Reactive Behaviour in Dogs

Do you have a reactive dog?

Simply put, you have a reactive dog if your dogs behaves disproportionately, or in the extreme, to something. This could mean he is over excited, anxious or aggressive. But whatever the cause he is likely making a big deal about it. Typically, he could be jumping and lunging, barking and squealing, or spinning in circles. He might also be acting aggressively towards whatever he is reacting to.

Dog staring at something in the distance

As there are so many different root causes for reactive behaviour, it is fair to say that any dog can become reactive. And, actually, dogs can become reactive to almost anything. The most common causes are other dogs, the door bell and traffic, but I have seen dogs that are reactive to skateboards, people with beards, umbrellas, people with bags, ice cream signs, people with cameras, shadows and even sliding shop doors. The list goes on and on, and I know that as soon as I hit publish, I’ll think of even more!

Handling Reactive Behaviour

There are so many causes of reactive behaviour, and every dog is different. So, it would be impossible to talk about specific strategies. But, there are some things that can be done to ease all types of reactive behaviour, and we’ll talk about some of them here.

Slow Down

Yep, just slow down. The faster you go the more reactive you are. Your dog is trying to go at 150 mph, so just do the exact opposite. Slow down your pace, slow down your reactions and just take your time over everything. He’ll be confused at first as it’s the last thing he’ll expect but it should help him to switch his brain back on.

Stop

If slowing down isn’t quite doing the job, then just stop what you are doing and wait for him to come back to earth again. This may not be a five minute job, but it’ll be worth the wait. Once he’s paying attention again, you can continue as you were.

Dog barking aggressively at something out of shot.
Be Patient

Patience is a big part of managing a reactive dog. There is really nothing you can do to help speed things up. So don’t bother trying to calm him, or give him a command, just wait for him to settle by himself.

Create Space

If his reaction is so extreme that there is no chance of him calming down then move further away. Don’t go too far though, he’ll be right in the learning zone if he is just out of his comfort zone. You’ll find the learning zone somewhere between ‘at ease’ and ‘out of control’. If your dog is reacting aggressively, then moving away will also reduce the chances of him redirecting his aggression onto you.

Leave out the treats

In fact, things will go much more smoothly, for now, if you forget about any kind of reward, or distraction. Very often they just get your dog all excited again, which is the opposite of what you are trying to do. Plus, it’s really hard to get the timing right, so unless you have been shown, then keep it simple and leave the toys and treats at home.

What’s next?

Now you have a starting place, you will need to start addressing the root cause of the problem. Whether that be anxiety, over excitement or aggression, you’ll need a plan. Otherwise, your hard work will be wasted.

I always recommend getting help from a local, experienced behaviourist. They will be able to properly assess the problem for you and give you good dog behaviour advice from the start. The internet has lots of advice, some good, some not so much. Getting a professional behaviourist from the start will save you a lot of time and effort. And, when you consider the cost of all the various training aids, harnesses, leads and medications that are available, your behaviourist could also save you money.

Do you have a reactive dog? What’s his/her stimulus?

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