Causes of Reactive Dog Behavior and How to Train A Reactive Dog

What is a reactive dog? If your dogs "go off" or "lose it" in certain circumstances, they may benefit from training focused on their reactive behavior.


About 85 percent of the time, my Scottish Terrier, Dubhy (pronounced Duffy) is laid-back and phlegmatic. He methodically solves every training challenge I give him (although I don’t expect him to break any speed records on the agility course). His low-key approach to life won our hearts and earned him a permanent home after we found him running loose in a Chattanooga neighborhood in January of 2001 at the tender age of six months. Residents said he had been roaming the area for at least six weeks; a search for his owners proved fruitless. His uneventful introduction to the rest of our pack sealed his fate, and Dubhy joined the Miller family.

Thus his behavior at a Tennessee trainers’ meeting some 16 months later came as a complete shock to me. I arrived early at the Knoxville location, and was sitting on the far side of the training room when fellow trainer Claire Moxim entered with her Labrador Retriever, Pete. Dubhy knew Pete well; they had played happily together at my training center on several occasions.

Dubhy looked up as Claire and Pete entered, then went nuclear, raging and snarling at the end of his leash.

My trainer brain immediately leaped to the obvious “restraint frustration-aggression” conclusion. Here was a dog that Dubhy knew from prior positive play experiences. Dubhy was excited to see Pete, and his frustration at not being able to greet his friend was manifested in a display of aggression. Or so I thought.

“Let’s have them meet on loose leashes,” I suggested to Claire. “Once Dubhy gets to say hi to his pal, he should be okay.”

Fat chance. As Dubhy and I approached Pete on a loose leash, Dubhy did, indeed, seem to settle down. I mistook his controlled behavior for calm behavior. As we came near the big black dog, Dubhy redoubled his hostilities. When I reached down and touched my dog’s hip in an attempt to interrupt his attack, he whirled around and punctured my hand with his teeth in a classic display of redirected aggression. Yikes! Overnight, seemingly without warning, Dubhy had turned into a reactive dog.

Talkin’ ’bout excitation
“Reactive” is a term gaining popularity in dog training circles – but what is it, exactly? In her book Clinical Behavioral Medicine for Small Animals, Applied Animal Behaviorist Karen Overall, M.A., V.M.D., Ph.D., uses the term to describe animals who respond to normal stimuli with an abnormal (higher-than-normal) level of intensity. The behaviors she uses to ascertain reactivity (or arousal) are:

  • Alertness (hypervigilence)
  • Restlessness (motor activity)
  • Vocalization (whining, barking, howling)
  • Systemic effects (vomiting, urination, defecation)
  • Displacement or stereotypic behaviors (spinning, tail- or shadow-chasing)
  • Changes in content or quantity of solicitous behaviors

The key to Dr. Overall’s definition is the word “abnormal.” Lots of dogs get excited when their owners come home, when they see other dogs, when a cat walks by the window, when someone knocks at the door, and so on. The reactive dog doesn’t just get excited; he spins out of control to a degree that can harm himself or others around him. In his maniacal response to the stimulus that has set him off, he is oblivious to anyone’s efforts to intercede. He goes nuclear.

Dubhy has demonstrated reactive behavior in other situations as well. Our neighbor’s black and white cat, Barney, has appointed himself Official Rat Patrol in our barn. Barney’s casual strolls outside our fence send our Scottie into a frenzy; Dubhy runs the fence line like a maniac, barking hysterically and doing stereotypic spins at each corner. When I place myself in Dubhy’s path and wave liver treats in his face I might as well be invisible; he darts around me and continues on his mission. If I let him, he would run himself into heat stroke.

Causes of reactive behavior in dogs

There is definitely a genetic component to Dubhy’s out-of-control level of excitation. If I had researched Scottish Terriers before I decided to keep him, I would have learned that this behavior is actually a desired trait for that breed (see sidebar).

The excuse is that good breeding maintains the original temperament and behaviors of purpose-bred dogs. Labrador Retrievers should be able to retrieve ducks, for example, Border Collies should be able to herd sheep, and Scotties and other terriers should display the pugnacious behavior that makes them good vermin-killers. I had heard this all my life, and was quite familiar with the terrier reputation for feistiness. I now have an intimate understanding of what that really means.

As with most behaviors, environment also plays a role in the responses of reactive dogs. With careful handling, a dog with reactive tendencies may never exhibit the abnormally intense reaction to stimuli that lies dormant in his genes. A dog who could have been a reasonably self-controlled canine in normal conditions, might be induced into reactivity if kept in a highly stimulating environment.

Had I been smarter and realized Dubhy’s propensities earlier, I might not have taken him to doggie daycare, where he experienced a heightened level of stimulation in the presence of other dogs that might have contributed to his Jekyll and Hyde reaction to Pete. He might never have been able to “play well with others,” which he did nicely for over a year, but we might also have avoided the “can’t even control himself in the presence of other dogs” behavior that I found myself dealing with in Knoxville.

Managing your dog’s reactive behavior

Even if you have a highly reactive dog, all is not lost. A reactive dog may be a challenge, but there are things you can do that will help you cope with the stress of living with a dog who tends to flip out. Let’s start with management:

1. Identify his triggers. Make a complete list of all the environmental stimuli that set off your dog’s nuclear reactions. Be specific. For Dubhy that would be: A) the neighbor’s cat flaunting himself on the other side of the fence; and B) some other dogs – mostly those who are taller than Dubhy. Since I can’t successfully predict which dogs will set Dubhy off, I assume all dogs will, and act accordingly.

2. Prevent his access to the stimuli. Change your dog’s environment so his reactive behavior isn’t frequently triggered. For example, you can block his visual access with barriers, control it with training tools, or simply move your dog to another environment when the stimulus is likely to be present.

For Dubhy that might mean: A) asking the neighbor to keep his cat home (which probably won’t happen), or erecting a solid wood privacy fence so Dubhy can’t see the cat, and B) using a head halter when I walk Dubhy in public so I can easily turn him away from other dogs, breaking the visual contact that triggers his reactive behavior.

Modifying reactive behavior in dogs

If you are particularly successful at managing your dog’s environment, that may be all you need to do. Lots of dog owners get by on management without ever retraining the dog. If, however, you’d prefer to change your dog’s behaviors in case your precautions should slip, or if you’d like to be able to relax when you take him out, you can learn to put a behavior modification program in place.

The most powerful tools you can use to reprogram your dog’s reactive responses are classical and operant conditioning. Don’t be frightened off by the technical terms; these behavior modification tools are easy to put into practice.

Say your dog is reactive to people walking their dogs past your house when she is inside, and she barks hysterically and scratches at the windows whenever she sees a dog walking past. You can manage the behavior by closing your drapes, moving the sofa to the other side of the room so she can’t jump up and see out, or putting up a baby gate to prevent her access to the front room. But if you really like having the drapes open, the sofa fits perfectly under the front window, and you enjoy your dog’s company when you are watching TV, you might be more motivated to undertake a behavior modification program to change your dog’s annoying response for the long term.

Think of it this way: There’s a little switch in your dog’s brain that gets flipped whenever she sees a dog outside your window. She likely sees each dog-human pair as a trespassing threat. The instant one appears, her brain kicks into overdrive and she goes nuclear. This is a classically conditioned behavior. She is not thinking, “If I bark hysterically and run in circles, climb the walls and claw the curtains, something good might happen.” Her brain is screaming, “Alert! Alert! Intruders!” and her body reacts accordingly.

Of course, her behavior is reinforced by the fact that every time she does this, the intruders leave. Her canine brain doesn’t comprehend that they would’ve left anyway; she may well think she made it happen. This negative reinforcement (the dog’s behavior made a bad thing go away) only increases the likelihood that the behavior will continue, or even escalate.

This is operant conditioning. In reality, classical and operant conditioning work together all the time to mold our dogs’ behaviors. We use food to operantly condition our dogs to respond to our cues with a desired behavior. At the same time we give our dogs a very positive classical association with the whole training experience because they love food (and playing with us), so they come to love training, too.

To change your dog’s classical association with the presence of a dog walking by from negative to positive, you need to convince her brain (the automatic response part, not the thinking part) that the presence of dogs walking by makes something wonderful happen. This is called counter-conditioning.

Build an unconscious positive association

To succeed at counter-conditioning, begin by preventing your dog’s access to the windows when you are not there so she can’t practice the undesirable behavior. Plan your training sessions for a time of day when you’ll have high traffic past your window. If there is no such time, convince several of your dog-friends to leash their canine companions and – at different times – march back and forth past your window for 15 to 20 minutes. You can take them all out to dinner afterward as a reward!

Be sure your friends know they need to march out of sight in each direction before they turn around. Mark the place on the sidewalk where you want them to turn, just to be sure.

Meanwhile, back at the house, have your dog on leash, using a head halter if necessary. As soon as the marchers come into view, start feeding your dog something totally irresistible, such as tiny morsels of canned chicken. Be sure your dog has noticed the pair before you begin feeding, but don’t wait for her to work herself up into a frenzy. The instant she notices them, begin feeding her. Feed the morsels nonstop as long as the marchers are in view – treats raining from the heavens! As soon as the dog and human passersby are gone, stop feeding your dog. When they reappear and your dog notices them, start feeding her again.

Your goal is to convince your dog that a dog walking by makes chicken happen. You will know you’re making progress when you see your dog notice the walkers and, instead of getting tense and barking, she turns to you with a smile and a “Where’s my chicken?” expression. When she realizes that chicken only happens in the presence of a dog outside the window, she’ll want them to be there, rather than wanting to chase them away.

Build a conscious positive association

When you have successfully changed your dog’s automatic or unconscious association with the stimulus, you can start using operant conditioning to teach her that the presence of the previously offensive stimulus is a cue to sit and look at you.

It’s easier than you might think; just ask her to sit when she gives you the “Where’s my chicken?” look, before you feed her a treat. Slow your rate of reinforcement (how fast you feed treats), and reward her only for the desired behavior, rather than shoveling treats nonstop.

Eventually you can fade the verbal “sit” cue; the mere appearance of a dog walking by your house will become the operant cue for your dog to sit and look at you.

All is calm

Counter-conditioning is definitely more challenging with a reactive dog than with one who responds to stimuli with a normal level of intensity. It may take you longer than it would with a “normal” dog, but it does work. Don’t give up! The more you can saturate the reactive dog’s environment with the concept of “calm,” the more successful you will be at managing and modifying her nuclear reactions.

Help your dog understand that calm behavior is universally rewarded (see “Practiced Calm,” WDJ February 2002). Keep your own interactions with her calm and cool, even when you are tempted to scream at her to startle her out of the high-intensity behavior pattern. Your own intense behaviors are more likely to elevate her energy level than tone it down.

Learn about calming massage, acupressure, and T-Touch™ techniques to help your dog relax. Research herbal, homeopathic, and flower essence remedies to see which ones might be appropriate for your dog. (You may need a holistic veterinarian to help you with this; go to the Web site of the American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association at for a directory of holistic vets in the United States, listed by state, to find one near you.)

It is possible to make progress with a reactive dog. While my Scottie is not yet ready to show off his piano-playing technique at the next big dog trainer conference I attend, I am much more comfortable taking him to relatively small gatherings where other dogs might be present.

We recently helped staff a booth at a fair. Our two-hour stint was uneventful despite dozens of dogs walking by on leash – except for the bad moment when a thoughtless lady allowed her dog to run 25 feet to the end of her retractable leash and get right in Dubhy’s face. I did a quick about-turn with Dubhy to avoid disaster and a setback to his modification program, and then proceeded to explain to the lady why retractable leashes weren’t a good idea in a crowd. She was offended and indignant. I was just thrilled that Dubhy had come so far with his reactive behavior.

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Pat Miller, CBCC-KA, CPDT-KA, grew up in a family that was blessed with lots of animal companions: dogs, cats, horses, rabbits, goats, and more, and has maintained that model ever since. She spent the first 20 years of her professional life working at the Marin Humane Society in Marin County, California, for most of that time as a humane officer and director of operations. She continually studied the art and science of dog training and behavior during that time, and in 1996, left MHS to start her own training and behavior business, Peaceable Paws. Pat has earned a number of titles from various training organizations, including Certified Behavior Consultant Canine-Knowledge Assessed (CBCC-KA) and Certified Professional Dog Trainer - Knowledge Assessed (CPDT-KA). She also founded Peaceable Paws Academies for teaching and credentialing dog training and behavior professionals, who can earn "Pat Miller Certified Trainer" certifications. She and her husband Paul and an ever-changing number of dogs, horses, and other animal companions live on their 80-acre farm in Fairplay, Maryland.


  1. I feel like a failure. A bluff! My dog when walking with me is a lunatic- he has a loud and alarming bark and thrashes about like a fish out of water when I walk him. He reacts to other dogs – wants to greet and play but his behaviour is disarming to other dog owners and I fear he will be attacked for his overzealous displays…. I want to call out “he’s a rescue” to see if I’ll get more understanding from pet owners…. the problem is…. when he walks with the trainer we’ve hired he is a complete angel! I could cry – my trainer walks the dog I want …… I walk a dog that goes off his head… Why? How can I change this?

    • Hi Jacki! A great trainer needs to be able to teach you how to handle your dog and not walk the dog for you.
      The trainer is more experienced and doesn’t share the same emotions you do. The energy you have will transfer to your dog. Walk the dog like your the leader, practice the skills the trainer has taught you in the house so you both can get practice on what to do. The dog shouldn’t be close enough to another dog to react at this point. You may need to start 100 feet out to practice the above technique. If the dog is reacting, your too close to the stimulus and have lost the ability to train in that moment.

  2. Ugh! When we adopted our lab Pitty mix 8 months ago she was an angel with my family’s older dog for a bit, but after a month or two they started to have fights on the daily. We soon realized my dog (The pitty Lab) is Toy aggressive and my family’s other dog is Food aggressive, so we tried to take away food and toys when they are together but they always get into fights still and now their in separate yards so they cant get to each other.

  3. I’ve had Newfoundlands for almost 25 years. I was trained by a trainer with my first and have trained the rest myself. My last few have been rescues. I have an 8 year old Landseer male who might be what is classified as “Reactive”. He came to us 3 years ago, from a lovely family, but never had direction. It sounded like he dominated their other newf and them. I quickly noticed he did not like my other dogs playing and would run into them to break them up. He did not like my daughter running around. He would lunge at the other dogs while waiting for food. He would lunge at my daughter when she went upstairs, going out the door to go outside, if she was playing with friends, etc. At first I thought he might be aggressive but quickly realized he needed direction. I was able to work with him and train him not to react to most. I always notice that he doesn’t carry himself in a dominant, noble, confident way. He reacts quickly without thinking. His tail is down between his legs a lot. He is very needy for affection, though I dont allow him to be pushy about it.
    The one thing I cannot break him of is his reaction to when our dogs play. He doesn’t like it and feels he needs to stop it. I don’t know why he reacts this way. I know his breeder well. She is a highly reputable breeder who did not experience that with him as a puppy. It has gotten to the point where my other dog wont play if he is around. My niece’s dog is visiting and loves to play, but wont because of how Boo reacts.
    Any ideas on how to work with this would be greatly appreciated!

  4. Thanks! My parents got a five-year old Jack Russel Terrier / Shih Tzu mix from a shelter and she displays the most reactive behavior I have ever seen. Whenever she sees another dog outside (even from a 100 meter distance), she starts to squeal like a slaughtered pig. Not only does this make everyone in the vicinity stare at you, it also triggers aggressive behavior from the confronted dogs. Socializing her seems to make things worse. The more people/dogs there are around her, the more aggressive she becomes. She also doesn’t care about treats or food in general, which makes it more difficult to train her.
    After reading this article, I decided she might just be scared so I now pick her up whenever I see a dog approaching and cover her eyes. And like magic, it works 🙂 It’s also clear now that her behavior is the result of fear. She is apparently terrified of dogs she doesn’t know, my assumption is that she was attacked by another dog at some point in her life.

    • We call this type of dog “The Fun Police.” You can work with him at a distance, on leash, with a really high value treat like cooked chicken and get him to like see when the other dogs or kids play instead of wanting to charge in and stop it. It is also beneficial to take him out of the situation where he can not observe the fun going on; e.g., take him for a walk, or crate him with a food stuffed rubber Kong toy.

  5. My foster is a pit mix that the group had fixed. She was found as a stray who had a liter somewhere but there were no puppies found. She was boarded in a kennel before I started fostering her. She is very sweet but chews EVERYTHING, including myself! I got her a kong and other food release toys and take her on walks daily but as soon as we begin to play she gets excited and starts jumping up on me “nipping” me. How should I stop this? My arms are in bad shape due to this nipping (and I’m old). Any suggestions would be appreciated. Even when I stopped playing with her outside she will get “hyper” and start to nip me while watching TV.

    • Hi Susan! My parents dog does this when he gets excited to play, he nips me because he is just excited and has too much energy! I know how you feel! Is daycare a possibility? Maybe some socialization and getting some energy out once or twice a week would help?

  6. Thank you so much for this article, I really needed it today.
    I adopted my dog at “8 months old” from a local rescue who transported him from Northern Canada. He’s a collie cross who was in pretty rough shape. I obviously got in over my head due to a 6 month ordeal of severe separation anxiety, escape artist tendencies, and some serious behavioral issues. He was terrified of ALL people, dogs, and objects. I poured my heart and soul into this dog by way of vet visits, CBD oil, obedience training, private lessons, multiple dog psychology books and I even started taking him to herd sheep to help him find his confidence. We built a custom kennel and erected the tallest dog proof fence in the neighborhood. There have been many hurdles, mainly, a visit from animal control but we have made HUGE progress. It’s been fourteen months now and he is a dream dog. We even tackled the holy grail of dog training: loose leash walking! (Thank you gentle leader!!!)
    However, we are still working on dog reactivity (just strange dogs- he gets along amazingly with our friend’s dogs who he has been properly introduced to). The worst part is how clueless everyone is. Your article resonated with me because it is hard owning a dog who is reactive. Especially around people who are so blissfully ignorant. I want to kick every person in the shins who lets their dogs bound from their car in a dog on-leash area to run full tilt toward my on-leash and under control dog. I’ve been screamed at, told my dog is aggressive or just ignored. I am just trying to live my life with my amazing dog who just needs tons of love, more space and a proper introduction. I wish every dog owner understood dog reactivity.

    • Great to read. We got a collie pup at 11 a during lockdown and she is so reactive to everyone and every dog that we can’t take her out. So great to hear it is possible to help her change this behaviour.

    • Thank you for your comments. It makes me feel better, as we adopted a wonderful GSD/Pit mix about 9 months ago, and he has had several of the issues you described, but with work he has made such progress and is nearly there! He is almost perfect in the house, and just fine with dogs he knows, but is still fairly reactive with some strange dogs, and absolutely FREAKS out when he encounters a cat. A squirrel is nearly as bad. I do see that many owners just don’t care, and just let their dogs run up or approach, etc.

  7. Lou, I have a very reactive dog too and I bought her a vest which says “no dogs” (even though she is fine with some). It keeps people from bringing dogs up to her. Prior to this she had one that said “in training – please give me space” … might be something to consider…

  8. My rescue dog is so reactive that she has pulled me down trying to get at other dogs. I have to walk her where I know there is something vertical to grab (street pole, fence, etc.). She starts out with a whine, then leaps up, all four feet in the air, screams, and lunges. It is horrible. I hired a trainer who gave me a chain (not prong) collar to sit high up on her neck behind her ears, and her her back when she starts getting reactive. Walking her is a terror, always watching for dogs, cats, squirrels. She is one year old, and I have had her for 3 months. I want to make this work, but am being encouraged by those who have seen her in action to bring her back to the rescue group. Is there any hope or will her reactivity always be something that I must fear?

    • Hello Grace, I am in a similar situation with my guy I adopted in June. He’s 3, and turns into a psycho any time he sees another dog. My question for you is, how much of a commitment are you willing to make to training and risk of injury? In my case, he has cost me thousands and I am currently recovering from a broken ankle caused in part by his reactivity, but he offers me emotional support and companionship that I need.
      If you think she may not be a good fit in your home, it’s ok to consider that and contact the rescue for your options. Perhaps turn her into a foster until someone more suited to her comes along? You want to enjoy your dogs company and not worry about you or anyone getting injured. A head collar/soft muzzle has made walking him much better. Educate yourself on counter-conditioning techniques and find quiet places without a lot of distractions to walk, if you can. We will be at the six-month mark on Tuesday, and still have a lot of work to do, but I’m starting to see progress. Do what you *feel* is right and please know I wish you luck.

  9. We just adopted a pom mix who is 6 year sold and sweet with us but reactive to dogs and most people, especially coming into our house. We ave been working with a trainer and he has learned sit and starting to get stay. He has bitten at and scratched my mother in law, and is not friendly to others, but not quite as aggressive as he was my in laws. My husband and I both are trying to be patient. We work from home and his barkign at dogs from acorss a pond from the windows in our home is bad. We mostly keep the blinds shut, The rescue said he was not agressive at all. We took hm to the vet and he barked non stop from inside the car with all the dogs being brough n and out of the building. The vet said it took him awhile to calm down, which he never fully did, and anxiety meds were discussed. We don’t know if we can keep him and I am so sad. But we can’t work under these circumstances. He gets to a point of no return pretty quickly and no treat and positive reinforcement seems to help. He is decent with the trainer and she will have my inlaws come over at the next session this week to see if she can get a read on the situation. I don’t take adopting lightly, but I wasn’t prepared in anyway for reactivity, especially on this scale. He bit my mother in laws clothing and pulled her pants with his teeth. Feeling pretty hopeless at the moment.

  10. Thank you for this. I have a two year old Scottie who is reactive and has gotten worse during Covid so this gives me hope that I can dampen it. He’s now barking at the TV, previously he used to like to watch the dogs on there so I’ll have to work on this.

  11. I have a 1-1/2 old standard poodle who really is perfect in the house, playing with other dogs off leash, with visitors, etc. Barked alot at people in back of our house on the golf course.

    However his leash reactivity is so awful. I read and read, hired a trainer, did all the look at me, etc exercises. Tried CBD oil, rescue remedy, etc…didn’t help. Latest is vet put him on Prozac about 5 weeks ago which did calm him down quite a bit, Stopped his barking at people on the golf course near our home. However, if he sees a strange dog when on leash, he still goes beserk barking and lunging. He isn’t at all into treats, even the best types, chicken, etc. Tried distracting him with his favorite toy. Still fixed on dogs when on leash.

    I have distanced us by walking the other way, hiding behind bushes, etc whenever possible, but I don’t see him getting any better when he sees a strange dog even if a half block away. Tried gentle leader which gave me more control, but he hated it. Back to harness with clips in front and back…walking fine with that now, but controlling lunging on it is hard for me and I’m afraid he’ll pull me down.

    We have not left him overnight since we have him because I know others cannot control him on leash. We cannot visit parks, etc or take vacations with him because he cannot be on leash. Really gets us down. He has been this way since we took him to obedience school at a few months old.

  12. I have a year-old labrador mix who I adopted at 6 months. The first month he was amazing and able to sit with me at restaurants and never barked with another dog barked at him. At a year old he is still a loving boy at heart but he lunges snarls, growls, and barks at any dog that he meets on a walk and he can not be in close spaces with any dogs (like in a backyard). I have completely stopped taking him with me to crowded parks or trying to introduce him to friends dogs. No more sitting down at a restaurant or beach days. I get his energy out by walking him alone on less crowded streets at odd times of the day. But it has been very isolating. I am already working with a professional trainer who says I need to treat him like the dog he is. My concern is that his needs are completely taking over my life, as I am doing it alone. Not only financially but emotionally now as well. He is a wonderful support pup when it is just us two, and I have seen him be successful in some situations depending on the other dog and the introduction, but it is so difficult to control when you live in a crowded city. I just want to ask in case anyone has a success story or any advice? I want us both to live a great life side-by-side going on adventures and sharing happy memories but right now it feels like we’re stuck in a cycle of traumatic episodes followed by back to square one.

  13. I adopted my 1 year old doxie/beagle mix Jan 2021. He was reactive to everything-cars, bikes, people, dogs, everything. I’ve had doxies & terriers all my life, but no reactive dogs. I don’t understand why so many trainers act like we regular people have all these friends with dogs to practice with. I’m in my 50s, lost my spouse in March 2020, and live in an apartment complex – reactivity triggers around every corner! By lots of walks & treats he is good with cars & people mostly. I’ve had a trainer come to my home but she kept asking when I could get people & their dogs to help-which was never mentioned in the initial interview. I don’t have a lot of friends & the ones that have dogs I’m not comfortable subjecting them to my dog. Needless to say, I love my pup but I’m getting tired. I don’t have my spouse anymore to “share” doggy duty with and my life is now pretty much work & my dog. The only solutions I can find out there involves sending him somewhere where they use an ecollar-which I refuse to do. I hope it gets better.

  14. I have a slightly different reactivity issue with my 4 year old border collie. She’s startle reactive. She sleeps with me (probably my first mistake), and lunges toward me fast if I wake her when I turn over in bed. She jumps up, lunges, and then tries to mouth me. The only thing that works is telling her to sit (she does, thank god) and turning my back to her. Yes, she has bitten me once, but caused no injury.
    She is my 5th BC, a spayed female, and none of my previous BC’s have had this kind of issue, let alone any of her other bad behaviors. In fairness to her, she’s had multiple challenges and some trauma (witnessed death in family) in her 4 years, and I’ve learned how to resolve and/or eliminate many of her bad behaviors through counter-conditioning over the past 3 years. But you can imagine how hard it is to protect yourself during one of these episodes when you’re half asleep.
    I am a stroke survivor and have peripheral neuropathy in one leg, so this is not a one-off thing. It’s very frequent. Any advice on how I can work to resolve this would be appreciated.
    Reactivity comes in so many forms, and I don’t think there is any perfect resolution to this kind of reactive behavior. Maybe my only choice is to lock her out of the bedroom at night.

  15. I would love to try the modification program and have tried several times but if anyone knows the shih tzu breed they are not food orientated at all – fussy to the point of turning their nose up at what is their favourite treat if not offered when they want it! One of my dogs, shih tzu, came from a breeder than had several pens of dog and every time there was a slight noise they all started barking and whether genetic or not I am sure this played a factor in her first 3 months of life. Now she is like a little ball of anxiety, she will jump/flinch as a drop of water falls from her beard to the water bowl she is drinking out of. She is reactive to most things, bigger dogs, children, prams, bikes, certain people, animals on TV, animations on TVs, certain people on TV and so the list goes on. We started to try to deal with at least the TV situation with various techniques and nothing worked – from treats, ignoring, distraction techniques, desensitizing, toys – nothing has worked – when that “switch flicks” there is nothing that will stop her – she is off, the only thing we can do is as soon as we notice it we we try to switch it over if we can before she notices (not great for TV watching), or simply put a gentle reassuring hand in front of her chest so she can’t pounce off the sofa (often onto our other dog who is asleep on the floor and the complete opposite to her in temperament) and snarling and barking at the TV. So after 5 years – we have resigned to the fact that the best we can do is simply avoid the situations if we can (very difficult when most things set her off) but most importantly keep her safe, never letting her off the lead in public as she is a very small dog with no that switch that means she doesn’t see that huge dog that could swallow her in one bite! Good luck to you all though – I see my Molly as a special needs dogs – she is the most loving and funny little character with all those she knows and feels safe around, so though it is sad she is i