a photo of a shepherd mix dog coming towards the camera bearing it's teeth and showing aggression for a blog about dog aggression

How to Tell if Your Dog is Aggressive or Reactive

If you ask "Why does my dog bark and lunge on leash?" I am here to help!

Having a dog that reacts on leash can be stressful and downright embarrassing. Knowing what to do for your reactive dog is challenging at best. Reactive Dog Training can help but first we must figure out the cause of the reaction (aggression, frustration, confusion, fear, etc).

When I meet with a reactive dog owner we have a detailed conversation about the dog’s history, health, age, breed, etc. Knowing if your dog is aggressive or reactive might be simple or very complex. If your dog has a “bite history” of any kind, it’s important to handle their reactivity very carefully and with professional help, aggression should be handled FIRST. I don’t want you to be discouraged but it is a matter of treating the most important problem first. If the dog is new to you and you don’t know I would also suggest you treat them “as if” they could bite when greeting a dog and seek a reputable, positive reinforcement dog trainer in your area.

What is reactivity in dogs? It’s just a label to describe behaviors that dogs may do – on leash or off. This can include barking, lunging, spinning and the like. It does NOT mean your dog is bad, they are usually confused (have no experience or a poor history of greeting dogs), frustrated (that leash is keeping me from doing what I want!) or aggressive (which could be based on the latter). Some dogs are simply vocal greeters and it’s a matter of helping them understand that’s not really appropriate. If you are allowing your dog to greet any dogs after they have barked or lunged, you are reinforcing the behavior and thus, increasing the likelihood of it happening more. This being said, reactive dog training can be done and it doesn’t have to be dreadful. I really try to make it fun if not pleasant whenever possible.

When I refer to dog reactivity in this article, I am mainly speaking about barking and lunging but the training is great for whatever displays are happening.

The deeper question for me if I were assessing your dog for reactivity would be this:

What is their intention when they react? Are they nervous and simply trying to make the other dog go away or are they wanting to get into an altercation? The first would tell me we can use some basic training systems, play and trust to change their reactions. We can even use the greeting as a reward later down the line (but we MUST stop letting them greet dogs if they have just been exhibiting reactive behaviors). If they are looking for an altercation, we need to do some homework before starting a training plan, especially one that involves the presence of other dogs. The answer to this question, when known, will help me to determine a training plan.

If your dog has a bite history they should not be trusted around other dogs for now and muzzle training should be implemented first. Muzzles carry a BIG stigma but I really hope if you feel strange about this topic you research further. Muzzles are wonderful tools, they keep your dog and other dogs safe while training. It does not mean your dog is a bad dog, it simply means we need a tool to help us gauge and manage their behavior while we use scientific methods to help them change the way they feel about dogs.

For more information on my Relief for Reactive Dogs Training Program, click here.


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