Ali Brown Portrait
Ali Brown, M.Ed., CPDT
Author/Trainer
Experience the Joy of Being a Dog Owner Again!

"Do I Have A Reactive Dog?"

What is the difference between an aggressive dog and a reactive dog?

A dog usually displays aggression based on confidence, while a reactive dog displays actions based in fear. Aggression is a natural response, and occurs in many circumstances, including territorial protection, resource guarding, and protection of pups. While a reactive dog 'can' be aggressive, he will only likely do so if placed in a situation where he feels that there is no escape.

Why does a dog become reactive?

There are innumerable reasons why a dog might become reactive. The typical age of onset is between 18-30 months (1 1/2 - 2 1/2 years). Genetics, lack of socialization, a single or multiple traumatic occasions, environment, and physical stressors may all be factors in your dog's reactivity. There is a whole program to follow which can help your dog. Progress can be very quick or very slow, but progress can always be made, and the quality of your dog's life (and yours) can always improve.

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Is it aggression, reactivity, or are they only playing? From the book,
"Scaredy Dog!"
If my dog is reactive, or fearful or aggressive, should I take him for walks where we risk exposure to the elements that excite him, keep him locked up in the yard behind a chain link fence, or let him off leash in relative seclusion where he can't do much harm?

This is the sort of management issue that we address in our private lessons. Each dog is an individual, so some dogs can handle some situations, while others need a completely different approach. In addition, depending on how far along you are in your training program with your dog, you may be able to do certain things with him that you originally couldn't do.

But mostly, it is important that with a reactive dog, he initially should be walked in quiet areas away from over stimulation, and not permitted to watch out the front window and bark at passersby, or to watch dogs or people walk by through a fence. Leaving a dog run off leash is against the law in most locations, and until you have a really great working relationship with your dog, shouldn't be done.
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Gerda is confronted with a bicycle, a back packer, and a person with an umbrella.

There are any number of things that get my dog going…men wearing hats, people dressed in black clothes, screaming kids flailing their arms, etc. Is there hope for my dog?

Yes, there is! We can put into place a lifestyle program for you and your dog which will manage his behavior, reduce stress, and teach him default behaviors which you and he can use while out in public. Teaching these behaviors will help you and your dog to build a working relationship based on trust. Your dog will learn to trust that you will take care of him and that if he pays attention to you, no harm will come to him. Of course, that means that you really do need to ensure that bad things don't happen to him! These changes don't happen quickly, but once you start to see a change in your dog, working with him becomes so fulfilling that it often becomes addicting!

How does food influence my dog’s behavior?

Any food which taxes your dog's immune system should be avoided. Feed your dog a diet which includes high quality whole meats, multiple sources of protein, and easily identifiable fat sources (i.e., chicken fat as opposed to poultry fat). Avoid, at all costs, the use of corn, wheat and soy in your dog's food. These foods are difficult for a dog's short digestive tract to process, and are often low quality fillers, full of pesticides and molds. Also, avoid artificial flavors, colors and preservatives, as well as sugars. Find a food which includes fruits, vegetables and probiotics.

Most pet food manufacturers are jumping on the bandwagon and producing foods which follow these guidelines, so the availability of such foods is rapidly increasing. These foods will provide nutrition in the most usable form, and give the dog the best possible combination of vitamins and minerals. Poor quality foods can tamper with a dog's blood sugar level, create irritability, gastric irritation, and other physical complaints which make learning difficult to impossible. If you are interested in feeding home-cooked meals or raw food to your dog, make sure you do lots of research first.

I surprised my dog and he bit me. Is he aggressive, fearful or reactive? What should I do? (By the way, it's not the first time it happened but I really love my dog.)

I need to know more about the circumstances in which these episodes are taking place. Private consultations are necessary to make sure we are following the right plan for your dog. The longer these behaviors occur, the more difficult it is to make positive changes. At the very least, you and your dog would benefit from building your working relationship. But there could be much more serious issues going on; in addition to scheduling an appointment with me, make an appointment with your veterinarian to rule out a medical condition, such as deafness, ear infections, arthritis, hip dysplasia, epilepsy, etc. I believe that you love your dog; let's do something to help him!

To learn more about Reactive Dogs, read Ali's book, "Scaredy Dog! Understanding & Rehabilitating Your Reactive Dog." Return to the "Scaredy Dog!" book page. Or click here to email Ali about seminars, consultations or classes.

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