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What is a Reactive Dog?

If you had a dog before you had children, you likely pictured a future filled with family hikes, car rides and endless snuggles between the canine and human “siblings”. However, for many families, reality isn’t always so picture-perfect.

Perhaps your dog wakes the baby by barking when pedestrians walk by your house. Maybe you’ve resorted to waking up at 4:00 am to avoid seeing other dogs on your morning walks before school. Or, perhaps your dog has a bite history and you now find yourself living in a constant state of hypervigilance in your own home.

It’s completely natural to grieve the life you pictured for your dog and kids, but progress is possible. When a dog feels threatened, they have three options: fight, flight or freeze. We tend to perceive dogs who freeze or flee as “fearful” dogs, and those who choose to fight as “reactive” or “aggressive”. However, both reactions are often triggered by the same emotion.

A professional dog trainer will provide your dog with positive, research-based methods to give them the emotional tools they need to handle fearful situations, while also helping you to accept your dog as they are and to understand their perspective. Keep in mind that the dog training industry is almost entirely unregulated, but a reputable dog trainer will train with rewards, use humane and science-based methods, and will make training fun for you and your dog. They will not use punishment, dominance, pain or fear.

However, training alone may not be the answer. Just like humans, medication can be used to relieve canine anxiety. Sometimes this means a small dose before a stressful event, and sometimes it can mean an ongoing prescription. Regardless, it’s important to remember that fear is a health issue. Medication is not failure, it is treatment. Your veterinarian will work alongside your trainer to support you and your dog in their recovery. Sometimes, anxiety and aggression can be a sign of underlying physical pain as well, so a veterinarian’s examination is often the best place to start.

Growing up with a dog is one of life’s greatest gifts. However, if you’re struggling to integrate your dog into family life, remember that support is available… for both ends of the leash.


Dr. I. Wonder is here to answer your questions regarding your furry family members. If you have a question, email it to us at danielle@NeighbourhoodPetClinic.com. Our team at Neighbourhood Pet Clinic will tap into their collective experience to answer your various questions.


Questions? Comments? Contact us today!

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