be hard to do so perfectly all the time, but giving your dog space in order to deal with her triggers is HUGE. By having just enough space, you can avoid a lot of reactions altogether, and avoid that feeling of frustration and helplessness while your dog lunges uncontrollably. Some dogs just need 20 ft. Others need 75+ ft, so it’s a matter of finding out what works for your dog. It’s possible to make a game out of getting space for your dog. Always bring treats on your walks, and save them just for encounters with other dogs. The instant your dog spots another dog (at a distance where she isn’t reacting), say “YES!”, give a treat, and go in the opposite direction. Or, depending on what the other dog is doing (ie. on-leash, standing still vs. off-leash or incoming), you may play a back and forth game, where you “yes!” every time your dog looks at the dog (still at a distance where she isn’t reacting), treat and run away, then come closer again. Never push your dog past her threshold, to the point she reacts, or cannot respond to you. If your dog reacts, all you can do is drag her away until she stops reacting, get her attention and do some calming exercises before moving on. I like the idea above about the reactive GSD – going for brief walks specifically to work on the reactivity. I have done this with my dog as well, and though it demands some extra time on top of exercising and training your dog, it is quite effective!

    • What Irene is talking about is basically, Behavioral Adjustment Training (BAT). Our trainer just introduced it to us and we were able to go from 90ft to 45ft in which, is a huge improvement.

      There is a great handout that you can print for free at: http://functionalrewards.com/more/handouts/

  4. Thank you for this post! I just posted today about my rescue dog’s reactivity. I’m hoping by sharing my experience it will help others to understand that this happens and that with work it can be managed. I’m going to link your article in my post.

  5. Pingback: I Have A Reactive Dog

  6. Midwestern Plant Girl

    I am very lucky that both of my border collies are not reactive in this way. One of them does get very ‘focused’ on the dogs next door. There is a fence between them & they run the whole length of it, back & forth, back & forth. Most of the time I need to go to him and grab his collar to stop him. He is getting better & in any other situation, he listens to me perfectly.

  7. Ugh, yes! My pug barks frantically at some others dogs (not all of them, and they’re never aggressive) while on a walk, but she never does it when we’re at the dog park. I thought it was because of the leash. When she’s barking, it’s really more like a scream! It’s embarrassing! YouTube “screaming pug,” and you’ll know what I’m talking about!

    • My pug does the same! It’s awful because people think he is aggressive and going to attack their dog. Walks are usually awful because we are bound to encounter another dog and he screams and lunges at them all :(

  8. I have an Icelandic Sheepdog (barky herding breed essentially BRED to be reactive… it’s functional when they are out with the sheep on a farm, not so much when they live in a city…) who lived in a crate in a basement for the first four years of her life. Combo of no socialization plus being natural hyper sensitive and she is very reactive and anxious. Mostly to other dogs, but also cars and occasionally people. Luckily she is very sweet and social with other dogs when she meets them, but if she sees or hears them and cannot approach (or actually, even if she can approach), she makes a fuss. We have worked with a positive trainer/behaviorist and she attends daycare and also makes appearances in other classes to practice relaxed behavior… at this point we’re still behind a sheet/baby gate but she is doing well. She is also on a serotonin supplement for her general anxiety which has not helped with the barking as much but has helped change the emotion behind the barking from fear to alertness/excitement which makes it much easier to redirect her and ask her to perform calm behaviors. She is able to pass a dog on the street now if kept busy doing something else, and is able to relax on a mat around other dogs in class if her vision is blocked from them but she can still hear them (she is much more noise sensitive than sight sensitive). She still barks a lot, but now we get a lot more “hello world, I am here and I am happy!” barking than “oh my god there is something there that’s going to kill me” barking. She’ll always be a loud dog but changing her emotional response and increasing her comfort in the world is our ultimate goal. We are also working on agility, which we train individually right now, but it is something she loves. If she is never able to be comfortable in a trial environment she won’t be forced, but we are hopeful that her drive and excitement for agility will give her something to focus on and not worry about her surroundings. When she can focus on a task and “distract” herself from other dogs she is able to remain calm. But we are working on getting her to be comfortable and relaxed without having to be “up” and “busy” because she ultimately amps herself up and her reactions are worse in the end when they do inevitably happen. Relaxing is much harder for herself as she is a very hyper alert “on” dog but we are making progress. We actually have not been using a clicker during sessions where we are trying to relax (though it was originally recommended for marking relaxed behaviors) because the clicker excites her so much that she simply throws out relaxed behaviors looking for a click, rather than actually relaxing. We are both a work in progress but with support and a little luck we continue to improve :)

    • I have an ISD as well….she is a year and a half. I was wondering if you could tell me where you fond the seratonin supplements?? I think this would be an option for her reactivity. Thanks!

  9. After reading this article, I am wondering if my one year old Labradoodle is reactive. Inside the house, she barks if the house creaks, the ice maker drops ice, if she sees someone walking by, the doorbell rings or at night she catches the reflection of the TV in the window. These all produce prolonged barking, and I haven’t found anything to settle her down once she’s started with the barking. If we are walking, she lunges and jumps high on her back legs if she sees someone she wants to greet, be it dog or person. She is also a scared-y cat when we go after dark to do her business. If trash cans are out, she barks/growls when she sees it or anything else out of the ordinary. If anyone else is out and about, she barks/growls. Is there anyway I can desensitize her to noises she doesn’t know or items she doesn’t expect to see?

  10. We also have a pug that barks at the tv – she hates commercials and even muting the sound does not work because she remembers if there is something in them that she doesn’t like (another animal, person with a gun, etc.) She does the same thing when we get near other dogs despite the fact that she has 3 others at home and is fine with them. It’s embarrassing and we’ve tried a lot of different things so any suggestions would be fabulous! I’ve tried socializing her (she’s a rescue found wondering around pregnant) at pug parties and she does okay at them but if there is a pit bull, Doberman, Rottweiler or any other large dog she is going to lunge at them. Luckily, no one has ever been hurt by it but it’s something that we just can’t have her doing. P.S. I’ve done foster/rescue work for the entire time before and after we’ve gotten her (she was originally a foster) and she is fine with other dogs coming into the home it’s just when she’s on a leash or outside that she does this.

  11. I have a reactive border collie. She’s now 3.5 years old and I’ve worked very hard to get her to where she is with her behaviour now. We used a lot of LAT and BAT, I also get her doing a lot of her foundation behaviours in situations that stress her as asking for anything more complex is impossible. Her reactivity tends to occur in unpredictable situations, so if the environment is fairly stable and she can predict what is going on we have very few issues. And her reactivity tends to be mostly towards dogs but sometimes towards “scary looking” people (as in those that are wearing dark or strange clothes or those that approach her without using good dog manners). Her rectivity started when she was between 6-12 months old – lots of contributing factors… attacked by a GSD while we were walking on the street, ran away for 4 hours (who knows what happened while she was gone), lots of stress and anxiety in our house because my other dog had just been diagnosed diabetic and had gone blind. Lots of work with a reactive dog but they can also be so lovely and they are so rewarding when you start to see changes in them!!!

    • Absolutely agree! It’s a lot more work.. but I think you develop a much stronger bond with your reactive pooch. My boy has complete trust in me to protect him from scary things. I know he must feel I’m his protector.. because when we’re approaching a scary dog behind a fence, he always changes sides so I’m in between. I use our walks as reactivity training sessions. He may become unexpectedly too close to a trigger (gotta HATE blind corners!).. on one walk.. but the next walk, with positive reinforcement, we make a breakthrough somewhere else.. he’ll pass a scary dog behind a fence, that’s barking incessantly at him.. and listening to my direction, he’ll stay calm. To me, that’s a real success & we celebrate that. I let him know how proud of him I am & how brave he is. I’m glad my rescue boy is with me & not tied up in someone’s backyard with owners who would’ve given up walking him long ago.

  12. I walk all 3 of our large breed dogs at once the biggest of the 3 is our Presa Canario Mastiff, Kane who is age 3 1/2. He always does great on a leash. We moved from GA to OH a couple of months ago and one day while we were walking a Border Collie in an electric fence who is extremely territorial came from the back of his yard as we were passing and startled us from behind with his non stop barking and darting back and forth. Ever since that day Kane has disliked that dog and if the dog barks at us Kane tries to lunge to get him. I have been placing Kane in a sit position when he does this and directing his attention to me which calms him down, then we continue to walk by as I give the dogs a leave it command.
    Is there a better way to handle this?
    Our 3 dogs total over 250 pounds and I have never had an issue walking all three. I do also walk each of the three seperately for individiual training.

    • Agh! Story of my life! There are 4 dogs like this on our walks. I blame these dogs’ owners for my boy’s reactivity. When we approach the gates, his posture changes.. as if he’s trying to look smaller & be less noticeable.. his tail goes down. These dogs have made him believe all dogs he doesn’t know are going to hurt him. It’s very difficult to fix this problem in an incredibly strong, large breed.. because it’s just not easy re-socialising them & risking another dog’s safety if your dog panics. If these neglectful owners, who are mostly home at the time this happens but do nothing to correct their dogs, put the time into training or sought professional help.. my boy would still be the confident, cruisy boy he once was… a dog who considered every other pooch, big and small, to be a friend. I hate lazy people & damn it, they’re everywhere. I still choose to walk this stretch of busy road because everywhere else we go, we encounter off leash dogs & that’s a whole other problem now.

  13. I can’t believe I saw this today!! I have a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel who is reactive to male service people (the cable guy, appliance repair etc.) male friends and visitors are fine . We have had problems with our cable and had someone here twice in three days. I can usually put him on a leash and attach it to my belt and as long as he stays with me things are fine, on Saturday he escalated to lunging at the tech and today he was screaming, growling and lunging. It goes against everything I know and believe but I was forced to put Dudley in his crate. I simply can’t risk him biting someone and end up having him euthanized because of it. The minute the man left he was all cuddled up in my lap and asleep again! I hate to admit this but I did aggression training for a rescue group years ago but cannot get a handle on this!!

  14. Carole Meltzer

    I’m sorry for all these folks’ difficulties with their dogs, but I find comfort that I am not alone. We have had Nelson for 2 years now (a rescue dog) and although he is a stellar dog, he is definitely reactive…people, dogs, cats, etc. Sometimes he just wants to play, but in our yard or home, he is extremely protective of my husband and me. We are pretty sure he is part healer and he nips ankles; he has even actually bitten a few people. In our ignorance, we started with a shock collar…that made him more fearful. We have been working with him on leash and trying to expose hm to all sorts of situations and he has gotten somewhat better. We tried the clicker and he was afraid if that too. The compressed air can seems to help get his attention so he can focus on us and he doesn’t get freaked out by it…it just makes a hissing sound. We plan to go to trainer and possibly agility. He really needs to be positively stimulated.. I look forward to any one’s ideas.

  15. I have a 3 year old Treeing Walker Coonhound that was adopted at 6 months of age from a shelter. He is reactive to people outside, doorbells (real and on t.v.), wind, rain, car lights down the street, and is possessive of our bed (which he doesn’t get to sleep on for that reason). He also startles easily while resting and will snap at the 2 other dogs and our cat should they approach. He also snaps and barks at oncoming traffic while riding in the car.

    We use a Gentle Leader while on walks and do try to avoid trouble spots in town. We have recently started using a Thundershirt for our evenings at home with him. He is clicker trained and extremely food motivated so we always reward for cal behavior. Once he goes over the edge though he is amped up for hours.

    The Thundershirt has helped greatly and he appears to be much more relaxed while wearing it. I feel is is a very anxious dog and always on alert. I can see his face relax and change when used. He can actually sleep without being on guard.

    All of this was very gradual, I can not pin point an exact start to it. He has had a lot of change and upheaval (adoption, 2 moves, house construction) since we have had him. Life has been stable now for about 1 year.

    When he is calm and chill he is great fun.

  16. sarah lenaerts

    can you avoid reactivity to certain things like horses, dogs, cars, skateboards by familiarising your puppy (quite young)
    with these things?

  17. Pingback: Canine reactivity | canineharmonywales

  18. I have a 2 year old miniature schnauzer, he is a reactive dog!

    When we take him for walks he barks at every person he sees and sometimes lunges from his leash. He wines and pulls through excitement to see other dogs he sees on walks. He also barks at cyclists and runners!

    Strange thing he also barks when my husband bring the bins in or if we stand on a chair too!
    We well socialised him when a puppy in puppy school, basic obedience and dog parks. He was quite a shy dog when we got him though.

    When walking him I try to distract him, he is clicker trained and will stop at every street crossing, but at the moment I am 36 weeks pregnant and walking him is getting more difficult especially with his reactive behaviour!

  19. After reading this I think I have a reactive dog. She is a six year old English Staffordshire Terrier and she is normally fairly docile and well behaved at home. She understands commands and loves to show off her tricks.
    However, it seems like a switch is flicked the moment someone comes to the door, or if she meets people (not dogs!) in the park. She gets incredibly excited and tries to jump up. We have tried everything to try stop her from this behaviour (making her sit, keeping her on a leash, telling her off when she is jumping, and making people turn away from her). When she is this excited she will not listen to any commands, it is as if she can’t hear us. She will eventually settle down after a while when we have visitors, but she will still try to jump up on them every now and again.
    We thought this behaviour would stop as she grew older but no such luck! Even her puppy (who is now three) is much calmer than her and does not display this behaviour at all.

  20. Pingback: Were We Are Now | Healing The Beast

  21. I have a three year old male Scottish Terrier that is reactive to other dogs while we are walking, on TV, etc. He’s been through obedience training and was fine throughout the class, but continues to exhibit these behaviors while out on walks. We walk with his Gordon Setter housemate who is noise reactive, but does not particularly react to other dogs except to express interest and gawk at them. Looking forward to further articles on this topic.

  22. I had a reactive rescue dog for four years, tried all sorts with her. Double ended lead with a halti was brilliant, gently and calmly leading her away with a gentle ‘uh uh’. This would make her tolerable rather than lunging and frothing at the mouth from the barking and stress of seeing another dog. I also did ‘look at that’ training that others have mentioned. However her reactions were varied and unpredictable, and after many years and much dog behavior consultations, we made the very hard dd idiom to put her down as she turned her reactive ness toward children.
    I now have a two year old Australian Shepherd and I still use all of the skills I learned with my rescue dog – the key is to remain calm myself, with a gentle grip on the lead, deep breathing, soft eyes and soft voice. Quite a challenge when other owners are nervous about your dog and think you are “being too soft on her”. Finding what works for my dog and ignoring others rude and ignorant (though sometimes well meaning) comments is still the hardest part of having a reactive dog for me.

  23. I have a reactive dog and through much effort by both of us, several different types of training, and equally as many successes as failures along the way, I’ve realized this is a lifelong thing for her. Her reactivity is exacerbated by the fact that she’s big and black and mean looking – she’s a “scary” dog to many people.

    She is primarily reactive to other dogs who look at her directly and match her energy/percdeived status level (high energy/queen-bee status) and men. Her reactivity is rooted in fear, though, and with the help of a great trainer (Sara!), I can help her manage these stressful events quite well. She is rewarded for looking at me instead of what’s stressing her out – the reward might be a treat, toy, or simply leaving the area.

    One of the biggest challenges was ME! I no longer care one iota about what other people think; my dog’s stress level is my responsibility and she needs my help. I used to try to work it through (keep walking, etc.) and not ‘make a scene’ but realized that her reaction IS the scene. Therefore, avoiding a scene by leaving the area, or keeping her away from other dogs (at competitive events), is the best solution. Now, if we’re on a walk and a stress-inducing dog is coming our way, we will turn around midblock and quickly walk away. We get some weird looks but that’s life. At agility competitions, she is crated in a quiet corner away from high traffic areas and other dogs walking by.

    She’s 110% better than she used to be, but the second I forget who she is and how she reacts, she will remind me by reacting to something. Just like a child with ADD or something similar, my dog is reactive. One of the biggest challenges is those inexperienced dog owners who have dogs that “love everyone” and “just want to say hi.” My response: “I’m sorry. My dog is quite reactive to other dogs and I would prefer you not let your dog come over to say hi. I’ll do the same.”

    If you have a reacitve dog, don’t give up! There is hope!

  24. I had/have a reactive GSD mix. He’s come a LONG way. Used to react to everything, strollers, bikes, luggage. Now? Not at all.I expose him to everything as much as possible. We even moved to another country for 2 years with him and his Siberian sister and he did really well. The last reactive problem he has is the one I’m having the most trouble with. He is reactive to dogs who are aggressive (fence fighting as we walk by), or dogs who stare or make him nervous. The funny thing is, I can’t tell when he will be reactive or when he’ll be a charmer. It’s not with all dogs. Mainly it’s very aggressive dogs and some other dogs being leash walked who make him nervous for whatever reason (they stare). Definitely fence fighters make him nutty. And once a dog fence fights he will ALWAYS prepare to pass that location in “ready to fight” mode and I have to separate him from my other dog (a siberian) because he will redirect on her (not badly but enough to make her nervous as well). So it’s hard walking “2” dogs, one extremely reactive to aggressive dogs for this reason. But it’s frustrating because he’s NOT reactive to dogs who simply “alert bark” as we walk by NOR is he aggressive to K9 police dogs who go NUTS in their K9 units when I walk by. It’s as if he knows what exactly they are saying when they bark, either “hey there’s someone passing the house” or they’re shouting expletives at us and being just plain mean. Me? Sometimes I can read them, and sometimes I can’t tell. For example, one time we walked by a house with an off-leash GSD who was “to ME” looking very aggressive, barking like crazy and she came toward us. I was expecting my GSD to go crazy instead, he play-bowed her. I dropped his leash (to lower stress on him in case he was stressed) and walked away calling him to a heel, he followed happily, leaving the barking GSD.

    One thing I’m am so happy about: he is so sweet, calm, and patient with ALL small dogs, no matter how yappy and obnoxious. he doesn’t redirect on any small canine. just seems to be larger ones that give off the fighting vibe one way or another.

  25. I am so happy to find such interesting and well researched comments and training tips. I have recently adopted a one year old beagle/ terrier mix. She is reactive to other dogs in a very interesting way. Every time she comes into our house or goes to doggie day care she has to challenge each and every dog even if she already knows them. This includes the two dogs she lives with. I have tried on leash, off leash, with a gate, a walk first and other ways to redirect her when we get there. Se still consistently goes after our 9 year old springer, but never bothers the 10 year old lab. Our 9 year old springer will not come upstairs to his crate at night because she lunges at him from her crate when he enters the room. She will try to attack a dog even three times her size. She also has some food aggression but it is not consistent. Most of the time after the initial reaction she stops and greets the other dog nicely but every now and then she gets an aggressive reaction from the other dog. Then she retreats and can get very scared. The final detail I do know about her is that she was a stray for some period before I got her. I am an experienced dog owner with many years of experience training. I volunteer at a shelter and help train dogs there as well as act as an adoption facilitator. I know that time and consistency will help her. She was not house trained at all when we got her and is now doing very well. Her nervous energy has also gotten much lower. It sure is tough sometimes to deal with this type of energy and reactivity. Any suggestions would help. I am glad I ended up with her because I know not many people would have had the patience and skills to train her. She is a wonderful and sweet dog that loves people.

  26. Pingback: Working With Your Dog’s Thresholds – Controlling Craziness | Nicco Dog

  27. I look forward to any info you can give! I have a 3 year old Westie who is a rescue we got at 4 months and I have never had a dog so difficult to figure out! It was very confusing to me why a fearful or anxious dog would run At something! When he first arrived he would run At my grandsons barking and scare them to death, with their help he has learned that is inappropriate and I want to give thanks to them for being a part of helping him because they really were scared of him, but now have a wonderful relationship with him because they were part of his training……He has a long way to go but I am very proud of him…..

  28. Pingback: Training Your Reactive Dog | Paws Abilities

  29. Pingback: Canines In Action dog training

  30. My seven year old Alaskan husky never learned how to be a dog. I rescued her at 3 weeks old, so she never learned to socialize with her littermates. If dogs run at her or bump into her and she’s not expecting it she will lunge, bite, and shake. Recently I’ve been teaching her to bark at them instead of biting and she’s been able to go to the dog park and even found a couple dogs she can PLAY with. Its so amazing. Kind of noisy at the dog park but I don’t care if she barks- its the dog park, right? At least she’s not biting anymore (or its very rare).

  31. Our 5 year old Boston Terrier Yaki is reactive when anyone comes to the door. Sadly, she has taught this behavior to our 3 year old Boston Mellie as well. Yaki barks and rushes to the door when anyone knocks or rings the doorbell. Melloe screams and whines at the same stimuli and her older sister Yaki, snaps at her as if to say, “Hey, I’ll take care of this.”

  32. The method CrystalPegasus described worked for me but it took longer than expected. It probably took at least a year before she would automatically look at me when she saw another dog. When I adopted her at 4 years old, my Jack Russell terrier would get extremely aroused if she even sniffed the sidewalk where a dog had recently walked. The hair would stand up on her back and she would look around for the other dog. Now eight years old, she can actually briefly greet most other dogs.

  33. yeah, I have a sweet rescue westie called Harry. Had a tough life pulled from pillar to post – taken away from his mummy at 2 1/2 years old and dumped in a shelter. Taken by someone who left him alone for 10+ hours a day then gave him up after 4 weeks as he kept peeing in the house – any wonder!? we took him 11 weeks ago – we also have another westie whom we’ve had since a puppy. They adore each other – like brothers from another Mother BUT we too have leash reactivity whilst on walks. OMG sometimes he goes mad and is always looking around for a potential threat. Great off the lead only the odd issue we’ve experienced – plays great off leash with many dogs perfectly. He is the sweetest most loving boy – despite his tough start in life. We are going to see a behaviourist this weekend to see if they can help. Amazing to see how many people have this issue – saying that I always feel like I’m the only one with a reactive dig when walking as people stare and shake there head – annoying really.

  34. Pingback: Living with a Reactive Dog: Interview with Sara Reusche | notes from a dog walker

  35. I was wondering if fixing my reactive aussie would help?


  36. Pingback: Living with a Reactive Dog: Interview with Dog Trainer Sara Reusche | notes from a dog walker

  37. I have a very reactive JRT, has been this way from 6 months old (is now 6yr). I am so lucky to have found 2 great trainers in my area. We are making so much progress FINALLY, without harmful devices or being mean to the little guy ( he has been on Prozac for almost 4yrs as well)….. Great article!!

  38. We’ve tried with a behavioural expert with very little success…with our rescue dog and his leash reactivity. WE are already doing what was advised. Spray water bottle is the latest advice!?!?!? Anyone tried that? SOMETIMES I get sad thinking he will always be like this…..we are committed to him, he’s not unhappy…just sad that his past trauma being passed about has made him like this. Reactivity is it difficult one. Some walks are a nightmare I tell you, but some are better than others! Lots of dogs he likes and plays with of lead. So like so many of you out there, we are working to correct what others have caused, by others I mean humans….we will continue with our training and tips….do share if you can help. ANY ADVICE APPRECIATED………

  39. Pingback: Living with a Reactive Dog: Interview with Dog Trainer Sara Reusche « Dogs in Need of Space

  40. Pingback: “Needs Training” | Paws Abilities

  41. I have a three year old mini pincher/chihuahua cross I’ve had him from a puppy he is well socialised with both dogs and people he lives with a very laid back older dog however he is a nightmare when taken out on a lead he barks and attacks our other dog when leaving the house or car when on the lead walking he barks and scream and let’s out high pitched whines he rears backwards and the lunches forward and crosses in front or behind you and if you have to stop to cross the road or wait for traffic lights to change he goes into a complete melt down he does not seem bothered by people walking by or cyclists or cars he will bark if he sees another dog but will not try to get to them I walk him on a harness as he slips a collar and we live in a high traffic area I would be great full for any advice people can give as this seems to be getting steadily worse

  42. I have a 13 month old siberian/malamute, plus some unknown heritage. She is reactive to almost everything except other dogs. Anything seems to set her off. Jumping, lunging, tugging, getting so excited by ‘whatever’, she is almost impossible to settle down. Tail chasing, biting her rear legs, spinning , are some of the initial behaviors ?, after which the full blown mania erupts. I am active but even a five mile run or mountain bike time slows her down much. She’ll actually be jumping around toward the end of a long run . I sense this dog has a neurotic issue. She is a rescue dog and I am afraid I cannot handle the excitement. So, Back to the rescue service ? .

    • carolineporterfield

      NO!! Do not hand back to the rescue centre. Patience…dedication..time & commitment. I’m talking from experience. I know how you feel, I so DO. We adopted a rescue exactly 12 months ago. A westie who had all the traits of what you have said. I was demented with his behaviour. He had never seen other dogs before due to his background, never been walked before, never been on a lead before. He would see dogs in the far distance, go mental, foam at the mouth, soon around and bark, pull…oh my…We had to go back to basics, like having a puppy. From scratch. Kind of re-programming his brain! Yes, I cried, was stressed but we both made a commitment to this starved, badly treated, untrained, not house trained unloved, abused but such a sweet nature & so loving animal and I wasn’t giving up!!! Never!!! We enlisted the help of a behavioural professional – I suggest that you look into this as this did help. We also had another male westie who was 2 when we adopted Harry – he was, and still is amazing with him. Please, please don’t give up. We have saved a life – challenging but now we can smile with pride at what we have achieved. Good luck & remember you are not alone. I see this most days in the park. Now he’s off his lead happy, friendly – small steps to start but it will take time & not happen overnight.

  43. Pingback: Are You Reacting Or Responding? - Jessica Dolce

  44. We have a 18th month old Boston Terrier who is so friendly with all humans and certain dogs, however a total nightmare with small dogs wants to kill or eat, has never drawn blood but is completely out of control and it has become too unpleasant to take him for a walk. Takes off like a hare the moment I take of the lead and all is fine unless a small defenceless dog appears. The joy of having a dog is not happening. At Home he is lovable
    Friendly and cute. What to do?

  45. The above message email address is incorrect see bottom

  46. I have the coolest little boston terrier pup, charlie.. He’s literally the perfect pup, indoors. At five months he’s potty trained himself, never chews my stuff, attentive, responsive and eager to learn. But as soon as he sees people, or dogs on a walk he goes ape shit and does not respond to me at all.. He’s super excited and happy, so much so that he manically jumps up at people and nips their hands. If I try to keep away from people he flips and flops around like a fish out of water.. It’s really bizarre.. I can’t seem to get through to him when he’s in that state which sucks because im starting to dread walking him. I know all pups are like this to a degree but they should respond to correction or misdirection or something.. As far as he’s concerned I’m not even there.. This is definitely abnormal..

  47. I think my dog is reactive. I adopted her last saturday. She doesn’t like to go outside. I have to physically take her outside. Then she just stands there. Tail between her legs shaking a lot. When you go to pet her she backs away scared. She refuses to get around anyone. She is about 8 months old a came from a hoarder.

    • She’s not reactive now, she’s scared. Find a good trainer who uses positive reinforcement. If you don’t get professional help she will become reactive and it will be much harder to fix.

  48. I have an almost one year old GSD/Golden we got from 4 Paws approximately 2 weeks ago. She is reactive to my husband. When he walks into a room she charges, growls, barks, and this morning put her mouth on his leg (without clamping down..but with seriousness). She will do this almost every time he walks into a room or she sees him. She only has this problem with him. My son is 20, and she has been a tiny bit reactive the first time his friends came into the room (barking and running towards…not charging like she does my husband). They simply put their hands out and let her smell them, and she stopped. She also has no problems with meeting men on walks…no reaction at all. With Pokemon Go being a craze right now, I take her to locations where there are a lot of players and walk her around. She has yet to be reactive at all, even when strange men come up and pet her. She has also met two adult male friends of mine at my house and was fine (a bit nervous for a split second) She appears scared of my husband (tucked tail, turning head away). He (in my opinion) has exacerbated the problem by trying too hard. He continually walks towards her (even as she tries to back away), and tries to touch her. The first day I tried to suggest he play ball with her to help them bond (as she loves fetch). He would throw the ball and she would run it back to me (I was sitting right next to my husband). I would take the ball and hand it to him to throw. This was going well (she seemed to be relaxing and enjoying herself) until my husband started trying to get her to give him the ball (once again standing, moving towards her, reaching towards her, firmly saying drop it). She became scared again. My two adult children and I spend most of our time in the lower level while my husband spends time upstairs. I have also suggested he come to the lower level and sit on the couch and watch a movie or show with us. He came downstairs, sat on the couch, and my daughter called Maggie up on the couch to sit between the two of them. My thought was to simply let her lay next to him. He unfortunately started trying to pet her and roll her over on her back to rub her tummy…once again scaring her. I even bought treats so my husband could feed them to her as he sat and watched tv. Once again as soon as she was comfortable he started reaching for her, pulling at her to get her to come, etc. I need to know if my suggestions are good ones and what else I can do to help. I think if I got confirmation from an expert, my husband would be more prone to believe. Here is what I have suggested.
    1) Ignore her….do not walk towards her, reach out to her, look at her. Let her get comfortable with you at her own pace. (this may take days/weeks instead of minutes/hours)
    2) Hand feed her….once again referring to #1 as you do this. I would sit on the ground while doing this.
    3) Treats…if she comes to where you are sitting without barking/charging (she does this at times as my other dog goes to greet my husband), give her a treat…referring to #1 as you do this

    I also need to figure out my role and what I can do to help the situation.

    When I know he is coming through the door, I try to have her sit and give her treats if she remains calm. When she charges him, I have been telling her no, and making her sit. I then say, “Ah” if she continues to growl.

    Any help, tips, suggestions will be appreciated.

    • I love seeing all these scenarios and stories but I am not seeing any responses. Is there a response mechanism? Have any of you gotten responses from a guru of sorts? I am thinking I made an error in how I signed up. I would love to see responses otherwise I’m going to start giving out advice!!!!

  49. Debbie Lowe – Sounds like you are doing everything right. It’s definitly your husband that needs training. Good luck!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s