15 things you never knew about your ANXIOUS, NERVOUS, REACTIVE DOG

This article will give you some understanding and dispel some of the myths.

Owning a dog is supposed to be fun and enjoyable.

You didn’t imagine that your life with your dog would be this way.

This article will give you some understanding and dispel some of the myths.

15 Things you never knew

  1. Your dog is not being NAUGHTY.
  2. Your dog is not being STUBBORN.
  3. Your dog is probably reacting out of FEAR
  4. Your dog has NO control over the way he is feeling. Hormones (Adrenaline) in his body kick in due to stress, which causes the Fight, Flight, Freeze or Frolic behaviours.
  5. Using punishment can make his behaviour WORSE. Imagine if you see something you feel threatened by, or makes you feel scared, then you also get punished for reacting,
  6. It doesn’t JUST HAPPEN out of the blue.
  7. Your dog is reacting in a way that works for them IN THE MOMENT
  8. It may also be an EMOTIONAL RESPONSE to frustration or over-excitement.
  9. PAIN or DISCOMFORT can be a huge factor, especially if it is a new behaviour.
  10. Your dog's FOOD can contribute to their behaviour.
  11. Your dog will have been showing SIGNS of STRESS before he reacted.
  12. Tiring your dog out will not help, actually it can make things WORSE.
  13. Your dog will not JUST GET USED TO IT.
  14. Your dog actually may not like to INTERACT with other dogs.
  15. Extended isolation is stressful for your dog, they need company.

The definition that I use is :-

Reactivity is "barking, lunging, growling or otherwise responding 'inappropriately' to another dog, human or another trigger".  

That could also include "flight" responses such as backing off.

What we're usually talking about when we talk about a “reactive” dog is really an "over-reactive" dog, a dog who overreacts. And what is an overreaction is very much down to our judgment. 

We may think that the dog who snarls or growls at another dog who is rude to them and jumps on their back or is in their face is being appropriate and not overreacting, whereas the dog who does the same thing to another dog who is 50 feet away that would be an overreaction.


Where did the reactivity come from ? 

  • It can be an emotional response to fear, frustration or over-excitement.
  • It may be triggered by a single traumatic or upsetting experience.
  • Fear can be learned in a single repetition and the brain stores memory of fear differently to other memories so that it is retrieved more quickly. So even one experience can be sufficient to trigger an ongoing reactive response
  • It may also be the result of repeated experiences, where the dog may tolerate the first but after a few more incidents, they learn to react first before something unpleasant happens. Think trigger stacking too.
  • It may become an ingrained behaviour through repeated practice. Practice makes permanent, so if a dog is put in a position where they react regularly, this will become their habitual practice.
  • There could be a genetic element, either through parents or further back. We know dogs can be born fearful and that fear can be embedded in our genes so an animal may be afraid of a trigger because their parents or other ancestors were afraid.
  • There may be an instinctive element, particularly in the manner in which reactivity shows itself. So a dog with a high predatory instinct may react differently to a dog with a strong shake and grab instinct.
  • A common trigger for reactivity is pain or discomfort. It is important that all reactive dogs are checked thoroughly for pain and illness, especially where reactive behaviour develops suddenly. Pain may be joint pain, muscular pain, gut pain etc. 
  • It may also be temporary pain or the memory of a past pain.

Note that one of the purposes of adrenaline is to reduce our perception of pain so if your dog gets stressed at the vet you may not get an accurate assessment of pain because of this.

If you would like to learn more and look a bit deeper into this behaviour, and some help to understand how it can affect you and your dog, 

click here to have a look at my Mini Video Course all about Reactivity and YOU 

Categories: Anxious/nervous dogs, Dog Behaviour, Dog Training, Reactivity