Reactive Behavior in Dogs

Learn about causes and corrective actions for reactive dogs.

Reactive Behavior in Dogs

Reactive Behavior in Dogs

Signs of Reactive Behavior

  • Barking, growling, lunging at people or dogs approaching and passing
  • Barking, spinning when doorbell rings, car doors close and other sounds
  • Barking, spinning when anything passes within view
  • Barking, lunging, growling at passing people or animals from inside vehicle, house or yard

Causes and Corrective Actions for Reactive Dogs

Note: All reactive dogs require ample exercise to help them relax as much as possible and an owner who sets a calm, quiet example — harsh corrections and/or trying to out volume a reactive dog by yelling at him to stop amps the dog up more.


A formerly abused dog frequently develops a strong mistrust in humans and sometimes other dogs, causing reactive responses if approached too closely, met with direct eye contact or when facing some other perceived threat.


A dog that previously suffered an attack from another dog or frequent bullying by other dogs often develops a mistrust and dislike for his own species and would rather they keep their distance, hence reactive responses when dogs approach.


Traits like nervousness, excitability and even fearful behaviors can be inherited and lead to reactive responses, particularly if combined with poor socialization or raising.

Lack of Socialization

Inadequate exposure to people, other dogs and the world in general often produces a fearful dog who barks and lunges to drive away scary things. On-leash socialization proves especially important to prevent "leash reactiveness," a behavior that stems from the leash preventing dogs greeting in a normal manner.

ABUSE, ATTACK/BULLYING, GENETICS, LACK OF SOCIALIZATION Corrective Actions: Work with a trainer before reactive behaviors become aggression and to pinpoint what stimulates reactions, such as being restrained on leash as people or dogs approach, direct eye contact, men in hats, doorbells ringing or other common triggers. Once your trainer identifies triggers, he or she may recommend a "head halter" to provide better control of your dog paired with counter-conditioning methods to train an acceptable alternative behavior and desensitization techniques to help dog learn indifference toward provoking stimuli. Work positive obedience training that builds the dog's confidence in himself and in you as a strong leader able to keep him safe. Follow a slow socialization schedule, starting with being around people and/or low-key dogs without interaction to give your dog time to become comfortable in their presence, gradually working toward a realistic goal of quiet tolerance rather than an overtly friendly attitude.

Prey Drive

Visual stimulus, such as squirrels running around outside can send dogs that retain a high desire to chase and catch prey, called prey drive, into a frustrated frenzy that knocks household objects over.


A dog behind a property fence or inside their owner's vehicle often protects their territory by an overzealous display of barking, lunging and growling that frightens passersby.

PREY DRIVE, TERRITORIAL Corrective Actions: Do not leave your dog outside alone for extended periods since a bored dog invariably finds a troublesome pastime, with reactive displays toward passing people or dogs as a common example. For short stays outside in a fenced yard or while you attend to yard work, block high stimuli views with privacy fencing or landscaping and train a "Leave it" command that tells your dog to leave whatever has his interest alone and turn attention elsewhere. Indoors, block access to or cover windows that feature highly stimulating views. When traveling, reward your dog for sitting in his car harness quietly and calmly as things come into view and provide a treat-stuffed rubber toy or "car only" chewy to keep your dog occupied. For very reactive dogs, riding in a plastic crate that obscures outside views reduces exposure to stimuli and often keeps the dog calmer.

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Bev   Dumfries, Virginia

12/9/2014 9:27:55 AM

A friend has a 2 yr old mixed breed dog who is great around other dogs, but when he hears and sees the UPS truck he goes WILD! He lunges, snarls, barks, etc and is uncontrollable. We don't know if it is the sound of the truck or what his problem is, but the problem is getting worse. Any training help you can provide would be so much appreciated.

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Lauren - 218178   Clovis, CA

7/27/2013 4:57:01 PM

What else can we do besides get a trainer? I am pretty good at training myself, and I know there has to be something! If DogChannel could write an article about it, that would be great. Thank you.

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Anchor   Plant City,

2/19/2013 4:52:44 PM

My poor BC was attacked as a 4-month-old puppy, dogs have basically tried to pick on her for her whole life...she became reactive and is just starting to come around with some counter-conditioning. Great article, though!

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Melian and Tiny   Etna, CA

11/18/2012 11:15:05 PM

I do like reading these advice pages but telling us to work with a trainer seems a bit silly. If we could get at trainer why would we need these pages?

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