Is Reacting Really Reactive?

Sierra snarl smallThis past Saturday, I took Bodhi and Sierra for an early morning walk. As we navigated the hills and pathways of our local park, we passed a few regulars. It was encouraging to see how far their dogs had come. There was the woman with two Chihuahua mixes, one of whom used to lunge and snarl each time we passed. Between her good handling skills and my own dogs’ improved behavior, encounters are now much less stressful. Another positive pass-by with a gentleman and his poodle mix, and I was feeling pretty good—that is, until we passed the man with the Akita.

The Akita was on leash, and the pair was headed in our direction. There was plenty of room for us to pass each other on the paved walkway. The man veered toward one side, while Sierra, Bodhi and I kept to the other. Things were going well until Sierra lunged and barked at the dog. Now, I’ve worked long and hard to modify this habit, and for the most part, Sierra’s done very well. So when she erupted, no one was more surprised than me—except, perhaps, the Akita. The dog reacted in kind, and the man instantly gave the dog a hard correction by roughly jerking the choke chain. I cringed as the dog did the same, and I told the man, “You know, it really wasn’t his fault. I’m sorry, but it was actually my dog’s fault.” He mumbled something under his breath about it not being okay that his dog had behaved like that, and continued on his way.

Was it really so wrong for the Akita to react to a dog who was lunging and barking at him? What if a total stranger ran up to you and yelled in your face? Should you be expected to stand there and behave politely? Of course not. And yet some of us hold dogs to the impossible standard of never barking, never lunging, never…being dogs. Our knee-jerk reaction to barking and growling is understandable. It’s jarring, it can be frightening, and it can certainly portend trouble. But those behaviors are also perfectly natural, and in some cases, totally appropriate.

I remember more than a few training appointments over the years where a mother would complain that each time her child entered a room, the dog would slink away. It turned out in all of those cases that the child had been doing something the dog had found unpleasant. Hugging or petting in a less than gentle way was often the issue. Little girls in particular love to hug dogs, while dogs view hugging as restraint. So what’s a dog to do? He could growl a warning, which in dog-ese is perfectly polite, but would likely elicit an, “Oh, no! The dog is growling at my child!” True, growling at a child is cause for alarm, but that’s frequently where the thought process ends. The next step, which is to figure out why it happened, is frequently overlooked. Alternately, the hugged/offended dog could do the least violent thing by simply leaving the area. But active avoidance doesn’t seem to be an acceptable reaction to many people, either, as they want the dog and child to interact.

I’ve also been called in to a number of training appointments where the issue was aggression between two dogs who lived in the home. It was interesting to see the number of cases where it was assumed that one dog was starting the skirmishes when, in fact, it was the other. The first dog would give a hard stare or other signal that went unnoticed by the owners—all they’d see was the second dog reacting, which was interpreted as starting a fight. Again, the dog was simply reacting appropriately, given the situation.

Whether it’s reacting to another dog’s actions or those of a human, dogs use what they’ve got: body language and vocalizations and, sometimes, their teeth. If we can calmly assess a situation where a dog is being “reactive,” we will be much better able to respond appropriately and address the root cause of the dog’s behavior, rather than overreacting ourselves.


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62 Responses to Is Reacting Really Reactive?

  1. You always right the best blogs Nicole!

    In my dog training days, I often noticed the same thing. One dog would instigate the argument and yet the other dog would get blamed. In some cases, it felt as if the dog really was trying to set up the other dog so s/he would get in trouble.

    • Natasha says:

      This is how bullies do it in school! Taunting no one can hear, and the victim gets in trouble for reacting. Ever been in a bar when a man touches a woman under the table and she reacts? “What’s her problem?” Her problem is that victims are supposed to “take it.”

      • felicitatum says:

        That’s anthropomorphizing, very wrong thinking about animals. Dogs are not human, they don’t think that way, they react as dogs, and act as dogs. This is not part of actual dog training. See also Winifred Gibson Strickland’s books, or Konrad Lorenz. Aggressive or dominant dogs will sometimes attack more submissive dogs (I’ve had both), and that’s all there is to it. The aggressive dog has to be taught to behave himself, and the submissive dog should be protected from attacks.

        It is very helpful to have temperament testing done; (veterinarians, animal behaviourists, or police K9 can help) that tells you where your dog is on a range of behaviour, from 1 – 10. Anything 5 or over is not considered to be the right temperament for a family pet. This is something that police K9 units use to test a litter, and pick out the more aggressive dogs for police work. The temperament doesn’t change, and it’s something that people who are getting dogs should consider having done. There are absolutely zero human qualities here, it is all about dominance and submission – each litter has the full range, if there are enough puppies.

      • felicitatum says:

        Also the reason it’s not a good idea to look a strange dog in the eyes – dogs see that as a challenge, and that is how dog fights start. It can also lead to your being attacked or bitten if you stare back at the dog. As soon as your dog engages in it on the leash, he should be disciplined. Period. And walked away from the situation. It’s not complicated. In off leash situations, dogs are less aggressive without a leash because the leash makes them feel trapped in the face of a hostile dog, who might also be on a leash. Off the leash they often just resolve things with play fighting, some roughhousing and so on. On-leash situations are always worse, lots more growling and barking.

  2. Great post. “Why does this dog feel compelled to growl?” is such an important question.

    And if the question is explored we often discover the growling dog is making a polite objection considering how challenging his circumstances are.

    Thanks for a great, thought provoking post.

  3. Karen Fazio says:

    I must agree with you that too many owners and handlers expect dogs to restrain themselves from being dogs and reacting in kind to potential threats. Dogs bark, growl, lunge, whine, dig, run away, bite and do all things dog. To be a really effective trainer we need to be able to explain to owners — with much diplomacy — that their dog is still an animal.

    Often I explain a dog’s reaction in stories that owners can relate to, so they get it. For dogs who don’t enjoy petting from strangers I ask them how they would react if I suddenly began giving them a full body massage (petting) when I walked through their door for the first time, rather than shake their hand (walk, sniff)?

    Or, would they expect to be able to walk up to a wolf, lion or other wild animal and begin touching it? Of course not! While we are a society who has bred and raised most dogs to accept our very weird ways of greeting them — and usually tolerate it without complaint — it doesn’t make it any less inappropriate.

    For the dog who reacted to hysteria, it’s sad that the owner couldn’t chalk it up to reacting in kind, or that since his dog is a social creature would do so automatically. Ironically, if pressed to answer whether he would be proud of his dog for a similar reaction if someone were approaching him with a gun or knife, he’d say yes.

    And so, continues the unrealistic expectations most have of pet dogs. Fabulous article, by the way!

    Your friend, Karen Fazio

  4. Very good point. I agree with Nicole G above… you always have such in-depth, well-thought out posts that never fail to make me think. So thank you!

  5. Sheri Cassens says:

    Wonderful blog. Whew it is difficult to get students to see and reinforce their dog for not reacting in a situation where it would have been normal for the dog to react. For example, a person thinks their dog is friendly and allows their dog to rush into the face of your dog. Oh, quick, move away and have a treat party for not lunging and barking at that rude dog.

  6. Cheryl says:

    I disagree, if I am walking my dogs and another dog starts barking at them, I expect them to simply ignore that dogs behavior and we keep walking. My dogs don’t need to escalate their own or the other dogs excited or dominant state of mind. Since you used the analogy of people’s reactions, this is true for people too…keeping a level head when in the midst of upset people, or dogs, can prevent an attack and fight from ensuing. When I watch my dogs, when one is being too pushy, the other will stand still, neither reacting nor shrinking away, until the other dog backs off and settles down. Then they go on about their business. That is the reaction of a balanced dog, and balance is what I try to nurture in myself and my dogs.

    • wildewmn says:

      Cheryl, I don’t think we’re in disagreement. When walking your dog, if another dog starts barking, the ideal situation would be for your dog to ignore the dog, and perhaps look to you for direction. I’m not suggesting that a dog *should* be reactive to another dog’s reactivity, but that if it happens, it’s not cause to punish that dog, as in the way the man harshly jerked the Akita. Having a non-reactive temperament, whether canine or human, is certainly commendable and helpful in avoiding conflict. But in many situations (not the leash-walking scenario you described), reacting is completely understandable, which is the point of the post.

      • Canis Major says:

        I like your reply post. It seems a lot of people mis-use the choker collar. Too often this jerking causes the dog to develop more neck muscles and results in sore necks. Perhaps this man could benefit his dog by using another training device along with the choke chain such as a gentle leader or positive reinforcement (treats) so that he can manage this docile and courageous canine.

        Akitas are known for being spontaneous and needs a firm, confident and consistent pack leader at the other end of his leash. I wonder if this particular dog is normally aggressive to other dogs? It is likely that Sierra instantly realized this fact and decided to take charge of the situation. The man over-reacted as he may of had numerous other times when his dog acted inappropriately in similar situations. .

    • I understand where Cheryl is coming from too. I will say Ms. Wilde that your approach is quite nurturing and sensitive to the beast. I love this quality in owners. I find that a different personality requires a different reaction. As I would like not to have to pull my 70 pd. babe back from a situation, I feel committed to protecting myself from being jerked around and coaching him in a consistent way. My big boy is such a free spirit, it breaks my heart to have to direct him in this way and I am sure the general public thinks, “Wow, that seems really harsh!” However no one is there to see what the remainder of the relationship looks like. The public is observing one another in one of the most challenging aspects of the dog to owner relationship… into the wild outdoors with others OH BOY! That being said, my relationship with my beast is one of deep love and compassion and if I allow the behavior to be as it is, without correction I cannot instill the qualities I hope for him. He will always be a free spirit no matter what I do, and I will always be there to make up for the difficult corrections with a kiss on the nose, a kiss on the paw, a massage at the neck and a tug on those velvety chops. Thank you for this post.

  7. Rebekah says:

    I had never thought about it in this way. Thank you.

  8. Angela Cancilla Herschel says:

    I love how this ….so wonderfully written and exactly what I find myself nauseatingly often trying to tell others …always ALWAYS pay attention to the body language and not resort to useless
    “constructs” like mean angry etc….they are a waste of time and often end up being a circular conversation he’s angry ,why ?because he’s mad, why? because etc…and we learn nothing about the real reason for the behavior and without that we cannot change a behavior ( functional analysis) . What we want is to look at the antecedent that happens seconds before the behavior and what happens after that the outcome of the behavior caused.

  9. peacockdar says:

    What should Akita walker have done instead? I like that this is thought-provoking, but I’m pretty clueless as to what to do in that situation. Thank you.

    • wildewmn says:

      Hi peacockdar, in a nutshell, the Akita was over threshold emotionally, so the best thing to do would be to calmly and gently get him out of the situation. Again, the dog didn’t do anything “wrong,” but it would be better if the man could divert the dog to doing something else. So he might work on teaching skills like attention (to make eye contact when his name is called), targeting (touch your nose to my hand), an emergency walk-away, and more.

  10. Dee says:

    Thank you so much for your blog. I always read it and I always learn so much! I’m really interested to know how you responded to Sierra. Did Bodhi add to the mix when Sierra started with the Akita? The Akita correction does seem excessive. I run into a lot of male trainers who treat every dog no matter the breed or temperment with the same harsh commands and physical correction. I’ve observed that dogs, even within the same breed (my specialty is the Korean Jindo), will respond differently. I have a “soft” Jindo now who only needs a mild spoken or hand signal correction, very little leash correction but my first Jindo needed a bit more assertive direction. I first noticed this when I used to train German Sheps. Makes me think there’s another potential blog entry: knowing how to customize training to a dog’s temperment. Thanks again.

    • wildewmn says:

      Hi Dee, thanks for your comment. Bodhi wasn’t with me that morning. Sierra is a bit soft like your Jindo, and I did give her a verbal interruptor and then lead her calmly away. We didn’t work on passing other dogs for the rest of that walk, as I figured her stress levels were already too high. But I have doubled down on practicing the things we’ve been working on. Regarding your suggestion about customizing training to a dog’s temperament, I did touch on an aspect of it in my blog entry “Do Some Dogs Need a Heavier Hand?”(well, it talks about what they *don’t* need):

      • Dee says:

        Thanks so much for the reply! I do the same thing w/my Jindo so it’s good to know I’m on a good track for him. I recall the “heavier hand” blog. Obviously I need to go back and read it again! I really appreciate what you do. Warmest regards, Dee.

  11. We all hold our own dogs to a certain standard. I am just as guilty as the man who said that it wasn’t ok for his dog to react like that. I have a therapy dog, how dare my dog bark at another dog!

    We do forget that they are just … DOGS.

    However, we also don’t know what may set a dog off. As much as we claim to “speak dog” we don’t understand all the body language, and how it is read BETWEEN DOGS. We know, or at least hope to know, what our own dogs body language says, but we don’t know others or how our dog will necessarily read it.

    [ Side note: I LOATHE choke collars, especially the spiked ones. When I see them I try so hard, and don’t always succeed, not to tell the owner to put it on their neck and pull just the slightest bit, to see how they like them. /rant off ]

  12. Shirley R Graceya says:

    I agree… many times we humans never allow a dog to be what it was born to be, a dog! We try to control it and bring to in line with the way think they should behave.That’s sad actually. Very nice article. Kudos! 🙂

  13. Midwestern Plant Girl says:

    Great read!
    Congrats on getting pressed!!

  14. hmmm awesome dog

  15. Interesting. I have a male Siberian Husky — not neutered — and it seems like some dogs just want to tear into him. He’s a sheep in wolf’s clothing, wanting more to play than attack. Many tell me it’s because he’s not neutered, but this aggression from other dogs often occurs from across the street. My male ego tells me it’s because he looks threatening and like their wild ancestors that the other dogs feel fear and, as a result, show that fear via aggression. Perhaps your dog was feeling threatened by the Akita. He often looks at me afterwards like, “What’s his/her problem, all I want to do is play.” In fact, the other day when I was walking him, a woman walking a beagle who barked uncontrollably told me her dog hates huskies.
    Regarding the dog and the child, I had a cat who would do the same thing after my daughter was born. He was a tabby — neutered — who was independent, and played more like a dog than a cat. However, when my daughter (as an infant and toddler) was around, he would disappear. It’s almost as if he were saying he did not want to put himself in a situation where he would react instinctively and scratch my daughter. He got closer to her when she grew out of the toddler stage.
    Congratulations on hitting the big time.

    • Scarlett says:

      Dogs, even from across a street, will react to an unaltered male dog. I highly suggest getting him neutered, as eventually, many unneutered males develop dog-aggression later in life because they start to associate all dogs with the dogs that react to him being unaltered. I see this in my line of work every day, and it really is the best thing you can do for your dog!

      • wildewmn says:

        Scarlett, that is a great point about unaltered male dogs. My dog Sierra however is a female. I don’t honestly know whether the Akita was neutered.

  16. mymess says:

    i’m still scared of dogs…

  17. Sunith says:

    Thanks for the article from the pet’s view. It reminded me of my dog, a pet for 13 years…

  18. Great post, and an important reminder for us to let our dogs be dogs and do what nature dictates. Discipline and obedience are important, but dogs need to be allowed to do what is within their normal range of behavior. I see our goal as dog owners to find a balance which fosters good behavior and supports a positive, respectful relationship between the dog and its owner. Cheers!

  19. I won’t take my dog anywhere that I feel his training will not be effective. I have a dog going on 16 that has been off the property once – we have a farm and he gets lots of socializing- but I do not feel it necessary to train him to deal with off property conditions. My two year old “double doodle” runs with me and has been good so far but we mainly run on woods trails where we encounter no other humans or dogs. Both dogs have never been tied and the older never leashed. They stay on property because I spend a lot of time with them and they like what I do. I will not make them deal with situations I have not prepared them for and if something unforeseen happens,I can’t really punish them for something that is my fault.

  20. I have little dogs, and they love our two big dogs. The one lab, who died last year, did not like the male yorkie, but he didn’t pick up that vibe. When the german shorthair came into our life (he showed up really skinny), he was excited about our pups but the male yorkie doesn’t like him! They are such funny creatures, and thankfully we’ve had no issues. Great post!

  21. indiajones says:

    Great post, especially for dog-owners like me, over close to four years now. Someone in a comment earlier, said we are “anthromorphizing”,, which I think is slightly off the mark. What I learnt from my dog, is that it picks up the cues of human habit, primarily from the person around whom it builds up its existence ( and as someone said long before we came on this planet, man is a creature of habit ).
    Pavlov experimented with dogs, and his most famous one is that of the dog salivating at the sound of a bell, which triggered off its desire for a meal. I think Pavlov forget that he himself was human, and the link with canines that existed from as far as memory goes. It should contrast, for example, with BF Skinner’s experiments with rats, which he called “operant conditioning”.
    Never occurred to me to recall Pavlov and Skinner in one go, till I read you post ! May the Grace of the Lord be on your dog…and oh, you too !

  22. Jane Meadows says:

    I love the name Akita. In my language(ibo) dogs are actually called Nkita. Great post.

  23. fangboner1 says:

    Our response to our daughter with both our cats and dogs is to watch their reaction and growling hissing are their way of saying enough. If you don’t listen….then what results is their natural reaction. Let dogs be dogs and even cats be cats but also learn enough about them to know what is their way of communicating.

  24. shunlake says:

    My dog ran away everytime when my girl wants to hug him, I guess I have to appreciate that he chose an evasive way to deal with it instead.

  25. Kim says:

    Dominance theory is a myth, and nothing more than that. I’ve worked with a trainer both as student and assistant for years helping fearful dogs (most are not truly aggressive and dominance has nothing to do with it).

  26. Kim says:

    Good article!!

  27. Lena J. Loves says:

    Just decided to drop a reply, so here goes.

    I feel that its acceptable for the owner to stop his dog when his akita reacted to sierra because in my understanding (I know next to nothing about dog training) dogs are not like humans who can tell the difference between acceptable and unacceptable reason to react. Therefore, as an owner, I will just stop him whether its reasonable or unreasonable, to give him the general idea that he should not react in that way no matter what, just in case one day it leads to injury. Too bad we can’t explain logic and make sense to a dog! I guess this is why a lot of dogs are misunderstood too.

    Great post! 🙂

  28. Melissa says:

    Really good points! A couple of years ago, I was just like the man with the Akita. I bought into the whole dominance/leash correction thing. I have since discovered and completely revised my methods. If I were the Akita’s owner now, I would realize that my dog’s reaction was understandable, but also a sign that maybe I should put some work into desensitizing him to surprise bark attacks. I’m a dog walker and I often walk 7 or 8 dogs at a time (mostly regulars that I have been walking for ages). These kinds of surprises happen a lot, and if all 8 dogs reacted the way this man’s Akita did, I would be dragged down the road on a daily basis. Instead, I practice getting all of the dogs to pay attention to me and ignore the crazy dog behind the fence less than 2 feet away, or tethered on a front lawn, or inside a house with a slightly open window. Many of the areas I walk in have no front property, just sidewalk and then house. So I definitely agree that people often over-react and blame the wrong dog in many situations, but I don’t think the Akita’s owner had unreasonably high expectations for his dog. He just needs to change his methods and work on desensitizing his dog in a positive and fun way.

    • wildewmn says:

      Thanks Melissa for your thoughtful response. I think you said it best in your last two sentences. That is exactly what I was getting at as well. 🙂

    • Jennifer says:

      That’s quite a jump and assumption in the way someone trains a dog. You don’t know from one single collar-leash correction that someone believes in dominance theories. You also don’t know that he wasn’t correcting his dog for breaking “heel,” as would be appropriate if he lunged or came out of position at all.

      All you can really say is that they were correcting unwanted behavior, and in the context of their training program that might be appropriate. The dogs reaction being “understandable” doesn’t mean you should not correct it, and then make a mental note to work on that scenario in future training sessions if they are not already doing so.

  29. joshiphotoeye says:

    its good one(post). generally they(dogs or ny other animal) do like this only when then they feel littl-bit insecurity in their surrounding.

  30. Good article. We find that so familiar in the area where we walk our dog. Some owners just don’t get it. Still our mutt doesn’t react unless attacked and then she’s happy to sort out anything that is stupid enough to cross her. (with our blessing) too.

  31. Helen Flora says:

    I totally agree with the dog’s reaction to being overly hugged by a child. My granddaughter was overly excited around my dog Nala, and now she hides when my granddaughter comes over for a visit. I never took it as bad behavior, but assumed it was due to her getting old, but did noticed the loud excitement children tend to display can be unpleasant to a dog or cat who are not use to the activity or noise levels on a daily basis, tend to shy away from it, so I give Nala her distance she needs when the visits occur. It is out of respect for the member of my household, 🙂

  32. Lori says:

    IMO a trained dog, should look to the handler and ignore the barking and lunging… I don’t care what is happening.. I need my dog ignore the situation.. My relationship is such that I expect him to TRUST that I won’t let anything bad happen to him!! That is what a trained dog does IMO (especially mine)… When we encounter a reactive, barking dog.. If my boy could sigh and roll his eyes.. he would… LOL…

  33. Jennifer says:

    If you don’t know how the Akita was trained or what his foundation is, or what his history is, you don’t know if the handling was wrong. If the dog is trained, a leash-collar correction for inappropriate behavior would be normal. It’s not “OK” for a *trained* dog to react to another dog, particularly when no contact was made. A dog with no training is another story, because he not only doesn’t know expectations, but doesn’t understand a correction in the context of obedience and behavior.

    Was your dog corrected for the behavior? Do you not use choke chains, or do you prefer a different type of collar?

  34. philospher77 says:

    I am constantly working on this with my rat terrier. As I put it, she doesn’t start things, but she will react if the other dog does. While I find it understandable (when you are a 9 pound dog, the world can be a scary place and a good bluster can back a dog down), it can be frustrating sometimes, because she is small enough to be seriously injured if things escalate. I do a lot of redirecting and focussing, but sometimes the best I can do is collect my dog and get her out of the situation.

  35. Linda says:

    Good post, good thinking. Of course I didn’t see the Akita meeting, but in some situations I’ve noticed that dogs are forced into threatening postures when their humans pull up on the leashes. The dogs then look as if they are acting aggressive, when it is the human’s tension on the leash, not the dog’s idea.(dog up on tippy toes, head pulled up high. The dog physically cannot keep a “level head” even if he wants to do so.
    .Imagine if someone had hold of our leash, but our leash was attached to our middle finger, and then they would pull the leash up when we met other humans.
    Once I saw a sweet lab puppy approach a stern, smaller but older Lhasa. The Lhasa was giving the approaching, leashed puppy the eye. The pup’s owner keep the leash short, preventing the puppy from groveling, so the puppy held her legs out to the side, in essence lying down, even while up in the air, doing her best to show submission. .

    I sometimes suggest that the human step on the middle of the leash, while still holding the end of the leash, when another dog approaches. This way the direction of pull is down,and her dog isn’t forced into a position that could be misread.

  36. girlcaptain says:

    This is a very thought provoking post, thank you. I have two cairn terriers and I am not a trainer, just always looking for answers about how to best treat these kinds of situations. My cairns are…well, high alert dogs, and although they are small, they are both very muscular and strong with low centers of gravity and also very explosive in their reactions, which is certainly partly due to their nature- ground hunting dogs who bark a LOT. I often avoid walking them together because of the pack dynamic, but have always wished I could manage their reactions to other dogs better. I find that my mental state makes a lot of difference in how quickly they calm down, but I can’t seem to avoid reactions altogether.

    I think I understand how the Akita owner felt, and I feel for him and the dog. Your post is very good advice, because sometimes we as humans react just as dramatically as our dogs. It is good practice to try to stay calm and remember that a reactive leashed dog is not the end of the world and that the dog benefits most from our calm and loving guidance.

  37. In the instance where the dog reacts to a child by leaving the room, I’d say that optimal. We’re learning right now that “correcting” (punishing) a growl could lead to merely suppressing the behavior, but not the discomfort/(or underlying aggression). I wonder if the dog just leaving the room may sort of short circuit that possibility. At least the dog is ALREADY choosing a non-confrontational solution. (Obviously, correcting whatever the child is doing to piss the dog off in the first place would be best. lol)

  38. Pat F. says:

    The issue of little girls in particular wanting to hug their pets particularly resonated with me. When I was a child, we had first a lordly Irish Setter, who did not particularly like my touching him; and then acquired a young female Basset. She was more gentle; and I often petted her and hugged her. Sometimes, while I was hugging her, she would emit a low growl. I would always desist the hugging; and I was always grateful that she would warn me with a growl rather than a snap. My parents never blamed the dog; they just told me not to hug her so hard or so often. My mother’s credo was always ‘Let the dog come to you’. That Basset was a very good dog, though; everyone loved her. She never hurt any human or any other dog.

  39. nivaladiva says:

    Great post and I agree, sometimes it’s okay for a dog to be a dog. I have a 1 year old pit mix, very lovable, calm, happy and super socialized dog. She has been going to doggie daycare and the dog park all her life. She almost never shows signs of aggression. I say “almost never” because the other day at the dog park she was being repeatedly humped by several male dogs (around the water bowl area). Their owners weren’t responding fast enough, so I pulled the males off myself. After several more attempts, my dog finally growled and snapped at the males herself – and I didn’t correct her. She didn’t make physical contact or go after them, but she made it clear that she was not having it. When one of the dogs growled back, we immediately walked away.

    I think it’s important to know your dog and protect him/her as much as possible. It’s also important to be aware of and respect their protective instincts.

  40. Meagan says:

    One of the commenters here mentioned something about training geared to a specific breed of dog. I accidentally discovered a technique that works with my welsh corgi. He has a tendency to bark at dogs who bark at him first. One day I simply stepped forward and stopped at his shoulder. I wasn’t blocking his view of the other dog, nor was my body touching his. I didn’t speak. I was calm and didn’t use any other movements (no leash tugging, no touching, no eye contact) and he immediately stopped barking, turned back to what he was sniffing before the other dog walked past…and then trotted forward as usual. I was astonished. I have since repeated the action and it works each and every time. He has natural herding instincts and uses his shoulders to move me when we play together as well as other dogs. When they use their front paws to play he uses his shoulder and does a lot of side “bumping” . I am wondering if my stepping up next to his shoulder, not blocking his view of the other dog and not even touching him, is somehow a herding communication? (Not sure if I am wording this in a way that makes sense, lol!) Anyway…just thought I’d throw that out there and see if anyone else has noticed that by mimicking a behavior of their breed of dog they have had any positive results as well.

  41. heartsdeception says:

    Every day is a choice to react inappropriately to other dogs passing by. Sometimes it just comes as instinct. I of allpeople have lunged at others, when I shouldn’t have. Reading another’s post and seeing another’s point of view is great. It opens the doorway to a path not seen before (if that makes sense) thank you all and I appologize for any and all rudeness I have portrayed

  42. philospher77 says:

    On a recent walk, I was reminded of WHY dogs can be reactive. I had my rat terrier, Pixie, on leash, and we were walking down a popular jogging/bike path that goes along a powerline easement. There was someone with an off-leash golden retriever out in the easement, and that dog took one look at Pixie and came charging over. Pixie has been attacked by a golden before, and not in a “play fighting” way, so she went into full terrier bluster mode, lunging and barking at the end of the leash. And the golden did an abrupt right-angle turn and screeching halt when it was about 3 feet away from her, which allowed the owner to catch up to it and get it back under control. It was a beautiful example of using threatening body language to get distance. Not something I want Pixie to practice, but better than her getting into a fight with a dog much larger than her, especially when the leash is restricting her movement. Thankfully she does calm down pretty fast, although something like that will make her more on edge for a while (usually it makes her much snortier than usual, like she’s muttering under her breath). Just something to think about.

  43. Abiectius says:

    I’d like to address a couple points in the original article and the comments, which can be summarized by pointing out that people seem to forget that we’re animals too.

    For one, we also have reactions. I know I’ll often react almost instinctively to a potential threat situation too because it’s pretty well ingrained in me just how badly an accusation of “vicious dog” can be, with or without proof, and I don’t want to gamble on whether that person with the other dog is rational or not. It might not always be the ideal reaction for training purposes, but it might be one that saves my dog from false accusations and premature euthanasia. As it turns out though, my instinct to step between the strange dog and mine has the unexpected benefit of making the other dog rethink its aggression more often than not.

    The bigger point I want to make is about the sheer number of confident statements in both the comments above and the original article about how dogs do or don’t think. Anthropomorphism can be a useful shorthand for describing behaviors and responses, so I don’t have a problem with it used in that fashion. But just as we can’t say that a dog thinks in a way similar to us, it’s just as faulty to say he doesn’t. In short, none of us really know for certain what a dog’s life experience is, all we can do is make our best guesses. Do dogs view hugs as restraint? Some may show aversion to that kind of contact, but I can’t tell you with any certainty their thought process, though I can come up with some plausible explanations. I can also name some dogs (and horses) I’ve known who react very positively to hugs. And what about anthropomorphizing? Do dogs think in any way similarly to humans? Maybe they do, maybe not, once again I can’t say for certain. I’m not going to deny the possibility though.

    Unfortunately it’s this certainty people have that they know how animals think that contributes to conflict when two people are absolutely sure they’re right in their very different interpretations of the same behavior, and the one who really does know is the only one not talking about it.

  44. Anyway, something I wanted to address in my blog was actually the difference between “aggression” and “reactivity”. Great post though ^_^

  45. Love this, so many people treat their dogs as people and not as dogs. They have no idea how to communicate with their canine companion nor fulfill their dog’s wants and desires. Poor Akita, if someone came up and screamed in my face better bet I’d be screaming back.

  46. kldawson says:

    Feliciatatum or whatever,

    Dogs and men do often act the same way to basic stresses. Men are animals as well and not as separate as you seem to think. Approach an animal and the fear/flight/anger/fight impulses and very nearly the same psychologically. Dogs especially, basically a man created creature, act very much like the people they live with and learn from.

  47. M says:

    I think it’s great someone on the internet is thinking outside the box and not just rehashing what is already out there about dog reactivity. Humans like to think they are experts in other species, but we’re barely experts in out own species let alone another one. I have a husky/shepherd who is reactive. She has made alot of progress since I got her as a stray with walking on a leash (something that was new to her). It took many months but she walks beside me, no longer chases bunnies, squirrels, cats or deer when asked to leave it. But a dog will still set her off. She so desperately wants to meet them. But since I didn’t want to reward the pulling when I got her, it just started a downward spiral, of pulling, and frustration that she can’t get to them. So the pulling turned to pulling + barking + lunging. And it is especially bad if the other dog is also pulling and trying to get to her. If I just let them meet, she’ll sniff and try to play and more easily walk on. The other day, just that happened, only I didn’t let them meet. A passerby walks over and says “someone wants a fight” and I replied, she just wants to play. Passerby says “That’s not always what that means and maybe you should socialize her more”. I replied “well she goes to daycare 3-5 days a week all day, do you think that’s enough?” And he just walked away. It is so frustrating when people pass judgement and worse, offer up advice, when they have no idea anything about your dog or where you are in training or what your goals are. That being said, my dog will definitely also react in a more aggressive way (I can definitely tell the difference between the 2 types of reactions in her) when a dog we are passing is staring, or growling, and especially the rude little barky dogs (that many owners seem to think is cute). And I’ve always thought it seemed like a fair reaction. But because she is a bigger dog, it seems that people tend to think you should be the one with the control over your dog (cause that makes sense??!). This was a long rant, to say that I agree we put too many expectations on our dogs (that live in town). I grew up in the country and nobody ever expected our dogs to get along instantly with strange dogs. But in town it just seems there are different expectations. Maybe one day the behaviour will be more understood. In the meantime what is probably a “normal” behaviour in some dogs, certainly is making some trainers alot of money trying to fix it.

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