Rescue Tails / Two Sides of the Same Dog

By Cathy Baier

Ever feel like your dog has a Jekyll/Hyde personality? In some environments or situations, you enjoy a calm, affectionate companion and in others, you’re living with Cujo from a Stephen King horror flick? Well, let us assure you, you are NOT alone! Professionals have a word for dogs who dramatically bark, lunge, and even bite other animals or people. It’s called reactivity and along with other anxiety issues, it is the number #1 reason people seek help from canine professionals.

Living with a reactive dog is hard—no two ways about it! It can be upsetting, frustrating, embarrassing, stressful, scary, and at times dangerous. It’s also very disappointing because it’s not what most of us sign up for when we bring a dog into our lives. It’s not what our society expects of dogs, making it even harder for the human at the other end of the leash. People trying to navigate this complex world with a reactive dog have their physical and emotional limits tested every day. They deserve compassion not judgement, which, unfortunately, they so often receive. Yes, some people are not as responsible as we would like, but most people are doing the very best they can with the dog they have and the skills, knowledge, and experience they currently possess.

Yes, humans with reactive dogs are struggling, but SO ARE THE DOGS, who are also doing the best they can with the strategies they have learned. Understanding why dogs become reactive and how to help them is something so badly needed since both dogs and humans pay such a high price without this knowledge. Reactivity can be caused by fear, frustration, stress, and/or pain. Often it can be a combination of factors. The environment, which includes everything that contributes to a dog’s sensory experience (sight, sound, smell, and tactile input) affects behavior and too much of anything can lead to an intense behavioral response (i.e., reactivity).

Since reactivity is such a common problem, there is a wealth of quality information available. If you would like to know more, we encourage you to check out:

If you see someone struggling with their reactive dog, please don’t give them the disapproving “stink eye.” Instead, calmly give them and their dog more space.

If you are the one holding the leash on a reactive dog, smile (it can change your neurochemistry which can help your dog), breathe, and provide your dog with more space by moving away from the trigger (other dog, person, car, etc.). This won’t resolve the issue but it will keep everyone safer and prevent the continued practice of the behavior which is a key element in changing it.

If you would like more information on reactivity or to discuss your dog’s behavior, contact our Behavior Helpline at or call(305) 294-4857 for additional help and support. While we can’t offer quick fixes, we can point you in the direction of positive behavior change.

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