Is A Reactive Dog Just A Naughty Dog?
June 05, 2022
Reactive Dog Walking
Erick helping Frankie with Confidence
Erick helping Frankie with Confidence

He knows he is supposed to behave, he just doesn’t.

He chooses not to listen and barks like crazy

I’ve heard those statements and variations of them over the years, the shocking truth is a dog who is reacting isn’t being naughty. Through barking, lunging, and growling they are actually telling you their owner some very valuable information. You aren’t listening to them.

Reactive Dog Trainer Edinburgh


So what exactly is reactivity?

The dictionary definition of “react” is “to respond to a stimulus in a particular manner”, which I know is pretty vague but it doesn’t say that reacting is bad thing. Every animal and person for that matter, reacts sometimes!

When I talk about “reactive” dogs I am talking about an over-reaction – the dog responds to something with more intensity than I’d expect in the situation. Instead of being indifferent to the dog in the street or the unknown visitor they OVER REACT.

Context is key as not every growl or bark is considered to be an over-reaction. Growling or barking at another dog from a few hundred feet away is an over-reaction. Growling if another dog jumps on their back is not an over reaction!

So for me I define reactivity as “over-reacting to a dog, human or something else in the environment by barking, lunging, growling or otherwise responding with higher than expected intensity”.  For some dogs their over-reaction this might also include “flight” so backing off and freezing as a response.

The key thing to remember is your dog is not being naughty or disobedient.

Your dog is not being difficult.

Your dog is just responding in a way that works for them, in that moment.

Our job as owners and trainers of reactive dogs to show them they can respond their trigger in a different way and help them avoid over reacting.

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Why does your dog over-react when another dog doesn’t?

Over-reaction is usually driven by an emotional response to a trigger in their environment. Your dog may be frightened, frustrated or over-excited (and sometimes it is hard to tell the difference). Even if you are not sure exactly how your dog is feeling we can still help them.

We ALWAYS need to remember that our dog is FEELING something and we need to change that feeling as well as how they dog behaves.

Over-reaction can develop because of a single traumatic event. A dog’s brain stores traumatic memories in a way that makes them quicker to recall, each time they are presented with the same or similar events.

It can also happen if your dog has repeated bad experiences. Maybe they were fine after the first time another dog had a go at them, but when it happens two or three times more, they start to react to all dogs.


Pain and discomfort should always be checked when reactivity is going on for your dog. Think about it when you are sore or uncomfortable, your behaviour/mood changes right? You are more sensitive to other people or more grumpy or less patient than usual?  You might feel protective of yourself and not want to risk anyone brushing against the part of you that is sore.  Our dogs are no different!

So make sure you get your dog checked thoroughly for pain and illness, especially if you see a sudden change in them.  Assessing how your dog moves and their postures in their relaxed state can highlight potential areas of pain or discomfort. Find out more HERE.

Genetics are another factor. There are studies actually found out that a fear of specific thing can be passed down through several generations. Your dog might react to something because their mum or their grandparent did!

Well we can’t change this but it takes away the guilt of thinking you must have done something wrong for your dog to be reactive.

We should also remember that sometimes we are NEVER able to pinpoint a specific incident or cause.  Even when your dog has been raised just like your previous dogs and none of them were over reactive. The good news is you don’t need to know the cause to be able to change your dog’s reaction. If you’d like 121 help with your reactive dog, book a free call with me.


Just a wee word to say that if you only suppress the over reaction from your dog instead of addressing the emotion they are feeling you will NEVER help them get passed the fear or worry.

For example using a E-collar on your dog when they start to react to a dog, means that while yes they learn not to bark at the dog, you actually haven’t addressed the emotions behind the reaction.

Then what happens when you forget to put the collar on? Or you’ve reached the highest setting because your dog has adapted to each previous level? Or what happens when he finds himself surrounded by dogs? HE WILL REACT and no amount of buzzing will stop him.

Also there is the potential for redirection. Think about it, if your dog has been prevented from expressing his fear, he could turn that energy and fear into a bite. If you’re the one next to him then you’re the one he will bite.

Dog Training Edinburgh award-winning trainer

To help a reactive dog you have deal with the emotions the dog is experiencing as well as your emotions.

If you’d like 121 help with your reactive dog, Head to my Online course Reactive to Calm.

Further Reading

How to Change Your Reactive Dogs Behaviour

How to Change Your Reactive Dogs Behaviour

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...

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How To Help Your Reactive Dog

How To Help Your Reactive Dog

Reactive Dog Training Edinburgh Tips To Help Your Dog Living and working in Leith, Edinburgh is hard work when you have a reactive and anxious dog, I should know I live with my own barking lunctic Ally in the heart of Leith. Ally is a 3 year old, Old English Sheepdog...

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Dynamic Dog Case Study: Brodie

Dynamic Dog Case Study: Brodie

The problem isn't always straight forward, check out Brodie's Red Herrings. Brodie is a very handsome and playful Old English Sheepdog, his owners reached out to me over problems they were having, with Brodie growling and barking towards his family in the home, at...

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