I Have A Reactive Dog

Avery laying in the sunAvery is on-leash-reactive.  He can be reactive to dogs, sometimes people if they catch him off guard, and reactive to new things like fabric blowing in the breeze.

On-leash-reactive means that when the dog is leashed, it may bark, growl, lung, or even whine at some sort of stimulus.

That stimulus can be anything from another dog to men in hats to a trash bag. Literally anything.

While the behavior might look mean or aggressive, that is not always the case.

Avery is not an aggressive dog.

He is not aggressive towards people, he loves meeting people.

He is not aggressive towards dogs, he loves meeting dogs.

There’s a big misconception out there about reactive dogs.  Most people assume that a dog who is reacting to something by growling and pulling on their leash is aggressive.

While it can look that way, the two do not go hand-in-hand.

Some dogs who are aggressive are also reactive while on leash.  But not all dogs who are reactive while on leash are aggressive.

My dog is reactive because he loves dogs and people so much that he immediately wants to go see them.  His previous owner probably let him.  He was a stray for a while and had the ability to do whatever he wanted, whenever he wanted to.  Now all of the sudden I’m telling him he can’t AND he’s being restrained by the leash.

This leads to frustration which leads to reaction.

Again, reaction doesn’t mean aggression.  Reaction is a response to a stimulus.

Part of the reason I started this blog was to discuss training with Avery and how we are dealing with some of his issues.  One of the main things we are working on is his on-leash-reactivity towards things.

We are doing this by exposing him to a lot of new to him situations and helping him understand that life occurs around us at all times.  And that life includes many things like dogs, and bikes, and people.

We are actively training him on every single walk we take.  Through constant training we are at a point where sometimes Avery reacts and sometimes he does not.  This is a very positive step!  It takes a while to get there though and we are working at it every day.

I bring this up because having a reactive dog means that I get a lot of disgusted glances from strangers when Avery is reacting to something.  A lot of unpleasant looks and sometimes mutterings of “train your dog” and “that dog is mean”.

I am training my dog.

And my dog has made great improvements because of it.

In order for Avery to learn his manners, we have to do things like go to the park and go shopping.  We need to be where the action is because the more we expose him to those situations, the more comfortable he becomes as he realizes this is just normal everyday life.

Avery is a rescue.  He came to us with these issues and it’s up to Scott and I to help him through it and learn to have manners.  Manners that he was never taught before.

We are doing as much as we can to help him.

By sharing my experience with owning a reactive dog, I hope to create more awareness and tolerance about reactive dogs.

So the next time you are out and you encounter someone with a dog who is having a reaction to something, don’t judge or condemn that person and their dog.  Instead take a moment to consider the situation. Perhaps, that person is just like me, having adopted a rescue who needs love, patience, guidance, and support.

For more information about dog reactivity, check out Paws Abilities post!


  1. Thank you so much for today’s post. I know exactly what your going through. Thanks for reminding me we have made progress and tons of it. I also know each dog is different and some take longer than others. We have been struggling with the leash thing for nearly two years now. We two get the dirty looks and have even been told, “that dog should be put down”. We live in a senior village so not exactly the most understanding people. Our Phoebe has never bit or hurt any one or anything fiscally, just makes a lot of noise when afraid .

    • Hi Michele! Thanks so much for stopping by! Leash reactivity is definitely a struggle and it can be made harder when people don’t understand where you’re coming from. Congrats on making progress with Phoebe! It definitely takes time but is so worth it.

  2. Maggie is leash reactive too but really only to other dogs and squirrels she sees on walks. It’s so tough and we understand how difficult it can be. Especially when you just want to yell to the person staring at you, “I SWEAR, HE’S SUPER FRIENDLY!!!!” People who have never had a reactive dog tend to not understand how difficult it is. We get it!! Good for you for working with Avery! I hope to hear about some great progress.

    • Pocket Pittie, Thanks so much for your support and for stopping by! And yes that’s exactly what I want to say to folks when I get the side-eye. Having a reactive dog is a whole other world of dog ownership for sure!

  3. I found this post really illuminating. To be honest, when I encounter a reactive dog I usually just laugh it off and make a crack about them wanting to eat my little one. Not that I actually think that’s what they want to do but I’m not really sure what to think.

    I learned something today. And I can’t imagine how difficult it must be to have a reactive dog. But I’ve no doubt that with all of your hard work, Avery will soon surpass all his issues!

    • Hi TG! I’m really glad that you enjoyed this post and I hope that I can start sharing more about my experience with owning a reactive dog. I want to show them in a positive light because reactive dogs needs all the support we can give them.

  4. Great job speaking out on this! While we don’t have an issue with leash reactivity, we do have challenges with our Lab – every bit of awareness that gets out there about any dog issue is helpful!

    • Hi Danielle, Thanks for your support and for stopping by! All of our dogs definitely present us challenges in life and provide us with learning experiences. I hope to be able to share Avery’s journey and shed some light on what it’s like having a reactive dog. :)

  5. We have TWO reactive dogs, lol and they are a handful, but we’re getting there slowly but surely. Our rescue has come a loooong way. When we first adopted him he couldn’t be within 20 feet of people without violently reacting, now he can handle short interactions and even has some favorite people (other than us) who he will cuddle with forever. I can totally relate to the guilt/shame/annoyance, especially when out in public. Thanks for speaking out!

    • Hi Aimee, Thanks for stopping by! Wow two reactive dogs, you definitely have your hands full! Congrats for all the hard work you do training with your pups and hooray for your rescue and his progress!

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