Your Dog Is Reactive. Do You Know Why?

dog aggression Aug 25, 2020

If you have a dog that barks and lunges on the leash at other dogs, this one is for you.  The first step to finding a solution to help your dog overcome this behaviour is to understand where he is coming from first.  There could be a lot of different reasons why your dog is barking and charging at other dogs.  Here are the most common triggers for dog to dog reactivity or aggression:

Fear

This dog is coming from aa place of insecurity and uncertainty.  His go-to is to become defensive in attempts to preserve himself.

Prey/Predatory

This dog keys mostly on movement.  Other animals are perceived as prey, and the hunting instincts to track, chase, and bite are high.  There's nothing more exciting to this dog than the "thrill of the hunt" so reward only food based training with dogs like these are usually ineffective in treating this type of reactivity.

Overarousal

This type of reactivity is often created from improper socialization.  This type of dog has learned to obsess over play and interactions with other dogs.  The dog switches quickly from excitement, to arousal, to aggression.  Their approach in greeting other dogs is to charge in at them, and their play style is often too rough and overwhelming for most dogs.  Depending on how the other dog reacts, this dog will often switch from play to fighting.  

Barrier Frustration

This dog frustrates very easily, especially when he's already excited or aroused.  Anything holding him back from what he's fixating on causes frustration to build.  As a result, the dog starts barking and lunging in frustration in order to get to his target.  Typical triggers are when the dog is on the leash or behind a barrier like a fence or window.  

Territorial Aggression

Common in most guardian type breeds, this type of dog is keen on guarding his turf against intruders.  This type of dog may bark, charge, and lunge at other dogs or animals within his perceived territory, but can be significantly calmer and more neutral  outside of these boundaries.

Same Sex Aggression

More typical between two intact males or two intact females, this type of aggression is targeted towards members of the same sex.  Intact males and females can exhibit a higher rate of aggression because of the testosterone and estrogen provide an added charge for competition for potential mates, territory, food, and resources.  Fights between these animals can be extremely nasty and difficult to break up.

Dominance Aggression

Contrary to popular belief, this is actually the least common type of aggression in most pet dogs.   A truly dominant dog is often extremely appropriate around all types of dogs.  He is so confident in himself and being able to handle the situation with most dogs that there isn't a need for him to escalate into fighting in most cases.  Most dogs will heed even the most minor warning signals this dog will give as his energy, and the way he carries himself is enough for most dogs to naturally respect his space.  Aggression comes out only if another dog fails to read his body language and ignores his rules, boundaries, and limitations.  These types of dogs can be very dangerous to work with, as they can exhibit these same behaviours towards humans.  Thankfully, in the pet dog world, they are quite uncommon.

Some Important Notes

Each dog is unique and many can exhibit some combination of the types of reactivity mentioned above.  Severity of each type of reactivity varies depending on the dog's genetic make up and training and socialization provided in early puppyhood.

In the next upcoming articles, we're going to explore deeper into each type of reactivity and provide some insight as to how to approach rehabilitation for these dogs.

Do any of these sound like your dog?

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