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  • Writer's pictureRenée at Bravo Dog

What is Dog Reactivity?

Does your dog suffer from reactive behaviour?

The Definition

Dog reactivity refers to dogs that become overly aroused by common stimuli. They may lunge, bark and growl, becoming so preoccupied with whatever is triggering the emotion that they can be difficult to control and move out of the situation. A reactive dog is often a fearful dog. Causes can be genetic, lack of, or poor, socialization, prior bad experiences and pain/medical issues.

It's really important to remember that your dogs' behaviour is not a reflection of you, nor are they a "bad dog". They are struggling. The goal with behaviour modification is to help relieve, never punish, this behaviour which is often a result of something your dog cannot control.

Types of Reactivity

Resource Guarding

Guarding of resources such as food, toys, spaces, places and sometimes people. This can look like snarling, lunging, freezing, stiff body and whale eye (pronounced whites of eyes). Your dog may even bite when pushed. In the animal kingdom this is actual normal behaviour. When it cannot be prevented or if it becomes severe resulting in bites, we need to work on a plan to help your dog feel better.

PS. NEVER punish this behaviour or risk it becoming worse!

Leash Reactivity

This often looks like lunging, barking, pulling and/or growling when your dog sees another dog, person or something they are either stressed or fearful of, excited of OR both!

Dogs with leash reactivity may interact off leash quite well, but when on leash they can become frustrated or upset. Conflicted feelings can occur!

This can make walking your dog on leash a nightmare and cause great stress to you and your dog. This is the most common form of reactivity I treat.

Some dogs were never socialized on leash, perhaps they were free-roaming. They may have had a poor experience on leash, or they may spend so much time off leash that they need a plan to help them when we do need to walk them on lead.


General Fear & Anxiety

Your dog may react towards strangers or people coming to your home or they may have a specific trigger such as garbage trucks or car rides. Some dogs who suffer from severe reactivity may need to see a veterinary behaviourist.


Do not be afraid to discuss your struggles with your veterinarian, especially if your dog:

  • has severe noise phobias

  • has separation anxiety

  • has had a sudden behavioural change

  • has so many triggers and reacts so severely that you cannot prevent reactions from happening frequently


"Daniel Mills, FRCVS, a veterinary researcher and behaviorist at the University of Lincoln (England), suggests that a large portion of behavior problems are exacerbated or caused by physical pain, and that resolution of that pain can mitigate or even resolve the behavioral issue. Almost 80% of the behavior problems in his own practice, says Dr. Mills, have a component of diagnosed or suspected pain."

ALWAYS ensure that your dog has been thoroughly checked for pain issues. Sometimes soft tissue injuries can go undiagnosed and there are specialists like Dr Lane in Squamish, BC who can assess your dogs' mobility.

What can happen when reactivity is left untreated?

  • Shortened life-span

  • Illness

  • Depression, apathy, quality of life issues

  • Compromised immune system

  • IBS/Digestive issues

  • Bites and elevated reactions

It's important to seek out help and support from a certified force-free behaviour specialist. You don't have to face this challenge alone!


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