Published: May 26, 2022  

Last updated: February 6, 2024  

First, it’s important to understand that a reactive dog is NOT an aggressive dog. Most reactive dog cases are because the dog is anxious or fearful. And the dog is likely fearful because he was not socialized correctly as a puppy, as a result of a traumatic event, the dog’s genetics or any combination of.

Reactive vs. aggressive dog

Have your vet do a full check-up on your dog to ensure they are not in any pain that would cause them to appear reactive or aggressive.

Once your dog has a clean bill of health, let’s proceed to establish if your dog is reactive or aggressive.

Reactivity and aggression share common behaviors, such as barking, lunging, or growling, usually as a result of fear or anxiety.

The biggest difference between reactivity and aggression is that with aggression, the dog has the intent of biting or hurting the person or object.

That’s not to say a reactive dog won’t bite, but they don’t have the intention to. A bite be in response to going way over their threshold.

dog pulling on leash barking

Reactive dog meaning: A dog that overreacts (by barking, lunging, or growling) to certain things or situations (such as other dogs, people, or on leash) is “reactive”. 

Aggressive behavior can include barking, lunging, growling, lifting of the lip, stiffening the body, and snarling.

A few things to keep in mind:

  • Reactivity can be situation-specific, i.e. only toward dogs or people, only on a leash or to a particle sound like the doorbell
  • Reactivity is an ingrained behavior
  • Fixing or “curing” reactivity takes time by changing the dog’s emotional response
  • There are no overnight solutions to reactivity
  • Consistency is the key to success

Reactive dog training

It’s not easy (or cheap) to find a local dog trainer that specializes in reactive dogs. That’s why I recommend, Spirit Dog’s Tackling Reactivity Online Course.

Tackling Reactivity is a self-paced online course that will step you through training your dog. Steffi explains in detail the why, what and how of reactive dog training.

With videos and loads of graphics, it’s easy to follow. If you are committed and consistent, you will see drastic changes in your dog’s behavior rather quickly.

A huge bonus with the Tackling Reactivity Course is that you can send in videos of your dog for personalized help! How amazing is that!

Tackling Reactivity can help dogs that are reactive in the car, reactive towards people in your home, reactive in the yard and fence line, reactive to sounds, and more.

It’s not an overnight cure by any means. And it does take a big commitment on your part. You will need to change your old habits and your routine.

But isn’t your dog worth it?

Learn more about the Spirit Dog’s Tackling Reactivity Online Course.

Spirit Dog Tackling reactivity, dog barking

How to socialize a reactive dog

Most people think socializing a dog is all about being friendly with other dogs. Socializing a dog is so much more than dogs playing with each other.

Socialization is exposing your dog to a variety of situations, dogs, people, objects, sights, and sounds. When done correctly, socialization creates a well-balanced dog. A dog that can handle any situation they find themselves in.

Unfortunately, when adopting a rescue dog we’ve missed out on the puppy’s prime socialization period of 3 to 14 weeks of age.

But that does not mean all is lost. It just means that you will need to be more diligent at socializing your dog.

You should not “socialize” a reactive dog to his triggers before addressing the core of why he is reactive.

Most dogs are reactive to certain stimuli, such as another dog, people, or moving objects.

Learning what triggers your dog’s reactivity is the first step and avoiding those triggers until you have completed training is important.

Can a reactive dog be cured?

Reactivity is not a disease, so “cured” may not be the correct word. But yes, a dog can overcome its reactive response with proper training and new routines.

two dogs, person holding one back that is snarling and barking, the other backing away scared

How to introduce a reactive dog to another dog

You should not introduce a dog reactive dog to another dog until after you have completed the Tackling Reactivity Course or met with a local reactive dog trainer.

Setting your dog up for success by avoiding your dog’s triggers is key to “curing” your dog’s reactivity. A proactive training technique is going to work much better than reactive training.

Learn more about the Spirit Dog’s Tackling Reactivity Online Course.

If you don’t have a choice and you must introduce your reactive dog to another dog now, then start by finding your dog’s threshold point.

The threshold is the distance of where your dog can be without reacting to the other dog.

Both dogs should be on a leash and in a controlled environment.

While your dog is calm, toss treats on the ground allowing him to sniff and find the treats.

Slowly move closer and closer to the other dog, always staying under the dog’s threshold. Continue this until your dog can walk next to the other dog. Keep your sessions short, 5-10 minutes is ideal.

This is an extremely slimmed-down explanation of how to introduce a reactive dog to another dog. And it is not “curing” your dog’s reactivity.

I highly recommend taking the Tackling Reactivity Course to truly help your dog overcome his reactivity. 

Dog reactivity chart

The below dog reactivity chart is supplied by Spirit Dog Training.

Dog reactivity Chart by Spirit Dog Training
Source: Spirit Dog Training

I hate my reactive dog

You didn’t expect to adopt a reactive dog, but here you are, wondering how you got to this point.

Look, I get it. It’s hard. A reactive dog can be challenging for you AND the dog. It changes your perspective on life, doesn’t it?

You had a vision of long walks together, playtime at the dog park, and meeting up with your friends’ dog.

Now, you can’t take the dog for walks, or have friends over, and sometimes it may feel like you can’t leave the house.

Understandably, you feel you hate your dog right now.

But what if your dog could get “better”, and be “cured” of his reactivity?

I do believe that your dog can get better. It will not be easy and it will not be an overnight success story.

But if you choose to have a little patience and take the time to train and socialize your reactive dog, soon you will notice improvements.

And before you know it, your dog will be able to go for those long walks you dream of. And yes, you will be able to have friends over to your house again.

In conclusion – to react or to not react

Start by finding a local reputable dog trainer that specializes in reactive dogs. or check out the Reactive Dog Training course.

So, what choice will you make? Are willing to try anything to help bring your dog out of their suffering of reactivity for both your sakes?

Learn more about the Spirit Dog’s Tackling Reactivity Online Course. With the course, you get instant access, personal trainer support, all with a 60 day unconditional money back guarantee. So what are you waiting for, you having nothing to loose and everything to gain!

About the Author

Debi McKee

Debi McKee is the expert behind Rescue Dogs 101 where she guides you in your journey of adopting and raising a rescue dog every step of the way. She is a mom of 3 human kids and 4 dogs and volunteers for a local dog rescue and Humane Society. Click here for more about Debi and her passion for helping you and your dog.

{"email":"Email address invalid","url":"Website address invalid","required":"Required field missing"}