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What is dog reactivity and how is it managed?

Dog reactivity is a common yet complex behavioural issue, rooted in a dog's emotional well-being and sense of safety i.e., fear. While ‘fear’ is the most prevalent cause of dog reactivity, it can also stem from other underlying emotions such as excitement or frustration.

Once a dog has entered a reactive state, their internal pressure has built to the point of explosion i.e. a display of reactive behaviour (refer to Layered Stress Model below). Their ‘fight’ response has taken over and they cannot calm down until the ‘threat’ has subsided.


Reactive behaviour varies greatly from dog to dog, therefore managing a dog with reactivity involves a customised approach including:

  • Identifying their specific triggers
  • Implementing positive reinforcement training techniques
  • Making environmental adjustments
  • Seeking professional guidance (especially when dealing with severe cases).

By recognizing these triggers, we become able to anticipate and prevent reactive outbursts in our dogs; if you can predict it, you can prevent it.

What is a reactive dog?

A reactive dog will respond faster and with more intensity than a non-reactive dog, displaying excessive levels of arousal such as:

  • Excessive, hysterical barking
  • Poor leash behaviour: constant pulling and movement, lunging towards the trigger,
  • Tense body language, inc. raised hackles and fixed stare
  • Panting, pacing, drooling - all out of context
  • Avoidance behaviours: intensely sniffing, jumping, circling etc.
  • Aggressive behaviours: reactivity can lead to aggression but does not necessarily indicate aggression

A reactive dog becomes overly aroused and difficult to control, showcasing their heightened emotional response to the seemingly ordinary stimuli, that generally doesn't phase other dogs.

A reactive dog is, more often than not, a fearful dog.

What causes dog reactivity?

Dog reactivity stems from various factors, often a combination of:

  • Genetic predispositions
  • Lack of proper socialisation
  • Inadequate foundational training and confidence building
  • Impactful, negative experiences during the Critical Period of Development.

While genetic predispositions may increase a dog's likelihood of exhibiting reactive behaviour, it is important to recognise that genetics are only one component of the equation, and more often than not, a lack of proper socialisation is the more dominant factor.

The Critical Period of Development (0-16 weeks) is where puppies are the most receptive to new experiences and learning. Proper socialisation and foundational learning during the critical period, and beyond, is essential to shaping a puppy’s behaviour and temperament toward building an adult dog with confidence, resilience, and adaptability to change.

Are certain breeds more reactive than others?

Reactivity is not solely determined by breed. While breed (genetic predisposition) can influence a dog's temperament and behaviour to an extent, it's important to understand that the dog's unique personality and learned experiences, regardless of their breed, are dominant factors when it comes to understanding and addressing reactivity.

Note: Dogs bred for guarding or protection purposes may be more inclined to exhibit reactivity toward perceived threats e.g.Flock Guardian Breeds.

Can a reactive dog be trained?

Absolutely! All reactive dogs can be trained and their behaviour improved, as long as we:

  • Understand what is causing the reactivity (identify the trigger)
  • Set our expectations accordingly (have clear goals mind)
  • Prioritise their sense of safety
  • Respecting the dog's boundaries and personal space
  • Advance the training based on the dog’s progress from session to session

Reactivity is distressing for dogs; it’s important for us to acknowledge that not all dogs need to be friends with everyone/do everything - setting achievable goals (our expectations) is fundamental to effectively training a reactive dog.

Remember the key principle: If you can predict it, you can prevent it.

What’s involved in dog reactivity training?

Training a reactive dog requires a tailored approach to the individual dog's needs and the owner's capabilities. The duration of this training will vary depending on the individual dog’s temperament, the severity of the case, and the consistency of the training efforts.

In the initial stages, the primary objectives are to:

  • Determine the distance from the trigger, where the dog does not react (green zone - refer to image below)
  • Redirect the dog's response from impulsive reactions to more neutral behaviours
  • Boost the dog's overall confidence (as well as the owner)
  • Equip both dog and owner with the skills to manage reactive outbursts effectively
reactive chart

Other factors involved in dog reactivity training:

  1. Safety & Management: Ensure the safety of all involved, inc. the general public e.g., muzzles, barriers, training vests etc.
  2. Identifying Rewards/Reinforcers: Discover what motivates and excites your dog and first build its value away from the trigger e.g., treats, toys, or games
  3. Identifying Triggers: Identify the specific triggers, whether they be scenarios, stimuli, movements, or sounds.
  4. Determine Critical Distance: Establish the distance at which your dog reacts to the trigger. This will vary throughout the process (refer to image below)
  5. Desensitisation & Counter Conditioning: Pair the trigger with something your dog enjoys (rewards/reinforcers) to commence a new association with the trigger. Positive associations need to be reinforced consistently to create lasting behavioural changes
  6. Basic Obedience: Give your dog ‘easy wins’ through simple obedience, teach alternate behaviours (e.g., look at me) to redirect their attention.
  7. Calming Techniques: Teach your dog how to ‘switch off’ and learn to relax (e.g.m crate training).
  8. Minimise Exposure: Limit exposure to the trigger outside of structured training sessions, to prevent setbacks.
  9. Consistency & Patience: Countering dog reactivity takes time and cannot be rushed. Set reasonable expectations, remain consistent, and practice patience. Over time, the dog should develop a neutral or positive emotional response to the trigger.
  10. Professional Guidance Recommended: Gain professional help, especially for complex cases of reactivity. Kip’s Training Team has the knowledge, experience and expertise to work with all cases of dog reactivity.
critical Distance

Learn more about dog reactivity training with Kip

For those grappling with a reactive dog, Kip's industry-recognised Board & Train Program might just be the solution for you!

Our team of experienced, professional trainers can address and work through complex cases of dog reactivity, and other challenging behaviours including jumping, selective hearing, and leash pulling.

Kip’s B&T Program is a learning experience for both dog and owner! You'll gain access to resources like our online learning platform (Behind the Board and Train), along with a comprehensive induction and a personalised handover session with your dog’s dedicated trainer.

We want you to be involved in your dog’s training journey so their new learnings can be fostered into lifelong habits and unforgettable memories.

So what are you waiting for? Get your dog enrolled today!

Enquire Now at:

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