Reactivity a Response in Misguided Dog Training

Even on the Runway a Tight Leash Can Give the Wrong Impression.  Thank you Fashion and beauty blog spot for the photo

Even on the Runway a Tight Leash Can Give the Wrong Impression. Thank you Fashion and beauty blog spot for the photo


I like a calm dog, especially when they are inside the house and I am living with them 24/7. 

I have a new puppy at my house, and my intention with him is to compete to a very high level in dog sports, so I am encouraging more “high drive” behavior than I have in my current dogs and dogs of the past.

But… I still don’t want a “REACTIVE” dog.

I want to ultimately be in control of how my dog acts and when they do or don’t get excited or over excited.

So let’s define reactive so that we can be on the same page as far as how this applies to your dog.

Reactive: as defined by Merriam-Webster online is being readily responsive to a stimulus; and occurring as a result of stress or emotional upset.

Being “Reactive” is different than being “Proactive”.

Being reactive means you wait until the stimulus is present to react to it and being proactive means that you are in control.

So of course I like being proactive when it comes to my dog training and even my dog’s health.  I don’t want to wait until my dog gets heartworm, I want to be proactive and use medication that will keep that from happening.

The same is true with my dog training, I like being proactive and giving my dog the skills he needs to feel in control and also that will help him not be reactive or stressed in situations.

But sometimes we inadvertently encourage reactive behaviors from our dogs.

The Most Common Way to Create a Reactive Dog: Is on Leash with Other Dogs

Although this is certainly not the only way, this is usually typical of how it starts... 

These Tight Leashes are Adding to the Stress

These Tight Leashes are Adding to the Stress

  • While on a walk the dog owner sees another dog and owner approaching.
  • The dog owner immediately reaches down and reels the dog in and makes the leash tight.
  • At this time or right after the dog notices the other dog.
  • The owner continues to pull back on the leash.
  • One or both dogs may bark
  • The owner may also pop the dog with the leash, give a “leash correction” or drag the dog away.
  • Usually some kind of command is given in a stressed or shouting voice.
  • And, this continues until the other dog and owner have passed.

This whole set of circumstances is unpleasant for your dog; and most often your dog does not even understand why you acted the way you did.  In his mind; he just wanted to go and visit the other dog.  

He doesn’t understand why you seemed stressed or panicked.

But dogs like to be proactive and be problem solvers, so he figures the next time he sees a dog he will take care and scare it away.

His reaction will be to become defensive, to bark, hackle, snarl or otherwise scare away whatever is bothering him or that he thinks is bothering you.

His reaction is to make distance in between the perceived threat and the trigger until it is below his threshold and he can deal with it.

Even If You Are Not Leash Correcting…

Having Control BEFORE You Go out with Your Dog Gives You Both Confidence!

Having Control BEFORE You Go out with Your Dog Gives You Both Confidence!

Even if you are not correcting your dog with the leash or causing pain associated with whatever the stimulus is; the tight leash and strange behavior has a nagging effect on your dog.

Imagine every time I see a Ford I poke you hard and annoying, and poke you and poke you until it’s gone, I may act nervous or scared or slightly aggressive and it gets worse with each sighting.

Poke, poke, poke, poke, poke… well you get the idea

Let’s say one of us is non-verbal so we can’t speak to each other about what is happening.

Pretty soon, you are going to get nervous when you see a Ford.

You may turn around and go the other way or yell at the person who is about to get into the Ford to keep it from moving… you may even try to block my view of Fords or stop taking me places where they might be, but chances are you will find some way to avoid Fords.

It makes the sighting unpleasant at best.

Would you not be scanning the streets looking for Fords, wouldn’t it make you reactive??

This is How Your Dog Feels…

THIS is How Your Dog FEELS

THIS is How Your Dog FEELS

When you get nervous and pull on the leash, or pop the leash or poke him (yes I have seen people poke and tap their dogs and even smack them with leashes).

It’s like this constant nagging that gets equated with the stimulus making the event irritating and even worse the next time.

So How Do You Keep Your Dog From Becoming Reactive?

Don’t panic in times of stress.  Even tension on the leash or a change in your breathing is enough for your dog to take pause and start re-evaluating a situation.

Remember dogs are sensitive animals and are much better at reading us than we are at reading them!

I don’t care if it is another dog, a kid, or a guy with a jack hammer; be confident that you can handle the situation.

AND, if you can’t work at home on dog obedience and basics until you feel like you have control.

Then start adding small distractions that you can control or manipulate until you are confident and your dog is listening.


This Person is Prepared with a Loose Leash and her Dog's Favorite Things

This Person is Prepared with a Loose Leash and her Dog's Favorite Things

I always have a game plan.

I know what I am going to do if I see a 200 pound Mastiff running at us, a criminal, or a Chihuahua.

And, I always have what I need for rewards to keep my dog interested.

Know your dog’s motivators!  For more on that click here

And, keep them with you!  That doesn’t mean that your 5 year old dog has to be baited and fed throughout your walk (more on misusing treats here), but it does mean that I have an edge if something happens and I need to keep my dog’s focus.

I have the ability to take charge and reward my dog for good behavior.

Let’s face it most dogs aren’t motived by just praise and affection.  I wish they were… but dogs have needs and desires too!

So if I see a Chihuahua off leash, threatening to eat my dog, I know what I am going to do.

This is How it Should Look!

This is How it Should Look!

I am going to ask for attention (for more on that click here for how to teach eye contact and focus) and I am going to get her ball out.  Her ball is her favorite thing and we have done enough obedience training at home and even at dogs parks (for more on that here) that she knows if she ignores the little dog she will be rewarded with a game of ball!

The leash doesn’t need to get tight, I don’t need to panic.  I don’t need to curse or yell at her and give her weird commands.  I simply ask for a behavior we have trained for and we prance past.

This even rewards her when other dogs come rushing and barking at her. 

Instead of horror and anticipation and stress, when she sees an aggressive dog or any distraction she equates it with something positive… it is an opportunity for a game of ball or a great treat.

This gives me marvelous control and keeps her from being reactive! 

She can trust me and I can trust her because we have built the foundation to great dog training obedience!

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  1. Cheng S.S. says:

    Hi ,
    It is seem to be so simple by giving treats to my dog when he see and bark loudly at another dog.
    I had a male miniature bull terrier of 18 months old and about 12 kg weight.
    He will bark very loud when he see another dog.
    I will try your suggestion the next time.
    Thank you.


    Minette Reply:

    Give the dog a treat for giving you eye contact or doing something else… not for barking 😉


  2. vicki gasorski says:

    This is great information and I will try to apply it. BUT….my dachshund was pretty good on walks until we were attacked by a pitbull last year. Now, he’s very reactive about any dog in his vicinity.

    I’ve tried the Thundershirt which does seem to help but would love to be able to walk him without it on hot summer days.

    I’ve also used the “Leave it” command, even when he’s just out in the yard and that also seems to help but still not a solution.

    Any other suggestions?



    Dawn Tuskey Reply:

    (sorry so long)

    My dog is very nose driven (his motivator) he loves to track & smell; much more so than any of my other dogs in the past. Since dogs should be getting info about the world around them anyway through their noses first, ears second & last the eyes, I thought I would use his scent drive to help him & me. Trust me when I tell you the urgency in getting his reactivity under control. He’s 130lbs of pure power originally & still bred to track, take down & hold wild boar. Me on the other hand am not; 5’3″ & 123lbs – lol.

    Whenever another dog is in our radar, I relax & in the soothing voice he likes, I say “use your nose.” Once he starts sniffing the air, he begins to calm down. First contact visual stimulation is too much for him I’ve learned. We then move into staying calm as we pass by my saying hello with a wave to the human while telling Moose to “say hello-use your nose.” All these words keep my voice, state of mind & body relaxed, calm & a “its nothing” energy in place so I don’t tense up on the leash. The real key for me and Moose has been even if he does react at this point, I continue walking like nothing is happening. I do not acknowledge or pay attention to his reactivity. I redirect his attention to “come on let’s go”, “we gotta finish”, “we got places to go”…. All of it said with a “we’re late ” energy. If he immediately behaves I let him look backwards while we continue to move forward. If he’s having “a day”, it’s the “no back”, “watch me”, statements. All while not skipping a beat in the walk. or, I will pick up the pace to redirect his attention to the walk.

    There’s more after this by continuing the walk with a “good boy” being given. But start here & see if this approach helps him.


  3. Dee says:

    I have had issues with my pup being aggressive while on leash, Tank has attacked another pup. It may have been a pack situation at that time. One of his litter mates was with him. I need to work harder with him on a loose leash and keep his attention off other dogs in public settings. These blogs have helped tremendously. When I have him under control we will try again in public. Thanks so much!


  4. Stevee says:

    Hi, I really enjoy your dog training secrets and have learned a lot. Although I do not have a dog at this time, I do work with the Humane Society walking and working with their dogs, your advise is invaluable. I have learned a better way to divert attention, thank you again.

    PS I am still waiting for a Labadoodle, or Goldendoodle to come through HS doors . . .and then I will have another dog after 20 yrs without one. Should you know of anyone who needs to find a home or that has one for $100. I would certainly be interested.


  5. Marcia Hayse says:

    I have a German Short Haired mix. She is agressive around other dogs especially when I am present. It is especially difficult to contain her at the vet’s office or on walks. She seems to do OK at the groomer’s with other dogs around, when I am not there.

    So it is hard not to have a tight leash on her at the vet’s office if she is growing or barking at the other dogs. Any suggestions? I have tried standing between her and the other dog to block her view and asking for a sit, which she will do as long as she is distracted.


    Minette Reply:

    That is why I like eye contact and focus


  6. Pamela says:

    This is great info for me and my rescue. I’ve had her 7 months, she’s about 2 yrs. and I have been training her at home, along with classes. She has come along way but, outside is a different story. She is not aggressive, instead extremely excitable when she sees another dog, squirrel or cat. She totally ignores any verbal training, even with offering her a treat. She is only focused on the what she sees. She will pull and bark incessantly. Of course, this gets the other dog barking too, which elevates the situation, or if it’s a cat or squirrel, they will run away. In that situation, it seals in her mind, that she makes it go away if she barks; SHE won! When she does meet and greet dogs she knows, it’s fine, though she is just gets so excited. She is very sociable and wants to say Hi to everyone and every dog. What else can I do?


    Minette Reply:

    get her to give you eye contact and focus, but you have to teach her and motivate her at home prior to adding distractions.


  7. Lois N says:

    Hubby and I just got back from our night walk. We had the scene with the 2 dogs lunging at the dashound barking from his tieout from the house. It was nasty and very embarrassing. And look what I find in my mailbox? A blog on what I needed. I want to work with our soottish terrier/corgy with walking (heavy duty puller) and reactor with other dogs and leaping on people. I am not consistent and I want to do better. Thanks for this blog, it gives me hope.


  8. Barbara Barrett says:

    I recently got two Miniature Austrailian Shepherd puppies that are a few months apart in age. The younger one was attacked at 6 weeks old by a large dog while still at the Breeders home, he is now 9 months old.
    At home these pups are smart,sweet, loving and very friendly. However, now when I go for my walk/jog and they see another dog, the 9 month old male pup starts barking growling and running towards the unsuspecting dog that is approaching us.It is embarrassing and I have to stop and physically control him.
    I will try taking ‘treats or cookies’ to distract him, but he is making me think twice about taking him for walks in public.
    Thanks for any advice and/or ideas to try,


    Minette Reply:

    teach him eye contact and focus and he needs socialization, locking him up and not taking him out will make him worse.

    Read this and work on it…

    And take a class or go to a trainer to help with more advanced socialization if you need it, before it gets more out of hand.


  9. Eileen says:

    My dog has less reactivity now than she did about a year ago. I found that the one thing that made the biggest difference was ME and my reaction to the other dog. Now my dog only reacts to other dogs when she doesn’t like something about the owner of the other dog. I can figure this out because I, too, feel something strange about the other dog’s owner.


  10. damian says:

    Thanks so much for sharing your “dog training” tips. You’ve put some great information together here. It’s so comprehensive!


  11. Tariah says:

    There is a neighbor’s dog, an Aussie, that has launched herself and attacked both of my dogs a total of three times while they were on leash in the last four months. My dogs are now traumatized and whine and bark when walking by, and due to proximity I have no choice. I have a lab and a rat terrier, and this dog did a great deal of harm to my little guy, and the other dog was present. I really appreciate your tutorial articles and advice; but it seems to only go to a point in this situation. I don’t feel I was in control, and don’t know in this case what to do to take it back. My dogs were restrained and the attacking dog wasn’t. I feel I let my dogs down, but don’t know what I could have done differently.

    By the way, my lab is a service dog.


    KBrown Reply:

    I have had similar problems with various wandering dogs in my neighborhood. I have had to resort to pepper spray on some dogs. This was only after several weeks of problems, and even one dog literally stalking myself and my female GSD like a wild dog from some tall grass and behind vehicles and tall curbs along a few blocks. I hate to do it, but I figure pepper spray is safer and shorter lasting than the alternative of a vicious fight or calling the pound.


  12. Becky says:

    My SPCA dog RJ is great at the dog parks. (except for mounting other dogs) He however gets too excited going into the dog park or on leash. He chases most cars and trucks on the street we live on while on leash.(no sidewalk we are very close to cars) If I have time to cross over blvd he is sometimes calm and does not chase them. Diesel engines and Harleys still get a over reaction.

    If I take him to enclosed conservation club off leash he does not chase car if I tell him no. He got loose one day at home and chased and tried to bite the tire rolled off came running to me with no apparent injuries. However on leash he still tries to chase them, At 70 lbs he is hard to hold back as he flies around in circles and I mean air born.

    I realise that I have been reinforcing some of the behavior. I never thought of using his toys to get his attention. He know the command look meaning look me in the eye. When he see a car he lays down until they get near and then he lunges at them. He want to play with the other dog really bad but it does not come off that way to the other people or dogs.

    He also does not seem to understand bikes, scooters, electric wheel chairs, baby buggies wanting to chase and bark at them. Any suggestions? I know you have to be consistant.


    Minette Reply:

    Read this

    and the article about getting eye contact and focus.

    I would never allow him to lay down and “stalk” or look at his “prey” this builds excitement and drive.

    Instead get eye contact and make him look at you or; if you have to get him to sit or lay down in and step in front of him so he can’t see what he desires.


  13. Stephanie says:

    Hi! I stumbled upon your website today and really like it – I have already started working on heel. I have 14 months old English Shepherd who is not very food
    motivated (he will actually spit out
    treats when he is excited) – especially outside with things to sniff and DOGS to meet. He loves playing ball and frisbee (though I think it would outcompete another dog only if it is one he is already familiar with) but I can not picture how to reward him with ball play as I am trying to teach him to walk politely on leash and ignore other dogs. It’s not like you could play fetch! What do you actually do when you reward with play? I just can’t picture how you would play while making sure he doesn’t tug on the leash (and with the next encounter on the horizon already, maybe).


    Minette Reply:

    Number one all living creatures are motivated by food. If you don’t give him free meals and he has to work for his food he will learn to take food as a motivator. Right now he doesn’t have to because you feed him for free.

    You will have to work on the principles of of clicker training first so you can reward good behavior; then you switch from probably using food to using play.

    So when I click my dogs for heeling, then I play a game of catch with them. Their reward is play.

    So I mark good behavior and reward with a game, then extend the time I expect the behavior.
    Read this


  14. cris says:

    Wow this is what I’m finding too, and size mine is a working dog, tuning into what he had to tell or show me about the safety of other people and personal space boundaries had been way better than any therapy i could have gotten! My boy is very clear on his personal space and where he starts and stops, so I’m learning from him, add long add i stay calm and trust his nose and instincts! He doesn’t have all the”baggage” that humans do in that department! Thank goodness!


  15. cris says:

    Please see laws in your state – it is a punishable misdemeanor for the owner including jail time and restitution to pay for retraining a service dog if it is attacked by another dog while working. See this site:
    “Dusty’s Law makes it a criminal matter requiring police response. It governs any animal that attacks, injures or interferes with any kind of service dog, including during training.

    That includes attacks on any dog, horse or other animal owned or used by a law enforcement agency, including search-and-rescue dogs.

    It’s named for Dusty, a German Shepherd puppy being trained as a guide dog who was mauled by a pitbull in Woodcliff Lake, requiring nearly 100 stitches, in July 2010.

    They also “are unlikely to leave their masters’ sides, even to save themselves,” he said.

    Dusty’s trainer, Roger Woodhour of Woodcliff Lake, who has volunteered with The Seeing Eye for more than 20 years, noted that nearly half of all guide dogs are attacked at some time by other animals, ordinarily within a half-hour walk from home.”

    Mace isn’t a bad idea, sadly. Hour this helps. I have a working dog also.


  16. Anne says:

    I have a 1.5 year old Aussie! He’s the best and has been positively trained since he was 8 weeks old! My question is less about leash reactivity and more about a strange reactivity that I can’t comprehend. I know Aussies can be a loof with strangers and our dog has a cue of “go say hi” when he should politely meet someone. He does, however, get super excited to see certain people (those he’s grown up around) and he eagerly will run up to them, tail wagging and gets super excited to have them pet him! Recently, one of his favourite people saw him and I let him go say hi (the leash was dropped) and he rolled onto his side and let this man start giving him belly rubs and pet him for a while. Then, with no warning he just started to growl bear his teeth and snap. It was so weird and out of the blue. I recalled him back to me and everything was fine (no bites or teeth to skin) but it doesn’t make sense to me why my dog would be so eager to seek someone out and get their attention only to react to them moments later.

    I am trying to stick to micro greetings for him (go over say hi then click and treat) and recall him back to me. I would just love to know his thinking in these moments. I want to always be proactive as well but it’s hard with unpredictability.

    Thanks for the advice!


    Minette Reply:

    Read this


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