There are dogs that bark, lunge, growl and snap at everything from cars to people while on a leash. These dogs are called “reactive.” Many of these seemingly angry dogs are lovely, friendly animals. The difference is the leash.

For dog owners and dogs alike, reactive situations are stressful and can be dangerous. Therefore, it’s your job to make sure your dog is trained and that you keep them from harming other animals.

Reactive or Aggressive?

Reactive is different from aggressive. According to the AKC, “Aggression is typically viewed as any threat to harm an individual, whether this individual is human or another animal. There are many different forms of aggression, and it is important to determine the cause in order to appropriately deal with the issue at hand. Aggression can be due to guarding territory or protecting a family member, resource guarding, fear, frustration, prey drive, and/or pain.”

Reactivity, however, is an overreaction to certain triggers. These may be objects or situations. There are many reasons a dog is reactive. It may be their genes, lack of socialization, or a combination of those. What’s important to remember is that reactivity is fear-based. Many dogs, for instance, feel trapped when on a leash.

Why Are Dogs Reactive?

As we said, there’s likely a genetic component here. Some dogs have this overexcitability bred into them. For instance, some terriers are known for being reactive. Why? Many terriers were bred as working dogs, chasing and catching rodents and other prey. Therefore, that feistiness was a desired trait at one point. They have a high drive but can be trained to be less leash reactive with training and patience.

The environment is the second factor. How you socialize your dogs, your behavior as a leader, and exposure to new situations all factor into your dog’s reactive behavior. When dogs are not exposed to common situations such as another dog on a leash walk, they may overact. That stimulation of seeing another dog was just too much.

Understanding the Why

In order to start training your dog, it’s important you understand why your dog is reactive. Their triggers will be the key to modifying their behaviors. Literally make a list of all the triggers and environmental factors. This way, you can predict the dog’s behavior and keep him away from triggers as needed. It might be as simple as finding a place to train your dog that doesn’t include too many of their triggers.

Body Language

Body language is one way to understand if your dog is feeling stressed in certain environments. Here are some signs of an anxious dog:

  • Sniffing
  • Sudden Scratching
  • Licking Lips
  • Yawning Even When Not Tired

These body signs may occur before a reactive situation. If you see any of these signs, turn around and head back home. This is not an ideal situation to train your dog in.

Dog Training for Reactive Dogs

First, you need to practice getting your dog to be attentive to you and your commands. The Animal Humane Society advises, “Practice getting your pup’s attention before you go out. Say their name and reward them for looking at you. Start in a low-distraction environment, like your living room. Gradually move to busier areas as you’re able to get your dog’s attention regardless of what’s going on around you. This will teach your dog to look at you regardless of the environment.”

This is a useful skill because it allows you to redirect your dog to prevent a reactive situation. When out for your walk and you see another dog come near, allow your dog to see them. But don’t wait for them to react. Instead, call their name and when you get their attention, reward them. They will start associating other dogs with something great: treats.

If your dog is still barking and lunging, try to avoid the stimulation. Start slow and work your way up to walks that include triggers. The most important thing is getting your dog to listen. Then you can subject them to challenging situations.

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