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What Causes a Reactive Dog? 5 Prevention and Management Tips

Updated: Jul 24, 2023

69 million American households have a dog. While many dogs don't have behavioral problems, it's pretty common for some of them to show signs of reactivity.


If you have a reactive dog, then it may react negatively or become aggressive when meeting another dog or experiencing certain situations. Many dog owners find that their dog shows signs of being reactive, but there are some steps you can take to better manage their reactivity.

In this guide, we'll tell you more about reactivity in dogs and will give you 5 prevention and management tips.


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Causes for Dog Reactivity

What Leads to Dog Reactivity?

There are many reasons why a dog might be reactive. Oftentimes, it's a combination of different factors.


Genetics may play a part in a dog becoming reactive to stimuli and certain situations. However, it can also come about due to a lack of socialization, a lack of training, or traumatic experiences.

Dog aggression and reactivity are often related to fear. Fear causes dogs to react to certain triggers inappropriately and these triggers can include a variety of different things. Dogs could be fearful of small children, other animals, or a variety of other external stimuli.


Fearful, reactive dogs may not react well to certain situations and could have erratic behavior, particularly if they feel trapped. They could choose to run away from certain situations, and if they're unable to do so, they may end up becoming aggressive instead.


If you have a reactive dog, it's important to take steps to prevent and manage their behavior while improving their well-being.

How to Manage a Reactive Dog

There are many things that you can do to help prevent and manage your dog's reactivity. Here are some things that can help.

1. Set a Routine

To keep your reactive dog calm, it can help to have a regular routine and to set a schedule for various activities.


Dogs like to have a routine and have an idea of what will be happening at any given time of day. Setting the same time each day to go on walks, feed them, and do other activities can be very helpful.


Having a regular routine can help to curb a dog's anxiety and help them feel like they have a better grasp on everything that's going on around them. It can help them feel less stressed out and can make them become less reactive over time.

2. Use Counter Conditioning

One of the key tools in the fight against reactive behavior is counter-conditioning and desensitization. Counterconditioning is one of the best training tools that you can use to help improve your dog's behavior.


With counterconditioning, you'll teach your pet to change his or her emotions and behaviors when responding to certain triggers, whatever they may be. You'll train them to not react as negatively to whatever triggers them as time goes on.


The first basic step to doing this will be to allow your dog to notice the trigger first. Then, give them a positive reward before they react negatively. A positive reward could include giving them a treat, food, or a toy.


As time goes on, they will be again to react less negatively to the stimulus.

3. Update Your Home

It's also helpful to change the way that your dog interacts with your home. Making some changes to your house can be helpful when training your dog and helping them become less fearful.


Two of the common problems with reactive dogs are that they get reactive when looking out windows or they're prone to fence running habits. If this is the case for your dog, look for ways to prevent their behavior and to retrain them to behave differently.


When inside, you may want to block your dog's ability to access the windows. You may also want to stop them from doing any fence running.

4. Pay Attention to Your Dog's Body Language

If you want to help your reactive dog, it's important that you get better at reading their body language. Get into the habit of observing your dog often during a variety of activities as well as when they're at rest.


Taking note of changes to their ears, their tails, their eyes, and their posture can tell you a lot about how they're feeling and what their state of mind is.


A forward, alert posture can show that they've taken an interest in something and are deciding what to do next. Pay particular attention to tense and aggressive body language and try to react to your dog's behavior before they take action.

5. Take It Slow

Whenever you put your dog into a new situation in which you're not sure how they'll react, don't be afraid to take things slow. Take small steps toward improving their behavior and help them approach situations in the most tactful way.


Introducing your dog to a new animal or a new experience should be done mindfully and with a cautious approach. Always do your best to make sure your dog feels safe.


Be willing to change the timing of things if necessary. You may need to postpone a meeting with another dog or other types of events to ensure that your dog will be prepared.

Helping Your Reactive Dog With These Tips

If you have a reactive dog, there are things that you can do to mitigate aggressive behavior and improve their mental well-being. Remember that reactivity is based on fear. By taking steps to condition your dog and improve their habits, you can help them become less reactive.


Need help training your dog in the Dallas area? Contact us today to learn more about how we can help.

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