What Is Reactivity in Dogs

You’re walking down the street, your pup is on leash and all is calm. It’s actually quite a nice walk. The weather is perfect. Your pup is staying close, sniffing as you walk, with a nice loose leash.

Then out in front of you, some distance away, another dog and its owner appear. You remain calm. Your pup is good with other dogs. There’s nothing to be worried about.

But suddenly, as you get closer and the distance decreases, your pup starts pulling on leash, barking and acting like something has completely changed in your pup’s mind.You’re at a loss and wondering what happened? What changed?

In fact, the entire situation for your pup has changed. Your pup is overreacting to a situation that was otherwise calm just a few minutes ago. Your pup is no longer calm, no longer happy, no longer enjoying their walk. They are truly uncomfortable and now, so are you.

So what is reactivity? 

We hear this term all the time.

“My dog is reactive to other dogs.”

“My dog is reactive to other people.”

“My dog is reactive to people walking by the house.”

And the list goes on.

Understanding reactivity is essential when you want to help your pup through a situation or experience that is highly arousing, frustrating or unsure for your pup.

Reactivity is simply an over-reaction to a stimulus. Something in your dog’s environment has changed and now they are overreacting to it. To you, it seems highly illogical when they are safe from harm and there really is no need for reacting the way they are acting. But this is reactivity. An overreaction to something that would otherwise not bother your pup.

When you start to see that your pup is having an overreaction, we can empathize with them. You can be open to what is happening in their own mind and body that is causing this over-reaction. You can also be open to what is possible as we start to see how we can help them learn that overreacting is no longer required for their safety or comfort.

So how do you help your pup to do this? How do you help them to be calm and confident rather than unsure or frustrated?



When you’re in the situation, when you’re dealing with a pup who is now overreacting to something, it can be quite challenging to bring them back to a state of calmness. They have reached their threshold and are now over the level of comfort and calmness.

Rather than put yourself and your pup in that situation, train for the situation not in it.

How do you do that?

  • Practice calmness at home, where there’s little to no distractions.
  • Practice keeping their attention on you rather than focusing on what is “out there”.
  • Build your bond and your relationship with your pup so they trust you to have their back and know that they are safe when they are with you.
  • Build your pup’s confidence through games and exercises that you do in places where your pup is comfortable and confident.
  • Build their tolerance of frustration by exposing them to games that do just that.

As you help your pup build their confidence, learn calmness, trust in you and your ability to protect them, build their tolerance to frustration and help them to learn that there is no need to overreact, you will have a pup that will learn and now rehearse that overreacting to a situation is no longer necessary. 

They can be calm.

They can be happy.

They can trust in the world around them.

Need some help with the above? Reach out to me and we can discuss what your pup is overreacting to and what could be some strategies that you can apply immediately and longer term to help your pup today and for years to come.


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