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What is a reactive dog?

Published on 22nd February 2016


The term ‘reactive dog’ is a relatively new term to describe the type of behaviour a dog does particularly when on lead. I came across this term when I was introduced to it via the Happy Dog Training Company. Previously I found many dogs were often labelled as ‘aggressive’ or ‘naughty’. The word ‘reactive’ helps avoid many of the negative associations often attributed to these types of dogs. Despite what people may assume some of these dogs aren’t aggressive, just over friendly, frustrated by on lead interactions or anxious at an approaching dog. The word naughty implies that they are purposely misbehaving when in fact they are using their bark as a last resort of communication.

What is a reactive dog?

A reactive dog is a dog that barks, lunges, pulls or growls, most likely when it is on lead out of frustration or when nervous. This is often triggered by seeing another dog, person, inadimate object or a moving object. Sound familiar?

Yogi - a frustrated greeter, however with ongoing training he is now a much calmer dog on lead!

Yogi – a frustrated greeter, however with ongoing training he is now a much calmer dog on lead!

Types of reactive dog

There are two main types of reactive dogs a ‘frustrated greeter’ and a ‘nervous greeter’.

The frustrated greeter

A frustrated greeter is typically friendly with other dogs when off lead, but when on lead may become frustrated when he or she can’t get to the other dog. The lead can act as a barrier, giving them less control than they would have off lead. Some bark excitedly, others dance on their back legs and some may even bark and lunge.

The nervous greeter

A nervous greeter is typically nervous around other dogs both on and off lead. Their body language can be somewhat different to the frustrated greeter. Some freeze, some retreat back and others pull and bark making themselves almost look big and scary to try and make the threat go away.

What to do if you see a reactive dog or any dog on lead

A dog that’s barking when on the lead, is trying to tell you something – please give it space!

A dog is on lead for a good reason. It is likely to be training, nervous or have poor recall. Being on the lead can sometimes make the dog bark, growl, pull or lunge. By doing so it is either likely to be trying to get another dog’s attention, is over excited or trying to make a threat go away.

By approaching this kind of dog you may either cause it great stress or put it back a step when it’s training was going so well.

If you are walking your own dog and you see a reactive dog, or in fact any dog on lead, cross over or give it space. Never attempt a head on meeting. If off lead and you have not trained a reliable recall, put your dog back on the lead. I always recommend teaching your dog a reliable recall, with or without distractions. If you are not confident that your dog will not come back to you when called, you will need to go back to the basic foundation training. For guidance on how teach your dog a successful recall read my previous blog HERE.

Tinker - a nervous greeter who I walk and train daily.

Tinker – a nervous greeter who I walk and train daily.


Just because your dog is friendly it doesn’t mean it’s ok to let it say hello to other dogs on lead. Dogs are often on lead for a reason so whenever you see a dog on lead simply walk the other way or pop your dog back on lead. Alternatively you can train your dog only to say hello with your permission or to never run up to dogs on lead. This will involve basic obedience and recall training with and without distractions.

Having a reactive dog can be stressful and walks can be made less enjoyable. However if we help educate as many people as possible about why it’s so important for reactive dogs to have space we are one step closer to avoiding any confrontations.

Need help?

I’m here to help support you and your reactive dog every step of the way. I walk and train 5-9 dogs individually on a daily basis. I’ve also had my own reactive dog, Sally so can relate to what you are going through. I’ve had experience with a variety of both frustrated and nervous greeters. No two dogs are the same so my one-to-one sessions are individually catered to you and your dog’s needs. I help empower and coach you, the owner to train your dog when I’m not there and most of all offer competitive and affordable ongoing support. The good news is all my methods are all force free – no pet correctors, rattles, spray collars or verbal punishment. I use a combination of reward based training techniques using positive reinforcement plus always work with the dog below its threshold.

Get in touch today: helen@socialpawscheltenham.co.uk

My previous reactive dog Sally, who's sadly passed away.

My previous reactive dog Sally, who’s sadly passed away.

Useful links

One-to-one reactive dog training with Social Paws:

Group classes – reactive dog training (I highly recommend): http://www.happydoghappyowner.co.uk/#upcoming