How to Change Your Reactive Dogs Behaviour
December 30, 2022
Reactive Dog Walking

Edinburgh Dog Behaviour – Reactive Dogs

Reactivity happens for a reason. True Story, reactivity is never your dog being naughty its an important bit of information your dog is giving and it also gives your dog something that they need in that moment.

Maybe their reactive behavior stopped a hand from touching them.

Maybe it made another dog go away.

Maybe it kept a person from coming closer to them.

Sometimes, the reason for the behaviour is obvious and sometimes it’s not. But there is always a reason.

As you start and continue on your journey to work towards changing your dog’s behavior, will you need to understand what their reactive behaviour gives them. You have to find the reason or reasons that trigger their reactions and find an alternative way to meet that need that is missing or being taken away.

Is it space?

Is it a sense of safety?

How else can you give them that?

When approaching or starting behaviour modification or training to help your dog stop reacting There are three fundamental steps that you NEED to change their behaviour. These fundamentals will help both you and your dog succeed in your plan to overcome their reactivity.


First things first, you need to manage the environment as much as you can so your dog feels safe. If your dog is feeling safe then they will be more likely to listen and respond to you which in turn makes training more successful.

Think about it, if your dog is reactive to dogs and you take him to the local park that is busy with other dogs, even though you keep your distance your dog is still likely to react. However if you were to go to a less popular park you still might see dogs at a distance but the amount of them will be less, so your dog can cope.

Sometimes you can prevent unwanted behaviour completely, simply by changing the environment so that your dog finds it easier to do what you’d like them to instead. Maybe you avoid the parks and enjoy street walking for a while or you find a quiet field to walk in or even hire.

Ugly dog walks are great for reactive dogs, instead of heading to the pretty and fun dog locations for your dog to walk around and sniff. Head to the ‘Ugly’ locations, think industrial parks on the weekends when they are quiet your dog can still walk around and sniff but think of all the interesting new smells he will get, it will be an adventure for your dog and hopefully you don’t see a single trigger. Supermarket Car parks, empty outdoor markets, docks etc these are ugly for you the human but a great place for your dog to have a sniffarri!

How to Change Your Reactive Dogs Behaviour1

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Second,item on the list of 3 steps to change your dogs behaviour is learning to recognise changes in your dog’s body language. Every dog expresses a lot of information just through their bodies alone, they give away so much information but a lot of humans tend to miss these signs.

Learning your dog’s body language will help you see what your dog is telling you well before they have to shout by barking, lunging or growling!

Dogs communicate their discomfort in many subtle ways. Consider what your dog does before they overreact? Does their mouth go from open to closed? Do their ears get tall and forward? Does the tail go high up or is there a change in how they walk? Body language is like a sentence, specific body parts are words but the whole body tells the story.

Seeing how your dog communicates with their body can be a game changer when it comes to resolving reactivity.

Let’s look at the head turn as an example.

If your dog turns their head and their upper body follows to go and enjoy a good sniff, that’s fantastic. This is a nice cut-off signal that says, “I am not a threat” and your dog might use this behavior to diffuse a situation that they are finding stressful.

If your dog turns their head and averts their eyes to the left or right yet the rest of the body remains stationary, this is saying, “I need a break for a minute.” Stop whatever you are doing and wait for your dog to turn their head forward again before continuing.

If your dog turns their head while keeping their eyes focused on a trigger, this communicates a very high level of stress – you’ll see the side of their face and the whites of their eyes. This says, “I need that to stop right now, please!”

When your dog is on alert they might face forward and hold their head high – perhaps they hear or smell something?

When they dip their head very low and sideways, they may be communicating fear and concern.

This is just one example of how important a dog’s body language is. It is a quiet, polite communication but if you notice it, your dog may not have to shout, “please stop!”

You also need to make sure you are reading your dogs language in the context they are in, are they facing a trigger or have they spotted something of interest ie a cat!


Lastly reinforce and always support your dog when they are successful. This will make sure the new behaviors are more desirable to your dog than overreacting. It sounds obvious and its something I explain alot in my 121 training sessions, the simple act of praising your dog is easily overlooked as your focus on the things that went wrong.

Imagine only getting noticed when you make a mistake or do something your human doesn’t like, if those are the only behaviours that consistently get attention you’d keep doing them wouldn’t you?

Make sure you dog has ONE clear marker word like yes or good and USE it. Don’t save it for the times they get the right behaviour and don’t react. Use it EVERY TIME they do something you like even if it isn’t directly related to their reactive behaviour training.

Praise your dog for seeing their trigger and not reacting, praise them for being able to settle down, praise them for doing as you asked and praise them for doing something you liked but didn’t ask for.

In the world according to your dog what gets rewarded or given attention gets repeated,

The more success they have, the more likely they will choose these behaviours in the future. This small change to how you view your dogs behaviour will have a BIG impact on your overall training.

How to Change Your Reactive Dogs Behaviour2
How to Change Your Reactive Dogs Behaviour2


Remember to put these fundamentals into place and action, but don’t save them for ‘training time’ use them in your dogs day to day life. Find those moments you change walking locations, watch your dog to observe body language no matter where you are and above all remember to praise the things you like.

These will set you and your dog off on the right track to helping them overcome reactivity, Remember to seek out professional help when you want to alter you dogs behaviour. You should see out a Rewards Based Trainer or Behaviourist like me.

If you’d like to chat about training and behaviour options for you and your dog, book a free 30 minute call with me and we chat all things dog. CLICK HERE.

Further Reading

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