How to Help Your Reactive, (or Aggressive), Dog

You’re walking your dog and he goes ballistic when he sees a person, or dog, coming toward the two of you. Depending on how much of a problem this poses for your dog, he may start to bark, lunge, or shriek when that person, or dog, is “only” thirty feet away. On the other hand, he may launch when they’re all the way at the other end of a football field. There are certain things that you can start doing to help your dog.


First the “do-nots:”


  • Don’t yell at, yank, or hit your dog when he’s growling, barking or lunging at people or other dogs. Granted, it may be hard to resist doing this, and human logic tells us that we better keep correcting the dog until he “gets it”, and miraculously starts to behave properly. Yes, you’re right. His behavior is unacceptable, he’s hard to “control”, and it may be embarrassing. These off-the-wall actions tell you that he has a problem. Unfortunately, for both you and your pet, he only “speaks” dog. What’s not obvious is that he needs your help to overcome his issues. Punishing him, (or her), when he doesn’t know how to cope with his issues, doesn’t teach, doesn’t show him how else he should be acting, and in some cases can make the behavior more severe.
  • Don’t hold his mouth, (muzzle), closed, nor pin him to the ground, and don’t do a scruff shake (taking him by the shoulders and shaking him). These are old-fashioned “punishment” methods. Studies have shown that doing one of these things can often make the behavior worse, or can cause some dogs to be afraid of, or lose trust in, the owner. Yes, barking and growling is annoying, but they’re correct dog behaviors in that the dog is giving a warning that he has a problem, and is far better than giving no warning and biting.
  • Don’t resort to a prong collar or choke chain and yank your dog every time he does a behavior you don’t like. Not only is it painful, and in some dogs cause irreversible damage to the trachea, but (once again), these forceful types of corrections don’t teach the dog what he should do. Worse yet, don’t use a shock collar. Can you imagine really being afraid, and every time you see the scary person or dog someone shocks you for trying to scare that terrible thing away by barking and lunging at it?

Now…Some of the “do’s:”


  • Try to learn a bit about your dog’s body language when he’s calm at home or in a quiet place. For example: is his tail normally relaxed and held in a soft curl, are his long ears pulled back or hanging limply, is he moving as if he’s enjoying life? Does he start to breathe heavily, or stiffen up or crouch as if about to pounce when he’s getting riled up?
  • Once you recognize what his body does when he’s relaxed vs. when he’s about to launch, you’ll be able to act with better timing before he’s out of control.
  • Walk him further away when his body actions start to change. Be prepared to stop walking toward something, or someone, when you see his body language change. Distance will help both of you. Remember to praise him. After all, he’s learning to deal with something that he’s never been able to successfully handle before.
  • A positive trainer, especially one who specializes in behavior problem can really help you out with de-sensitizing your dog to his issues

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