Help! My dog is reactive

Accept where you're at

Your dog ...

...may have underlying pain or illness that should be ruled out by your vet

...may not want to go out because outdoor stuff is overwhelming

...may be adrenaline-fueled with little ability to control himself on walks

...may suffer with hypervigilance as a result of previous traumatic experience

...may love everyone and be frustrated that they can't greet everyone all of the time

...or something else!


Define it

  • What exactly is it that causes your dog to react and what exactly is that reaction. Try writing it down using the templates here as a guide. Get as specific as possible by adding your own words, more details and as many clauses as necessary

My dog [barks / growls / lunges / leaps / drags me] when s/he [sees / hears / smells] a [dog / human / cat / squirrel] at [home / the park / the field] and s/he is on / off lead. The behaviour is [worst / best / loudest / strongest / longest] when the other [dog / human / cat / squirrel] [approaches / looks like a post man / follows us / makes eye contact / barks / runs].

I believe my dog feels [excited / afraid / anxious / uncomfortable] when [dogs / postmen / squirrels] are [in view / approach / run / play / interact / look / sniff / touch / say hi] and s/he shows this by [stiffening up / growling / barking / ground-sniffing / looking away / lip licking / paw-lifting / showing teeth / bowing / lunging / pouncing / jumping up / licking faces]

Search for infographics online to better understand your dog's body language. This one is from  Vet Behaviour Team  online

Search for infographics online to better understand your dog's body language. This one is from Vet Behaviour Team online

Often there are more subtle signs of your dog's likely reaction BEFORE it happens and this exercise may help you to find them so you can help your dog to AVOID the reactive behaviour


Build your confidence

  • If you know precisely what triggers your dog's reaction you can avoid it while you get professional help to resolve it
  • Develop core strength so that your dog can't pull you around
  • Practice willing and joyful obedience so your dog is generally under better control
  • Stretch out your muscles before and after walks; you're probably holding a lot of tension
  • Meditate. Get an app like Calm or Headspace to get started, 10 minutes a day


Find a professional

Training is key to changing reactive behaviour and you'll be committing a lot of time and effort to this pursuit. Make sure you're on the right track by seeing a professional asap

  • Look for a professional with recognisable qualifications (this is an unregulated industry) who uses compassionate and science-based methods. As an example, I'm a member of the PPG who advocate force-free, pain-free, fear-free methods of teaching
  • Avoid those who explain behaviour using a pack leadership model, or advocate correcting your dog. I've met many lovely people who've caused harm to their dog because a professional told them to spray/shout/throw/choke/jerk their pet and they followed this advice in good faith. You don't need to do any of these horrid things to educate your dog (or anyone else)
  • Make sure your professional is as good with humans as they are with dogs! 
  • Consider joining a dog training class specially for reactivity cases (I offer Growl Class)
  • Work privately with a behaviourist (You can book private sessions with me here)

I hope you've found this post useful in defining and managing your dog's reactive behaviour while you seek professional help. Write below on this post if you'd like to share your experiences or tell me what you liked most about this advice for your dog.

Happy Training to you all! Until next week,

Lucy x