How to live with a dog-reactive dog and not lose your shit: An (im)practical guide

Many moons ago when I envisioned owning a dog I dreamed of taking my fictional dog to offleash parks for endless romps, lots of play-dates and generally a lot of problem and stress free dog-dog interactions. Then I got Jersey and this view abruptly changed. Offleash parks are not a part of my life and I honestly don’t even want to know what goes on in them. Every dog-dog greeting is carefully managed and controlled. I meticulously plan my walking routes based on likelihood of running into other dogs and ability to escape. I completely avoid any areas where offleash dogs congregate (meaning any piece of grass in Toronto)  even if it means I am walking next to roaring traffic.Jersey has made some great strides in her behavior around dogs but it is still a work in progress

Jersey says “leash your damn dog”

I won’t lie my life can be more difficult and complicated because of Jersey’s reactivity with other dogs. I have both cried in anger and despair and spent many hours worrying over her. But I would not change it for the world. NEVER. Jersey has forced me to become a  far better dog owner than I would have been otherwise. In my attempts to help Jersey I have been forced to educate myself on not only aggression but dog behavior in general and get involved in training.  To put things in perspective, if not for Jersey I might just be that person with their dog on an endless 100ft flexi lead cruising around the neighborhood and judging everyone with reactive dogs while simultaneously letting my dog get in there dogs grill. Plus I happen to think Jersey is absolutely fabulous.

Jersey get’s serious about dealing with her dog-dog reactivity

I am not going to outline a practical guide on how to deal with your dog’s reactivy as I will leave that up to the expert dog trainers. For that you can check out Grisha Stewart’s “Behavioral Adjustment Therapy”, anything by Jean Donaldson (“Fight” is her one specifically on dog aggression) or Emma Parson’s book “Click to calm”. Oh and it goes without saying that if you find yourself dealing with dog-dog reactivy (or any other serious issue) get yourselves into the hands of a qualified trainer. I am beyond serious. Do it.

What I am going to provide you with are my top ten tips on how to live with a dog-reactive dog and maintain some sanity (mostly through laughter).

How to survive dog-reactive dog ownership and keep your sanity

1.Embrace sunrises. I have experienced countless sunrises and moments of serenity and peace in a busy city by getting up to walk/run Jersey at the crack of dawn before other dog owners awake. If I weren’t for Jersey’s dog rectivity I would be pressing snooze and out dodging all the other 9 to 5’ers walking their dogs pre-work. Wow I should write for hallmark.

2. Pretend you are a ninja. Leaving my apartment is an elaborate operation. Put Jersey behind me. Peer out peep hole. Open door a crack and crane neck to make sure dog next door is contained in the apartment. Emerge. Beat a hasty retreat to building exit. Now a decision on which door to exit by. Peer out front door and make sure french bulldog is not out….etc etc. On my walks I scan for Jersey’s arch enemies the reactive German Shepherd and the staring Akita. I can sense their presence even at a distance and without seeing them. My reflexes and 6th sense are better than ever. I am a dog-aggression-avoiding ninja. All of this is less stressful when you imagine yourself as a stealthy ninja. Try it.

3. Cry but don’t hit. It is not okay to hit your dog for being reactive but it is okay to cry, ask whhhhyyyy and point your hands skyward in the general direction of some type of god. Don’t lie. You have done it.

4.  Laugh at all the awkward moments. The other day I was talking to a gentleman from my neighborhood while out with Jersey. A dog appeared around the corner and I literally just darted away mid sentence without another word to the man. I have not seen this man since.

5. Get used to the smell of liver/your treat of choice. Carry them everywhere you go with your dog.They are your new best friend. Embrace them.There will be emergency situations where these treats will save your ass. Make sure to treat yourself to.Chocolate and alcohol generally do the trick (make sure you wash your hands first though)

6. Find other people with reactive dogs. Get together.Without your reactive rovers of course. RANT about how ridiculous dog owners in your neighborhood are. Laugh. Laugh more. Swap stories on dog reactivity.Reactive dog ownership can be a lonely world find others who understand

7. Think of all the funny places you end up in trying to avoid triggers. I have dove inside a bush, found myself far up somebody’s private driveway practically on their front step, hidden behind a pillar and crouched behind a low wall-all to avoid running into dogs.. Where have you ended up hidding from oncoming canines?

8. Sing to your dog. I have a neighbor with a very reactive dog who screams and spins like a top (the dog not the man).It never stops and I swear he is stalking me because I can never seem to escape him on walks. When I am becoming twitchy and irritated by him I sing a variety of songs to Jersey. The other day I sang “that’s alright..that’s okay..she’s gonna pump your gas someday” through clenched teeth and a forced smile.It helped. Dance parties in the living room are also a great way to unwind from a stressful walk (solo or in partnership with your dog).

9. Love and acceptance. Love your dog  when they progress and love them still when they turn into snarling whiling dervishes. Never ever take any positive dog interactions for granted and savor (and reward) these moments. Accept your dog for who they are and set realistic goals.Jersey will never be a social butterfly but she is learning to make better choices when she see’s dogs on the street rather than lunging or barking.

10. When all else fails=whipped cream. Right out of the can. Repeat again and again as needed.


349 thoughts on “How to live with a dog-reactive dog and not lose your shit: An (im)practical guide

      • I was in the middle of writing a big long response and telling the story of my own dog but then this page refreshed itself, I am not going to type it all again. So I shall keep this short, I have had a reactive dog, he used to badly react to everything AND every1 and animal. I think by u doing what u r doing with ur dog is making the situation worse and I honestly think u r pussyfooting around her and doing her no favours. Dogs need structure and a leader, not some1 that dives behind a wall or hedge every time u see another dog.

      • Every dog is different and you don’t know my situation. I’ll go with the great advise that I follow from qualified pet professionals who know my dog and I and help tailor my strategies and training to suit my urban environment.
        PS: Clearly parts of this are a joke
        PPS: Any good training will tell you that there are trainable situations and other situations such as when someone is approaching you with a dog on a flexi or an offleash dog where you need to get the hell out of dodge and keep your dog calm rather than focusing on training
        PPPS: pffffftt

      • Bullinthecity…if the qualified trained professionals that are helping you are suggesting you avoid situations that upset your dog then you truly need to seek out different qualified trained professionals. With dogs and humans the ONLY way we can get over our fears are by facing them. Whoever is instructing you to help your dog avoid situations that makes it nervous might be qualified and a trained professional but it sounds to me like they are in the wrong profession.

        Bottom line is has your dog seen any improvement in his anxieties. Has any improvement been made at all or is he still fearful? If no improvement is being made then it’s time to change things up. You do know that the definition of insanity is to repeat the same thing yet expect a different outcome don’t you?

        Not trying to be mean here. Just concerned for your dog because living in a anxious state of mind can’t be a good way to live and your dog deserves to be free of that anxious state of mind.

      • As I said you are taking literally a tiny snippet of my dog and a comedic blog post and making a full on diagnosis of what causes the behavior and how to fix it. You are even going as deep into guessing my dogs state of mind. This is impressively inaccurate. Jersey is far from anxious and I’m certainly not hiding her from everything but I will avoid setting her up for failure and impossible situations where she doesn’t have a chance.

        Your not being mean just ignorant. Inaccurately judgmental too of not only my dog but myself and all of the wonderful trainers I have had the privilege of working with. In all seriousness this is the last of your comments I will allow on my blog. I’m not into censorship but I want this to be a supportive place not one which places blame and looks to diagnose and judge. I do not agree with all approaches to treating dog aggression but this is not the place to debate it. Instead this is a place where we can say “hey I get it and understand what your going through” and “your not alone.”


      • PS Bullinthecity…whoever is telling you to run like hell needs to go back to school. Every situation is a new opportunity for you to be in charge. I get approached by off leash dogs all the time when I’m walking my dogs. Sure I feel a bit nervous but I don’t listen to that and simply TAKE CHARGE OF THE SITUATION!!! By taking charge we address the dog that is loose and nine times out of ten the loose dog will listen and obey IF the human is being calm, assertive and firm in their commands to go home or go away.

      • Trying to help.

        If your dog is reactive to other dogs or to anything it is living in an anxious state of mind. Anyone that knows anything about dogs will tell you that IF they truly know dogs.

        Your reaction to our suggestions make it perfectly clear what ‘state of mind’ you are in and explains a lot about why your dog is reactive.

        Good luck to you but more so good luck to your dog…he will need it!

        Take care!

      • It sounds like you subscribe to the Cesar Milan training philosophy, with all the talk about being a leader and having the dog face its fears. This approach is actually really out of favor with most certified behaviorists. Dealing with a reactive dog is very complicated. Our certified behaviorist and trainer encourages us to have only positive experiences with our dog, if that can involve keeping her below threshold while walking by another dog that is great, but if a less than ideal situation arises they are all for us diving into a bush to avoid it or turning and running. Facing every situation head on just for the sake of facing it can cause a lot more harm than good when dealing with a reactive dog. You are basically setting the dog up for failure and allowing the dog to practice the negative behavior that follows. I have a dog reactive great dane who, if she is allowed to visually lock onto another dog, goes into a zone that I cannot snap her out of. To keep moving toward that situation would only escalate the reaction. So we work on catching her before she locks on and getting her turned around, but that has to happen at a pretty good distance, the goal at this point is to shrink the distance. So if we come around a corner and there is another dog right there you best believe we are running for it! My dog is quite anxious due to temperament issues and I can guarantee you that the times she has been forced to face her fears when she was not ready increased that anxiety tenfold. When I keep her safe, be it by jumping in a bush, running, going for a ninja style walk that allows her to enjoy herself without confronting a terrifying Chihuahua, it builds her trust in me and helps her anxiety.

      • I am with you, Lauren. Positive experiences, which then reinforces the idea that perhaps the dog across the way can be “watched” without attacking, then perhaps (we have not gotten there…yet?) just walked by from across the street. But creating the positive times (with treats) is important, and if you turn the corner and BAM there is the unexpected, there is not time to get out the treats, and encourage just watching, so rapid turn about and avoidance is the healthy way to go.

      • AGREED. We practice our emergency U-turn cue of “lets go” regularly in non dog emergency situations so she turns on a dime when I say it.

      • BINGO. We aren’t hiding but strategically deciding what is a training situation and what is a management or get the heck outta dodge situation. It does your no favors to force them into situations that put them way over threshold. I am not letting my dog be approached by an unleashed unknown dog and hoping for the best. I am going to as calmly as possible get the heck out of there. Situations like this are where the emergency “uturn” is crucial and Jersey knows if I say the cue “This way” it means turn on a dime and quick uturn for treats.

        PS: Jersey is the same…once she locks on she is no longer able to control her behavior. Literally facing something head on is a disaster situation for her

      • Thank you for sharing. I have a dog and human reactive dog and I cal smile and nod wisely at the ninja apartment techniques. We have kids in the block too and doors opening suddenly to disgorge human right next to us in an added complication for that one. We have mastered the art of planning routes around the town which involve wider pavements and quieter roads so we can slink past people, dodge to the other side of the road etc. It is an art, but you learn so much and you develop such a bond with your dog. He is difficult, but I would not be without him.

      • My female pitty dog IS Jersey, only my strategy is having my son walk her at 1 or 2 in the morning, because he is a virtual night owl. She is super love bug to our other canine and us, but why, oh, why can’t she relate to the population at large?? Fuggetaboutit. Not gonna happen.

      • fast forward a few years, and this post was exactly what I needed today – thank you!!!!

    • I’m just now finding this blog so I know I’m a little behind in my comment but I have a very reactive German Shepard but only with me, well she can be with my husband but at a way lower level because he is her pack leader not me. I’ve tried to be even went to training with her but something about me just doesn’t cut it. So basically she is a reactive dog period and I totally agree with you that dodging other dogs and walking at 4 am instead of 4 pm with others is just not happening. For me to have her face her fears and keep approaching another dog or reactive situation for her is not only dangerous for me or her but for for the other dog or person. A behavioralist says she has protection aggression. And I’ve finally come to terms that we have to do things a little differently and I don’t love her any less for that. In fact I feel safer knowing no one will not hurt me, my family, my grandkids, or enter my home unwanted,

  1. hahah…love it. My second dog is very very very very reactive. I love him to death but goodlordy it is stressful! I try to laugh as much as possible to stay sane 😀

    • Yes it is very stressful 🙂 Jersey isn’t super reactive but does not like dogs up in her “grill” and is very very intense around other dogs. We have been doing BAT (Grisha Stewart) lately and this has had some good results. Cheers to a fellow reactive dog lover!

      • I highly recommend it. Jersey was a demo dog (as a reactive dog) at a recent seminar and I really like it. The book is great but you can also check out some youtube videos and the website and it has lots of great information

      • You are doing the RIGHT thing. People that think your dog can face up to its fears have NO IDEA what they are talking about when it comes to a reactive dog. I have a reactive dog as well. I have worked with a trainer that is VERY qualified, We also turn around and go the other way or cross the street.
        My dog is NOT CAPABLE of being a normal dog, it is NOT ever going to happen. Every walk is a challenge – even a squirrel he will have ridiculous reactions to – over the top. We avoid these situations as much as possible because it is the RIGHT thing to do. Once he goes over threshold, we have to go home because he just cannot keep it together. It is very sad for the dog and the owner, but we deal with it as best as we can.

  2. Thanks for the cheers!! I am learning to be a better reactive dog mom….yes the 1st year was a bliss! Lucy was the happy social offleash park chick….She turned one and became very dog reactive dog. It is very stressful but I still love my miss Lucy!!

    • Jersey was similar. I got her at 1.5 years and she was dog social and went to the dog park. A few months later she started becoming reactive. I was a new dog owner at the time so im sure I missed a lot of signs from her that she want enjoying the off leash park!

  3. Great post, Em!
    Yes, trying to explain to people who do NOT have reactive dogs what life is like and that it IS worthwhile is a tough one. I will be bookmarking this one…

    • Thanks…it is honestly a different world of dog ownership! Its become so normal for me that when I had a non reactive foster I actually thought it was weird that I could just walk anywhere I wanted and pass by other dogs without any issues

  4. Thanks for sharing your insights. It sounds like you & Jersey are very lucky to have found each other. From your pics Jersey looks like a loved, happy, contented dog. I don’t currently have a dog but I am going to share this with a friend who has a reactive dog.

      • I have 2 pit bulls one is not that bad on a leash I had her since she was 21/2 months and is now 51/2 years. We adopted another one from the ASPC my dog pick her out. The first thing she did when we got her home she was collect all my dogs toys in the back yard and laid on them and guard them. She was a 1year old they told us that was April of 2012. Just yesterday I was walking her and she has a prong collar plus and harness and she back out of the collar and the clasp to the harness broke and she went after these 3 dogs in there back yard thru the fence. She hates these dogs they fight with each other and bark with her every time we walk pass. I don’t know what to do with this behavior. any suggestion???

        Lee my dogs are Sadie and apache.

  5. We had a shepherd/collie cross.. she was fine until our little sheltie/corgi cross went to “Rainbow Bridge”. Until she joined “Skippy” at the bridge, she not only was dog aggressive, but she ‘Targetted’ other dogs. I wonder if that is caused by grief??

    • It’s the same with my chihuahua. When Sinbad (chow/shar pei mutt) died Theodre became very dog aggressive, he snarls, growls, & tries to attack. We’ve had 3 trainers recommend euthanasia(his only issue is dog agression), but we just make sure he’s on a secure harness & leash & walk at less common times.

  6. Great post – I can relate to it all. I sometimes wish I could revert to the “MY DOG IS FRIENDLY” dog owner I used to be when I had a non-reactive dogs. Sometimes I get confused and forget which dog is at the end of the leash – one of my 2 non-reactive dogs, or the reactive one…that’s a little tricky at times.

  7. Since my husband Jeremy is the Blogger, this is going to show up in his name.. my name is Michelle. I cannot thank you enough for what you wrote. It made me laugh and cry. Jeremy and I adopted Jaycee (German Shephard mix) 3 years ago. We learned from early on (at training class when our three month old pup lunged at a full grown dog) that she was reactive. Every word you wrote speaks to our life, it is fantastic to know there are others out there (I am sure there are others in our city here.. but like us.. they have become good Ninjas too). I have been seen skipping, running in flip flops, and standing in knee deep puddles just to avoid conflict. We have had extensive training and I would agree that, like you, we know far more about dog behaviour than we ever would have.. all thanks to Jaycee. Keep up the good work, it isn’t always easy.. and yes.. I cry too, but thank goodness for Dog’s like Jaycee and Jersey, what would our lives be like without them!! PS.. it also helps that we adopted a second puppy shortly after (another shephard mix and got pure lucky that Jaycee took her in) that isnt reactive.. but reacts to Jaycee’s reactiveness… it puts comic relief into the picture.

    • We’ve had Etta Mae – belgian malinois/shepherd-type mix – since she was 4 months… She’s a nutball and I feel your pain. Thanks for commenting – I don’t feel so alone and bitter when I see those folks sauntering by each other with their totally cool non-reactive dogs – a completely slack leash between dog and owner. Frickin’ show-offs!

      • I too have a Malinois. I trained for a month in India with this breed and when I left I said I would never feel the need to own one!! guess that all changed when Chara needed a home. As a dog trainer I was used to my two well behaved rescues who I used to call my ambassadors of calm. All change now and the first two weeks with Chara where hell with a few hours of sleep as she howled her unhappiness. Now we are all getting sleep and I am bonding with her and she will be with me on a journey. I am a huge BAT fan and we have just started working with her and at the bottom of it all she is a big shy softie who just dosen’t trust yet. Malinois are a hard job no doubt about it but I do love her big raisin head.

  8. From my own experience, I see this as a win/win situation. You learn so much more about dogs than you do from your non-reactive dog, and the dog gains a loving home and full life – which might not be the case otherwise

  9. I love love love (and a million times more) this article. I share my life with a reactive (due to fear) springer spaniel – I have never seen an article sum up my life so accurately – I am sitting here smiling at how accurate it is – loving the great advice at which authors have written so well on the subject and have a small tear in my eye as I think about how much I DO love my little dog for the dog she is x Sending love to you and Jersey – I will think of you both on my next breaking dawn ninja style dog walk!!!

  10. Fantastic post, I’ve just qualified as a member of the UK APDT thanks to all I’ve learnt from my reactive boy. He isn’t fond of horses either and I became much amusement to the local horse riders as they watched me dive through hedges and leap ditches to avoid meeting them. He is so much better now but I love the early morning sunrises and late sunsets that we see on our walks.

  11. Thank you for this! I really used to lose my shit and cry! It’s difficult controlling a reactive great Dane pup at 120 lbs and still growing, but with the help of a POSITIVE trainer we are making it work. I had high expectations for this dog after losing 2 of my wonderful dogs last year….this has now become another learning experience! I’m just glad to see I’m not alone!

  12. Yay!!! I feel like I have found friends here. You are so right. Education and training are essential. However, it sounds like your ninja skills are way better than mine.

    I hate the ‘my dog is friendly’ folks. Especially when I have told them at least a million times that my dog is not good with other dogs. All Flexi leads should be banned!!!

    Thanks for the post it made me laugh and feel good inside as well.

    • My ninja skills have been honed through years of practice. I still slip up though…I didn’t see a dog in front of our building the other day and it ran out of nowhere and jumped on J!

  13. Thanks for the great read! I wish everyone with a dog would read this and understand our plight. I must agree that my reactive dog has made me a much better dog owner too. So glad you and Jersey have persevered through all of this, most dogs would have ended up in a shelter.

    • Thanks Jenn! I actually adopted J-girl from the shelter..she was adopted out once but it wasn’t a good match so I ended up adopting her. She had such horrible barrier aggression at the fences that the shelter said DONT EVER BRING HER BACK.

      • Very happy you took their advice and kept her. I am fostering a sweet little angel girl right now and I don’t know what to do with myself on a walk when I have nothing to worry about. My friends also appreciate your “guide”. I am wondering though – is the whipped cream for you or the dog? I once had a trainer recommend cheese wiz to keep the dog occupied when a dog came into view.

  14. My friend sent me this with the subject line..”written for you” and it is. My Lizzie is like Jersey, not horribly reactive but is selective about what dog she is going to tolerate and it is definitely not going to be the dog one comes right up to her face. It took me a good 3 years to finally accept that she is not going to be a social butterfly and yes…we now have all those books you mentioned plus more. She has definitely made me a better dog owner/trainer and we also enjoy those sunrises at the park. Thanks for the laughs….helps to know there are lots of us out there but we’re walking alone by necessity.

    • I think reactive dogs are essential for training other dogs! My Nic thinks the whole world people and dogs and cats and cows love him!! he needs to be taught it is just rude to run up to a stranger – a sharp nip may be just the thing! the other day he ran up to an ostrich on a nest!! Luckily she was not a good ostrich and ignroed him, I had 10000 different kinds of fits in a second when I think how that could have turned out!!

      • Dogs do not learn by getting “nipped” by other dogs. Well, they do – they learn to fear other dogs and become reactive themselves; it certainly will never teach a dog to moderate his behaviour. If you want a dog to learn polite behaviour, he must meet other polite dogs

      • First of all, with the wrong dog, you’ll be lucky if it’s just a nip. Secondly, your dog wouldn’t be the only one “learning” something from this experience. An ambush by a “friendly” dog that “just wants to say hi” and thinks that “the whole world loves him/her” can undo months and months of hard work (which is often paid for with blood, sweat and not an insignificant amount of tears from the owners part). I don’t think there is anyone so proud as the owner of a reactive dog that finally walks past other dogs without lunging and growling, and I don’t think you can even begin to comprehend how disheartening it is when you see that bouncy, off the leash or flexi lead, dog comes bounding at your dog with no control whatsoever from the owner. It doesn’t matter if it stops just out of reach – the damage to my dog’s training is already done. Sometimes by only a little, and sometimes almost back to scratch. But because we love our dogs, we pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off and get back at it again. And because people keep thinking there is no harm in letting friendly dogs run loose without sufficient obedience training, we get back at it again, and again, and again, and again…
        On a more positive note, I absolutely loved reading this blog post! I agree. I might have had an easier life without my reactive dog, but there is no other dog that could have trained me better. And the good times more than amply makes up for all the not so good times 🙂

  15. Thanks for the laughs even though I completely understand and am living the life. I took my dog to a reactive dog class to learn how to deal with him. He was the most reactive dog in the class and the entire 10 weeks of classes we hid behind a tree when outside, in another room when inside. The very last day of class, we got there early and I was so tired of hiding that we slowly walked to the shelter where the rest of the class met prior to the instructor arriving. We sat with the rest carefully and had absolutely no issues. He had seen these people and dogs enough that he was content to sit amidst them. Everyone was shocked, including me! Wasted money on the class as we could never hear what was being said, but it was good for him to be around other dogs what little he was. The funny thing was the second outside class a new dog showed up and he had a royal fit, they never came back and he was back to his normal fit!! Dogs….gotta love em!

      • Ya, def’ly check out the Cranky Canine course. It is SO WELL DONE that you almost forget your dog is cranky at all! They really understand the reactive dog and how to work with them. I too have a bookcase full of dog books and have used other trainers, all with no results. It was only this course that changed things.

    • My cujo has been to a series of classes at pet smart, then at another dog training place. He acts like an angel in class, teachers think I am some sort of a freak that just made up all the horrible stories. Leaving pet smart one day he gets into it with another customers dog. I run back to the teacher and say did you hear that? I really do have a problem! All the dogs in the first class were small, thought maybe he didn’t feel threatened by them and that was why he was good. Took him to more classes at other places. Never a cujo attack in class. Try and walk him down the street and it’s another story. He even has cujo attacks in the car when he sees another dog. Really wouldn’t be a problem if the other dogs were on a leash. People seem to think it is okay to let their small dogs run loose, so walking in the neighborhood is a nightmare.

  16. We had one reactive dog, and then went an adopted a 2nd dog, who started reacting to the first dog’s reactivity, and then some. Thanks to the Cranky Canine Class at we have learned all kinds of management and training methods (all positive-based) and life is much better now. We are a long way from perfect, but even after just a couple of months there are some great improvements in both dogs. I am hopeful that one day we will be able to walk down the street without any ninja-like moves! lol I may just have to remortgage the house to keep up with all the treats I am buying lately, but that’s ok!

  17. I felt so completely alone until I read this! Thank you so much, from the bottom of my heart and the tip of my dog’s wet nose! I have had my dog since she was a pup (a Bernese Mt. Dog) – she is now a 3 year old and like Jersey is definitely reactive. She was incredibly social until she was about 2.5 and within about a 2 month period she just changed to this dog that wanted nothing to do with any dog and will growl, bark, attack, etc. (except a few dogs that she likes – but I still can’t take that chance). I thought for certain it would be a simple thyroid issue – nope. She is just a reactive dog. I am so glad you at least have given me some hope (I love her to death – she is the light of my life)! This definitely made my day.

  18. Thank you for this. I too dreamed that my cute adorable pup and I would have endless hours at off leash parks and beaches. This morning (this post couldn’t have come at a better time) I came to the realization that my little pup should probably not be allowed off lead. As I stood there in the park yelling at Humphrey for losing his mind at another dog my heart just broke. To quote another comment on this tread I can see rainy days being my favourite.

    Thank you for the Ninja tips.

    • Good luck with Humphrey and thank you for recognizing that the offleash park may not be the best thing for your boy. Maybe you can arrange some structred playtime or even a leashed walks with another friendly dog?
      Rainy days are key!

    • Jackie – This isn’t meant with any negativity behind it, but please know that yelling at a dog who is scared and reacting to their environment is likely to only serve to make them more reactive, as not only is the environment scary, but now mom is too.

    • Hey Jackie – the best way to deal with it is to learn. There is lots of literature out there, so fill up on it – it will help you through the bad times.

  19. Thanks so much for this post. We adopted Cyber from BIN a couple of years ago, she has always been reactive (likely due to mistreatment). But we love her to death. Toronto is such a horrible place for reactive dogs, I just want to punch all the other owners in the face for letting there well-meaning, but clueless, dogs off leash in non-off leash areas. Drives me insane.

    If possible could you do a post on how you got Jersey to accept/tolerate Bing? We would love to foster for Bullies in Need, but worry that it wouldn’t be good for Cyber or for the foster.

    • Oh I remember Cyber and her puppies! Toronto is both horrible and great for treating reactivity..I think I have made more progress because I simply have more opportunity to practice as I always see dogs out. When I was living in a smaller city we didn’t see them as often so it was difficult to consistently train. I despise offleash dogs..I was involved in a horrible incident a few monthes ago with both dogs (Bing and Jersey) on a regularly secluded path where for several MINUTES (which beleive me is an eternity) a golden retriever circled us darting in and out while Jersey went wild and even Bing started getting into it and eventually the golden got snarly too and we were stuck in the middle. There was nowhere to escape and I was literally trying to control my own dogs while instructing the man how to grab his dog. I have solved a lot of my anger over offleash dogs by being very selective where I walk. Its kind of a catch 22…parks have more room to escape but sidewalks have less offleash dogs (but you may be stuck with one coming towards you with nowhere to go). I tend to avoid any grassy areas because I would rather deal with a leashed dog then an unleashed one. I used to be angry at all the places I couldn’t walk but now its just a part of life! Unfortunately people won’t change and even when I yell to leash people either say there dog is “freindly” or cannot catch/call their dog.

      As dor accepting Bing Jersey is very different once she knows a dog.Does Cyber like other dog’s once she gets to know them? Jersey likes the company of dogs she knows. Bing actually came on one of the coldest days of the year so we couldn’t do an extended greeting outside which was unfortunate and Jersey was very reactive to having a dog in HER apartment.If you have more space it would be easier as you could keep the dogs completely seperate or use babygates to introduce them. I live in a small place and it was a lot of creative manovering the first two days so that they were never out at the same time. Bing was also crated in my room with the door closed. After that Jersey and Bing were fine tougether when supervised.Finding the right dog is important too..another pushy reactive female dog with Jersey well that would be a nightmare. I will try to get a blog post up about it though!

      • Oh and seperate walks. More work but WORTH it. I walked them tougether for there super early walks and got lazy and started taking them out tougether for other walks but I realized that Jersey really needed my full attention so I did seperate walks. It worked out well for everyone because I was less crabby/stressed and the dogs seemed to enjoy there one on one time more.

      • Jersey! I think I recognize her from the BAT seminar, and I didn’t make the connection then, but a long time ago- I think it was your second private session with Andre Yeu- I came along and watched to learn. (By the way, I was impressed by how much progress she made, and I don’t give insincere compliments.)

        So if you ever see a woman with short red hair and a cream Standard Poodle- oh wait… you won’t, because I’ll make sure to stay well out of your way. 😉

        (And I agree, Toronto is awful for reactive dogs, but I’ve got nothing to compare it to. To the other folks saying this- have you been to any places you’ve found better? Was it simply because this is a big city, or are there other cities where people are more respectful?)

  20. Ohmigod, you have NAILED it! Number 4 had me crying from joy, it is so true! This is my life with Sally — and I wouldn’t trade it, or her, for anything. Not one thing. And I think there are more if us than we think. Thanks for this!!!

  21. I couldn’t imagine having a reactive dog & I’m glad that my pup is great with other dogs. I know I lucked into that but I also adopted her when she was a pup & brought her to countless play groups & started our training early. I know not everyone is as lucky with that but I think that someone who trains & helps there dog overcome reactivity that is awesome thing. Emma Parsons teaches at my facility & I have seen her first hand dealing with a reactive dog. I would definatley recommend her book. Good luck with Jersey she’s lucky to have a loving parent!

    • Our dog was not always dog reactive, he was the most social dog I ever met or ever had. Then one day the neighbors dog ran out as if he was on a missin to destory us and ever since my dog turns into a monster around other dogs…

  22. SOOOOO happy to know my Scarlett isn’t the only one! We do enjoy many a sunrise on our morning walks and I have finally managed to get her to “leave it” when we do happen to run into another dog but only when that dog is on leash. If the dog is off-leash, I turn around and go back the way I came.

  23. I LOVE this post. Especially the part about being a ninja. And chocolate. And alcohol. I agree that owning a crazy dog makes you the best kind of dog owner, and I wouldn’t trade Alfred for anything in the world. Glad to be a part of the club 🙂

  24. Badger and Mushroom also say, “Leash your damn dog.” We’re in the middle of a reactive dog class taught by Emma Parsons, but every time one of our neighbors allows their unleashed dog to run up to my dogs, it sets us back. I may have to start taking them out at ungodly hours.

    • Get some doggie mace and spray them. They will learn not to run up to other dogs and you might even save them from getting their rude little heads bit off some day 😉

      • Doggie mace? What a great way to create *more* dog reactive dogs! Personally, I’d much rather teach my dogs a ‘come away’, and to a ‘get behind’ me so that I could deal with the situation *and* keep them safe while not causing psychological problems for other people’s dogs.

  25. ” I am a dog-aggression-avoiding ninja.” Best Line Ever. This completely defines how I feel on every single walk I’ve ever taken with 2 of my 3 dogs. Great post! I will bookmark and re-read after every horrible walk we have. With a glass of wine and chocolates of course 🙂

  26. Simply amazing!!! I am just now learning the wonders of a reactive dog… but this, this is amazing! thank you for bringing some lightheartedness to this. I so needed it! SHared on our facebook page just now!

  27. I second your ‘work with a good trainer’ and ‘laugh!’ I worked with a wonderful trainer, Lydia DesRoche, in Manhattan. My 7 year old Doberman became her poster child for “you really can teach an old dog new tricks!” Nina the Doberman learned to walk backward, do the cha-cha, grapevine and skip to keep her focused on me (and my treats) and not dogs, bikes and skateboards from my apartment to Central Park. She actually enjoyed her walk to the park and so did I. So did all the doormen along the way. One popped out especially to tell me I had ‘the funniest dog’ in the neighborhood. Yes, the only Dancing Doberman on the Upper West Side!

  28. I can totally and completely relate. Except I have 2 reactive dogs that I don’t ever dare walk at the same time. I can completely understand the ninja skills!! I swear I have the houses mapped out that have dogs, which back yards to avoid walking behind, which streets are a safe cut away, which route to take depending on what time of day. We do walks in the late evening because it is the safest and typically only have to avoid the neighborhood cats. I’m glad I’m not alone.

  29. So needed! I live in an apartment (with an elevator, to boot), and I’ve had SO MANY of those awkward/embarrassing/frustrating experiences where I run away from people, cross the street back and forth repeatedly, and, frankly, cry like a weirdo while walking the dog on particularly tough days. Thank you so much for this 🙂

  30. I needed this. I have a dog reactive pit-mix which makes me feel like I am living the stereotype of the “vicious” pit owner, which is a first for me because I have had pits since I was 16 and they were all very friendly and could not wait to play with other dogs. Training has helped some however I was not able to take my other pit to training with her (hard to train 2 at once by yourself) and her major issue is when she is with her sister. If we see a dog she does this high pitch squeal like she is being murdered and tries to either get to the other dog or her sister. So I have cried many tears, for her more than for myself. I wish she knew the fun she could have playing with other dogs. We will get there one day, more training, with her sister this time, is definitely in our future.

    • I just had an incident today like this. Saw a couple coming the other way with a dog. Tried our training technique but when Cooper’s sister started whining at ungodly levels he went spastic and started spinning on his leash. Horrified the couple walking their dog the other way.

  31. This post hits so close to home. If I could quote your whole post I would because all of it was so accurate and I can totally relate!

  32. Oh yes I feel your pain. I have a dog reactive dog, and he alwasy wasnt like this. However, I get really tired of people not putting thier dogs on leashes and then blaming me becasue something happened. Hey, my dog was on a leash, we are following the law.

    One thing that is very tough is that my dog also lives in a home with 2 other dogs. We have gotten really good at alternating who is where and keeping htem all apart. It is not the life I envisioned when I got my dogs, but it is the life I have. ANd I would not give up any of them for anything.

    • Hope, have you ever been able to acclimate the reactive dog to the other two? We have had to add a new dog to the household, and are doing the switch-dog thing, but hope to get the two dog-aggressive (neutered) males to accept each other eventually (the little female acts as a cheerleader for the two guys’ aggression, little twerp!). Any tips?

  33. I love this!! I love the laugh and the fact that you are still loving Jersey! I have a pit Harlem who is starting as she is almost 8 months old to show her dog-dog (as well as her cat-dog…lol.. :-/) aggression. Right now we are able to control her so she cant pull is too far in the direction she wants to go but since she is 50 pounds already Im sure it wont be long before I can add to the list of awkward moments and special hiding places….not to mention my excuse for some chocolate and wine 🙂 Thanks again for not giving up and loving Jersey. And sharing this story. It makes people like us who keep their dogs regardless of their faults know that we are not alone and made the right choice to embrace them as the dogs that they are.

  34. I loved reading your reactive dog information. I too am an owner of a reactive dog. Bella is the sweetest dog we have ever had EXCEPT when she spies another dog. She becomes a nightmare. I also try to go out in the dark of night or early in the morning. I long for a dog that I can just walk down the street. Your notes gave me a chuckle and i feel better knowing there are others in the world that deal with reactive dogs.

  35. Haha oh how I know the feeling. Brodie is my SUPER reactive dog – I had the same visions of happy blissful social dog times when I first adopted him. Two months later he started bugging out majorly anytime he was on leash around other dogs. I once waded through a stream that came up above my knees to avoid another dog! He causes me more than my share of angst but like you, I have learned SO much about dog training and behavior in my quest to help him not be so stressed on leash.

  36. Love your story!! Thanks so much for telling it in a positive, funny way! I enjoyed being a ninja for 14 years with my reactive dog and loved her with a passion. She was the same, much more reactive around a year and a half old and on. And while I enjoyed it, it was also very stressful, quite a few slip-ups with fights and bites, and a couple of people quite literally telling me where to go! Fair enough. I loved her, and felt that I was the best owner for her because I never let her go, just kept her fairly secluded and enjoyed many sunrises like you. Perhaps another owner might’ve abandoned her. I just felt truly lucky, she loved her mama and family. And I loved her. Good luck with Jersey, she sounds wonderful!

  37. “if not for Jersey I might just be that person with their dog on an endless 100ft flexi lead cruising around the neighborhood and judging everyone with reactive dogs while simultaneously letting my dog get in there dogs grill.” HA!

  38. Thank you for this post! Nice to be reminded that I am not alone. It’s like a roller coaster sometimes, I love my dog but I admit to doubting my ability to handle her at times and this post couldn’t have come at a better time. I really needed a reminder that I can do it (and that I, and Pearl, will be better for it!)

  39. HA. LOVE this post! Its so true for my life. I kick myself because I was new to dog ownership when I got my Caesar. I didnt see the signs. I took him to 3 trainers, one of which, I recognize in hindsight, basically had me reinforcing his reactive behavior. Im still really struggling with him, but he’s worth every trial, every awkward moment, and I have learned so much. I may not have a perfect dog in the eyes of other snooty dog owners (which treat me second rate all the time! Especially because my boy is a pit-mix) but Caesar is perfect for ME. Thanks for the laughs and letting us all know that there are more of us out there who really do GET it. Seriously, thank you.

  40. OMG!! I live this life! I have a precious Pit mix that I found as a stray. I’m sure that I’ve used every trick known to avoid other people walking their dogs -late night, early morning , parks where I know that I won’t run into anyone etc. My neighbors have said that when they walk by my house, they think she’ll bust right out of the window. There’s no telling what the conversation is at the neighborhood association meetings. I’m too embarrassed to attend. I too get exasperated but I love my precious Daisy and would do it all over again.

  41. I appreciate the humor in your post, and I wish more people would read it and “get it”. I work with a lot of reactive dogs and what I hear far too often are people saying these dogs should just be put down. “An aggressive dog can’t live a good life”… heard that a thousand times. But as you’ve pointed out, an aggressive or reactive dog CAN live a great life with the right owner. The only thing they can’t do is go to off-leash dog parks or as you pointed out, areas where dog owners congregate with their dogs. They can go for leash walks, play ball in your backyard, give hugs and love and get it all back in return. An aggressive dog can live a wonderful life if people would only put in the effort.

  42. I love it! I have the Ninja skills as well, they come in handy at the vets office, we have to keep our wonderful Pit/Bernard in the car till they call our name, then I watch as my Honda Pilot rocks back and forth barking as each dog walk by in the parking lot.
    But I wouldn’t trade it for anything! I’ve tried so many times, but after the last very traumatic interaction I know who he is, he’s a great family dog.
    Guess what…my 2 yr old bites too. Must be hereditary.

  43. oh, that was my life the year I lived in town with my late darling Abby, unable to deal with the circling mob of off-leashers with hackles up (“oh my Dog is friendly… he/she just wants to PLAY”…. me: “no, he/she DOESN’T!! DUH!”) and poor Abby losing it, hating walks… eventually moved out to heaven in a little rented cottage in the middle of nowhere, but for that year I carried a water pistol or a washing up bottle full of just water, and it saved the day a few times. I got the expected abuse… “You shouldn’t have a bull-terrier anyway!”, to which the only reply is “£*** OFF !” spoken calmly, without having to raise my voice.

  44. So funny, but oh so true. I have a 6 yearold Lab/Rottie mix and a 2 year old Pit mix and they love each other, but not other dogs. Absolutely lovable, cuddle bugs that become super high strung once outside. We have recently begun to be able to walk them together, yet the Pit has to let everyone know he is outside…even the leaves blowing from the trees. The Lab mix is fine unless someone approaches us and then she is on edge until she can figure the person out, but ballistic when it comes to dogs. Go figure.

  45. Your story is my story –and, I also wouldn’t have traded my pup for all the money in the world. When I’m out with my new dog–who is pretty social, and I find myself walking towards someone who quickly moves their dog to the far side of the path whispering over and over to their dog “Leave it. Leeave it. Gooood. Leave it.” I quickly walk by with my dog as far as possible from them to shorten their stress. As I walk away I’ll call back “I totally get it. Don’t worry about it.” I usually get a thank you and big smile, which I know from my history means “thank you for not judging us.”

  46. I can TOTALLY relate! I am an expert ninja, especially when it comes to hotel rooms! It’s not often, but it sure is interesting! Last time, I was soo thrilled to escape the hotel quietly before sunrise (you’re so right about that too!), that I relaxed a little too soon. I went around the back of my car with my reactive dog, and right behind the car next to me were two labs, off-leash, eating their breakfast in the parking lot while their owner was getting ready! YIKES! We started our run a smidge sooner than anticipated!!

  47. Fun essay and stroll down memory lane with my sweet George (RIP). He eventually socialized, but then we had the opposite problem – enthusiastic, my-arm-ripping greetings! I too developed that sixth sense and hyper all other senses to anticipate things as George might – and if possible BEFOER he did.

  48. Loved and laughed out loud. I have the most wonderful 88lb Pit, Ridgeback, Boxer mix who only became what I like to say “selective” reactive in the last couple year. Its not always and its taken a lot of time to see his patterns and behaviors. You are absolutely right when you tell people to find a good trainer as it has made a world of difference for me.. or at least made me a much better “ninja” in handling the aggression triggers. Thanks for your wonderful words… it reminded me that I am not the only one who has the best dog in the world but also one that takes a bit more time and attention to avoid those stressful moments when your dog has just terrified someone

  49. Absolutely loved this- we recently adopted a 2 year old pit mix that is very loving and absolutely wonderful, but a total nightmare around small dogs. We’ve been working incredibly hard with our family, friends and neighbors to overcome some of the bad perceptions of the breed, but our dog’s reactivity towards small dogs can be easily confused for a “scary, vicious pitbull.”

    But you’re right, our dog’s reactivity has made us MUCH better owners, who can spot another dog from a mile away. And now nothing drives us crazier that dogs that aren’t leashed! We’re working with a trainer, and are now able to avoid doggie meltdowns over 95% of the time. And we’ve realized that while we would love for our dog to come with us everywhere (like so many other people), there are times where she may just be happiest in the peace of her own home working on a Kong.

  50. Dear fellow Ninjas/aspiring ninjas,

    I truly wanted to reply to each and everyone of your posts to tell you how much I appreciate all of your kind words and stories but alas there are just too many. I have spent the last while reading each and everyone though. This is a small blog to showcase my foster dogs for Bullies In Need rescue (based in Ontario, Canada but I am between fosters right now so decided Jersey needed her own post. It is unedited (horrible spelling and grammar) and I am now a bit embarrassed because it has been shared so widely complete with grammatical errors!

    I also have an update I know only you guys will appreciate; the dog next door has MOVED OUT(along with its owners) and apparently no new dogs will be moving in. I am overjoyed.


  51. Also best part of me being the boss of this blog=censorship. I have had a few negative comments and I simply discarded them. No need to send angry messages folks because I will just censor and delete 🙂

  52. I think this is so wonderfully written and YOU are a wonderful person for giving your dog the love and respect she deserves. So many people throw their dogs to the curb as though they are merely broken objects. I was a dog walker for 8 years and saw so many people give up on simply misunderstood minds. All dogs have love in them to give. It’s just a matter of being willing to accept how they do it and not demand one way or no way. This was a pleasure to read.

  53. This is totally what I go through… I got a second dog who was not leash reactive but my girl, Etta Mae cured him of that… One day I thought all the other dogs had had their walks and I’d take my a-holes out. We rounded the corner and the lady with the two basenjis was out. Her dogs went nutty and my dogs who were on a frickin’ coupler started going after each other!!! I ended up walking half a block the other direction with my dogs on their hind legs while simultaneously snapping at each other like a couple piranhas – oh – and my 5 year old daughter was following behind the whole circus… And THAT is why I am the person who walks the neighborhood at about 4:15 am….with her dogs. (sigh)

    I think I chose the dog walking job because I wanted to pretend I could be out with dogs and look cool like other people walking their dogs…

  54. I have grown up with dogs, but I have my first dog who is mine and she is dog reactive. I have noticed I do a lot of these things the one I really do is the ninja! HAHA If I can’t see what’s going on I have my ears on high alert. I love her no matter how she acts, but it can be a bit stressful mosly because where I live now I have neighbors who’s dogs get out of their yards and I’m always on high alert. Thank you for this.

  55. I’m 5’3″/110 lb. and I’ve had a “reactive” 75 lb. neutered Rottweiler/Shepherd for 12 years. And I have found myself holding onto a tree when there was nowhere to go to get away from an approaching dog. I can laugh about it later (laugh so you don’t cry), knowing how ridiculous I looked, but I was so afraid he would get to the other dog (previously, he killed a neighbor’s dog that tunneled into our yard). Morning walks aren’t an option. I have neighbors out at 5am running with their dogs, so we’ve become night owls. I never walk my dogs before 10:30pm–most times, we’re out walking from midnight to 1am or even later. Even that hasn’t been safe: A nimrod in my neighborhood assumed no one would be out at that hour and he had his 90 lb. intact Husky off-leash. It charged 30 yards and got into a fight with my old guy, who did serious damage to that Husky. =( And now the owner is trying to sue me. My Buddy is the sweetest, gentlest, couch potato at home and is great with people from babies — elderly, he just pops a mental cog around other dogs. It sucks and it’s been challenging and emotionally draining for years, but I am his forever home and I believe you make a lifelong commitment to your pet, no matter what. I guess in a long-winded way I just want to say: I can relate to your pain and your love for your dog.

  56. It’s kind of nice reading about other people with dogs like these, cause like you said – it can be a bit lonely being the owner of a dog-reactive dog. My dog was badly attacked by another dog when he was still very young and since then we can’t play with other dogs and it takes him a very long time to get used to new people, but I’ve noticed that he’s gotten a lot better now that he’s getting older, at least with seeing other dogs when we’re outside.

    I have never really avoided meeting dogs, but it has always been hard work meeting them and I hate the feeling that the other dog owner are judging me when my dog gets scared and out of control. D: But every time (and it’s not very often) my dog just ignores a meeting dog I get so proud I just want to cry.

    Every dog deserves love and even tough it’s a lot of work I love my dog more than anything. ❤

  57. Thank goodness I am not the only crazy person hiding in bushes and behind pillars/mailboxes/lampposts on private driveways! It always cracks me up that my terrorist boxer Spencer is happy and calm as a cucumber after a hellish walk, and I am a complete wreck. I will laugh now after reading this- thanks!

  58. I have two dogs; an extremely reactive one and a slightly reactive one (and of course they feed off each other).

    We live in an awesomely dog walker friendly neighborhood. Awesome if you have a “normal” dog who loves interacting with other dogs, hell on earth if you have a reactive dog who sees everyone and everything as a personal attack on her happiness and well being.

    I loved your comments about being trapped in a neighbor’s driveway. I’ve been there, done that many times. Fun, fun, fun!

    • It can be SO hard to find a place to live/hood. I want the place to be “dog friendly” so I can have J and not worry about my neighbors complaining but often this means DOGS EVERYWHERE and OFFLEASH. In my ideal world I want my hood to be medium dog friendly. Accepting of dogs but not dogs everywhere 🙂

  59. Right on! I feel like the writer has been watching me. Smile. I am also a better dog owner with my challenging dog than I would be without him. I wouldn’t trade him for a perfect dog. He brings me much joy and teaches me everyday. Keeps me humble indeed.

  60. As a trainer I highly recommend two of your book choices. Jean Donaldson’s books are always dead on, because she’s such a master of the science behind dog training, and uses terrific positive methods. And, Emma Parsons, too, because she has gone through the experience of owning an aggressive Golden Retriever. Imagine life with a dog-reactive dog that the public thinks should love everyone;-) She gets it! (And also a top notch science-based trainer).
    You are the dog owner all of us want to have call us, because we can feel the commitment you have to your dog. Life’s not perfect, dogs (and certainly humans) aren’t perfect, and it’s refreshing to see people who savor their relationships with their dogs regardless of their faults, and attempt to manage, and train, and LOVE them anyway! Your dog landed in just the right home.

    • Thanks! I love Jean Donaldson’s ability to combine solid science with humor. Emma Parsons book is a great practical guide as well. Jersey is a fabulous dog and I am very lucky to have her 🙂

  61. OMG, LOVE LOVE LOVE THIS! I’m like “this is my life!!” We adopted our girl and she didn’t show any signs of aggression for the first 2 weeks. Then it all went downhill. I’ve given up my dream of going to an outdoor cafe with my dog and hanging out. I’m a total ninja with her too when I walk her. It drives me nuts when the other person continues to walk towards us with their dog and says “my dog is friendly” when they clearly see my dog losing her shit. I totally wish every dog owner knew about this instead of giving me looks like my dog is crazy. We’ve gotten a trainer and are working on this. Peanut butter from a tube is our trick. I posted this on my facebook page. You are so right. We are much better educated parents because of our dog. I’ve had her for 3 1/2 years now and I’d never give her up. She is my girl 🙂 Thank you so much for writing this. Made my week 🙂

    • Its almost like they are zombie’s..they continue coming towards you with a grin on there face repeating “my dog is dog is dog is dog is friendly” I find you often have to use clear simple hand signals (put hand out like traffic cop and yell STOP as this often causes people to stop in their tracks) and pantomime skills. Good luck with your dogs and thanks for sharing

  62. I am stunned and overjoyed at not only the blog post but in particular the comments from fellow-ninjas and teary-eyed, stressed, loving owners.
    It really does make a massive difference to know you’re not the only one. Thank you so much everyone!! 🙂
    We should form a support group just to vent.

  63. Wow, I feel your pain! I used to be one of those people who had little understanding of the dog reactive dog, and usually blamed the owner….now I’m the owner! I didn’t know I was also a ninja till I read your description, and I’m so happy that there are so many other ninjas out there. YES, I’m a better dog owner now because of all the training and reading I do, and I feel pretty smug about that! My 3-ish yr old rescue pitbull, Ice, is just a lover boy in all other circumstances, and can even tolerate walking on leash by most dogs at a respectable distance. (Hate those extendable leashes) Wish us luck…we are starting a new class for doggie manners here in Chicago. It’s called “Growl I” and I hope we make it to “Growl II”

  64. What a laugh! Yep, I’m THERE. I’ll think of you and Jersey on the next sunrise Mr. Toby and I embrace…. Thanks

  65. I’ve read that we get the dog who can teach us the most… would you have learned nearly as much if you had a sweet, well-behaved, love-everyone dog? And yes, the dog-reactive dogs deserve loving homes as much as any other dog!

  66. Great article! Our incredibly social dog became reactive gradually after his first rabies vaccine. Researching since I have found that in susceptible dogs, the heavy metals and adjuvants in vaccines cause an erosion of the myelin sheath (the nerve coverings) making the nervous system hypersensitive and therefore more reactive. Also, a mild form of encephalitis can be caused by vaccines. Both factors will highly influence a dogs ability to cope socially. We’re having our dog treated homeopathically now for vaccinosis and he is already much improved. TTouch, Reiki and Acupuncture are also great for reactive dogs.

    • Michelle…I have only recently been looking at the impact of vaccines and the information you presented above has really motivated me to do more research and talk to my vet about titers. Thanks for sharing and best of luck with your dog!

    • You’ve nailed it, Michelle. Though it’s not just heavy metals, it’s subtler and deeper than that: rabies virus is known to reduce the “brakes” on aggression, and causes biting in the affected animal. That’s how the virus spreads, bites with infected saliva.

      I’ve recently touched on this in more depth in this blog post:

      And, the good news is, this reactivity can be cured homeopathically. It’s not DIY usually, as it’s chronic disease that needs training to manage, but you don’t have to live a life on egg shells with dogs like this.

      If you search on “rabies” in the search box on the bottom of any page of you’ll see much more useful info. One big understanding: further rabies vaccines exacerbate this reactivity. A lot of loss for no gain in immunity.

      All the best to all of you with dogs like this. I feel your pain, but also hope you’ll look into hiring a good homeopath to help you get your dogs well. The Academy of Vet Homeopathy lists them geographically, but many of us work by telephone as well.

  67. Thank god I am not the only one! I always leave the house with an umbrella, irrespective of the weather. This way, I can put it up in the face of any off-leash dog that approaches my reactive boy. So happy there are others who hide in bushes and in peoples’ front gardens and driveways too!

  68. Really enjoyed this post! I also own a dog reactive dog..Zippy the BT. I love him to pieces and your blog entry gave me a good laugh. I have done many of the same things as you, only I do not live in a large city. However, here in rural NC you find many, many unleashed dogs and I even have a neighbor who lets his dog break into my fenced yard (jumps over the fence) and home (he can open doors) during every thunder storm. Not fun. I have thrown treats at many unleashed dogs in order to “escape” while walking Zippy. Your post should be something every person with a non-reactive dog should read. Maybe then they would use a lead on their dog. Thanks for the fun post.

  69. I agree re becoming a better dog owner when you have a reactive dog. If I had a “normal” dog I would never have learned all the things I have, which have brought me a much greater understanding of the canine psyche. I am grateful for my two beasts regardless of their flaws, just as (I hope) they are grateful for me including my flaws! lol The only thing I would change if I could, was the look of judgement on other people’s faces when one of my dogs does go off. The going off happens less and less every week as I have learned both management and training tools. And I am lucky too in that my dogs are generally ok in an off-leash situation. Once in a very rare while some other dog will piss off one of mine, but again this is happening less and less and it’s been months since the last time we had a situation. And we live only half a block from the nearest off-leash area, so it’s a short ninja-walk there and back. (which even so sometimes means 3 or 4 quick-across-to-the-other-side-of-the-street manoeuvers, lol) Dogs–gotta love ’em!

  70. I am a bull terrier person. My first two were very social and loved other dogs. So it was a complete surprise when I adopted my current one, Milo. I can identify with so much you wrote – whirling dervish describes him perfectly when he spots another dog. I have become a crack of dawn ninja! But I love him dearly, and he is the best boy. It’s good to know I am not the only one dealing with this. I’m tired of all the self righteous dog owners looking at me like I should just be able to get him under control. They have no idea. And being a bull breed doesn’t help.

  71. Came across your post by accident. What a great read. I wish I had read it years agao. I had a very reactive shepherd that we adopted at 7 month of age. As many mentioned, the behaviour didn’t establish itself until later (1.5 years) when he matured. Additionally to not liking most other male dogs he also didn’t like kids. However, he responded beautifully to training and was the most obedient dog I have ever owned. I think this is the only reason why we could manage his behaviour. Other dogs, who were not under the control of their owners and came up uninvited were the only problem. Even though he was very reactive, he never bit another dog; he “only” felt the need to establish his dominance – but did that with some force- as soon, as the other dog was on his back, he was satisfied. Needless to say that other owners were never impressed and I recognized all avoidance strategies mentioned in your article – a good day was a day that we did not meet a dog that my dog did not know.
    What was pretty amazing was that in his old age (maybe the last 2.5 years) my shepherd really mellowed; he did not need to proof his dominance anymore and started to enjoy meeting other dogs (female and male) .
    Occasionally his old reactive behaviour would submerge but he was simply too slow to keep up with these young males and turn them over. The last 2.5 years of his life he came to peace with the dog world around him and so did we. He died this April at age 15 years – I miss him a lot and would rescue him all over again!

  72. I teared up reading this because it just reminds me of my rescue Blue Bird, border collie pit mix. He was returned to the shelter 3 times before he turned 1. I brought him to training, , but I wasnot so happy with the ways the trainer advised. Blue loves people, cats and Guinea pigs, just doesn’t like big dogs. He wouldn’t hurt a fly, unless he felt threatened or nervous for my life, not his. My best friend and neighbor takes care of him but she doesn’t like her kids or small dog around him. Makes me resent her a little because her dog isn’t train and Blue listens better than my other dog I’ve had for 5 years.
    Just want to say thanks for making me feel not so alone. Oh yea, Blue loves to dance and sing with me. 🙂

  73. Oh I love this! I have a sneaky reactive dog. She appears to love other dogs and wants to play – when they get in her face, she’s ferocious (hasn’t bitten … yet). A reactive dog turned her reactive. We used to do ninja moves all over our complex to avoid a dog in the building that despised my dog. One day the dog was off leash and charged my dog, head butting her and causing her teeth to go into her cheek. That was the end of off leash parks and the end of my peaceful walks. It’s very hard because she wants to play with the other dogs but I have to be very careful about who I let get near and even then, not off leash. I carry Spray Shield on every walk because we keep being chased by off leash dogs.

  74. We use the “Look at That” game from Leslie McDevitt’s “Control Unleashed” and it really works. You can train your dog to show you the source of distraction, look back at you and be rewarded. We use it primarily for bigger dogs but it has a lot of uses. We trial in agility and it works beautifully. If a particular dog is getting too much of his attention we can even put a name to the dog (“show me Smily” or just “show me a big dog”). He quickly learned he would prefer to sit calmly, turn his head to show me the other dog, then look back to me and get a reward than react. It pays much better. “Control Unleashed Puppy” is geared to puppies and rescues and is another amazing book. Both are available from the Clean Run (agility) website.

    Danny attended a special version of a Good Manners class geared to reactive dogs (“Growly Dogs”). It was a huge help. He trials in agility. He is a work in progress but he has come a long way in the just over 3 years we have had him. We spent quite a while familiarizing him with agility trial sites, with the knowledge that it might just be too much for you. With the help of a great trainer, a siz month plan and a lot of work, we were successful. We always make sure he has a space that is away from the crowds. We still have to avoid certain types of dogs (working on that – we know the ninja routines).

    Danny is a very talented agility dog but we are still working on focus. He came with tons of issues that we are tackling one at a time. We recently worked with a communicator and that was also very valuable. Despite, the challenges, he has earned 2 level 1 CPE titles, and earned his 1st AKC title (Novice Standard) last weekend. We have lots of friends at trials who have reactive dogs or dogs with some type of challenge. Some people don’t understand our crazy cheering for less than perfect runs, but we celebrate each other’s victories, no matter how small.

    Never give up and always celebrate your victories!

  75. Good to know I’m not alone with my reactive dog, a female basset hound that I adopted nearly 6 years ago. Bella is sweet, affectionate, friendly and very placid, providing you are human. However, if you are canine, look out . . . up go the hackles and out comes the loud, angry aroooos, which wake everyone up within a 5 mile radius. Interestingly enough, she likes cats and completely ignores squirrels, rabbits, birds and other wildlife. I, too, have done my share of hiding behind trees, jumping into shrubbery, and running in the other direction. I also try to distract her with carrots, and the occasional song and dance routine (she likes it when humans act silly). The song and dance routine not only distracts and entertains Bella, but has the added benefit of making anyone else out with their dog think I am a lunatic, causing them and their dogs to back away slowly and quietly. I highly recommend it. Anyway, your Jersey is absolutely adorable. Bella is my fifth rescue basset over a period of 20+ years and reactive or not, she’s just the best furkid in the world and I love her to bits.

  76. I lost a dog in April who, because of her particular illness, made my life difficult for several years. She was the most ultra-loving dog I’d ever encountered when it came to people. She was okay with dogs as long as my smaller dog was not with us, but protective if we were all walking at once…she She was awesome and became my heart and soul dog of all dogs I’ve owned. She died 4 months ago and I was waiting to recuperate financially, emotionally, and physically from all the work and heartbreak I’d gone through. Then someone offered me a pup, not a wee pup but still a pup, of the same breed. It was sooner than I had expected to get one and I had gotten my “soulmate” even sooner after the death of her predecessor, so I said yes. And I grew to love her as I always will do. And then she started showing more and more timidity and then reactivity towards people as well as dogs. I didn’t choose to deal with this and others in my household are not happy that our lives have been turned upside down by a pup who is hard to live with. I admit I’ve cried over it. I don’t want to turn my back on her but finding anyone in my area who knows how to work with this particular problem isn’t easy and my funds for hiring anyone were depleted when the loving dog died. I always take on a new pet expecting to stick by them and so I have done with this one, but it always helps to read others’ plights and methods for dealing with these dogs. She isn’t what I wanted. Again I’ve been dealt an unpleasant hand with a pet and I have years to go before her life is lived out and I can try again. It is painful. But…I love her. She is mine now so I too have begun living life aware of what it’s like to have the “unfriendly” dog. I appreciate your comments as well as reading about how others feel about their own reactive dogs.

  77. LOVE this. My best dog ever was a reactive rover. He took me on many less-traveled roads where, I too, saw many sunrises. I learned so much about my own tension and triggers, and how I communicated that to my canine buddy. He taught me to trust my senses and intuition about other dogs and other people. It was touch and go at times, but he helped me become a far better dog owner, even perhaps, a better person.

  78. Holy, holy, holy. Some one like ME!!! Your second paragraph I could have written about Zilke, every single word of it. But the whole story is bang on – except that we lived in a small city and moved to the country – mainly because of Zilke and her aggression. We do dog agility. You learn to have a 6th sense about where ALL dogs are on the clock face at ALL times! Now, here we are nursing Zilke through cancer and loving her, and she is the sweetest, most mellow, (albeit sometimes a little grumpy with the young ones), old dog. I thought we’d lose her at an early age because of her attitude to other dogs, but we’re still here, and at 13 1/2 years old she’s hanging in there. We haven’t long left now because of the cancer, but what we have we are loving. She is being spoilt rotten and responding well to that! 🙂 I too, would not change having owned Zilke, our second dog (we now have dog #9). If it wasn’t for her, we too, would know NOTHING about dog training or dog behaviour. She was sent to us to teach us a lesson. My very next dog, Ash, is exactly the opposite and complete social butterfly – dogs and humans, he doesn’t care. With him we learned about clicker training and positive reinforcement. Then we applied it to Zilke. They are both growing old gracefully together now (along with a string of younger, fitter, more athletic dogs). With Ash I had to learn about anatomy – he had cruel hip dysplasia diagnosed at 3yo and a double arthroplasty at 5yo – no more agility for him, or so we thought! That dog was sent to teach me just houw much dogs can learn. Once we’re on the behaviour/serious dog training track each them will teach us a different lesson. But it’s the grumpy ones that teach us the most.

  79. Fellow Ninja here, our mastiff mix became reactive at about 1 1/2 years old too. She’d been off leash and in dog parks prior to this. She’s now taught our coonhound to want to attack dogs while we walk as well, even though the coonhound loves dogs when off-leash. I’ve hidden in driveways, jumped barriers, ran down embankments and basically glowed from embarrassment more times than I wish to remember and we can’t really ever have guests in. But I love my dogs a whole lot more than the judgy dog walkers in my neighborhood so I deal. I’ll remember this blog each and every day but especially on the bad walk days. Thank you!

  80. I have dogs that are reactive on lead but much better off lead. Have any of you got any classes like this nearby you could look at attending Dog Communication use ‘teaching dogs’ to show other dogs how to behave and let them know what behaviours are acceptable and which are not, obviously closely supervised. Angela Stockdale started working with teaching dogs in the UK

    Good luck to you all.

  81. So just out of curiosity, is this about you or did you sit under my window and follow me on my daily walks with my girl Jersey. This is my life on a daily basis. Thank you for putting a comical spin on it, it was refreshing and needed.

  82. Have you tried walking on trails used by cyclists? I find multi-use trails keep people’s dogs on leash… since a fast road bike can go 25-30km/h. Martin Goodman Trail for example is a fairly reliable place to walk in a park like setting and have next to zero chance of an off leash dog.

  83. Wonderful articel and it reminded me of living with Mele. Her walker Eica helped her immensly but she remained reactive whenever I tried to walk her. Hiding in driveways and behind parked cars in the street were often a refuge. But I would never give up the challenges she and I experienced. I just wish she could have been happy around other 4 legged friends. But at least we had each other. Thanks Erica…. Linda P

  84. Thanks for the great story.Our Cocoa is the mirror image of your dog – she is great with other dogs, but petrified of people & cars/trucks/bicycles/motorcycles/music. So we go through that same crazy routine you do before leaving the apartment – look out the window for delivery trucks, trash trucks, etc.

  85. I foster rescue dogs for various groups and my 1st ever foster was a very reactive Jack Russell- Papillon mix. 10 pounds of reactive dog screaming to escape its small body. I felt like a parent with an emotionally unstable child! We were going to two different training groups at once. I am a regular church-goer but ditched church for 8 weeks to attend a training course for reactive dogs. It was more urgent than my immortal soul. I totally understand casting your eyes to heaven and screaming “Why??!”. It happened. I was able to take Woody to an off-leash park but had to leave a 4 foot leash on him so that I could pull him out of scraps with other dogs – hauling him in like a long shoreman – hand over hand over hand on the leash! I found pennies in an empty pop can to be a good way to get his focus away from another dog and onto me. He was adopted into a loving family a few months later. I have visited in his new home a few times since then. He was an incredibly loving and social dog at my office (at least with humans) and he loved to play fetch down the long hallway there. My bad aim spawned the office insult that “You throw like a lawyer”! But Woody was a great dog as a 1st foster because all my subsequent dogs seem so calm by comparison to him!

  86. I, too, am a crying, singing, dancing, liver-scented, bush-hiding ninja who LOVES her reactive dog. I didn’t know there were others. Such a joy to find you. Thank you!

  87. This was a good read I will definitely repost this. I don’t have a reactive dog but I understand about people letting their dog get all up in my dogs grill. Lol ugh those moments make me laugh. But then again the poodles and malteses I have to watch out for since my Pit Bull got attacked by one at 4 months. So he gets reactive to them. But I love this. 🙂

  88. I am sitting here laughing hysterically!! I adopted (Hallie )a dalmation from the shelter and thought she would be EXACTLY like my first perfect dalmation. OH Boy was I wrong! I was so innocent and naive. Now, after taking a bunch of positive training classes (including a reactive dog training class with non other than Emma Parsons!!!!) I have learned so much from Hallie. I wouldnt change it for the world. I am a NINJA!!!!! I also invented the “Doggie Did” because of Hallie. I have grown so much with my little dalmation. However, my dog sitter is asking me to get a goldfish next time…..

  89. Thanks so much for this article….OMG!! Sometimes it feels like we’re the only one climbing the rocks to avoid the scene. My Ally is a very reactive coonhound-whippet X…. as well as two other very socialized dogs, a pitbull (Tucson) and a lab-shepherd X.(Tango) I can totally relate to the sunrise/sunset walks. It’s great having the other two as wingmen who meet and greet, giving us time to escape. Thanks again!!

  90. My Ned is situationally reactive and I relate to your entire story. He has taught me so much about life, other people and given me a thirst for knowledge to help him live a enjoyable life. We find that k9 Nose Work has given him a job and allows him to bond and trust in me during new situations. We visited Home Depot the other day with Huge success. I know it is never ending prepping him for success at every turn. Thank you for writing this article.

  91. Thank you so much for this brilliant article it has made us feel so much better! Having had abused border collies previously who had become the easiest dogs in the world to live with I could not believe it when our present dog – a sort of lurcher was so different. I was so upset and I have to admit shocked when whatever I tried didn’t work and as you put it turned into a whirling dervish when coming across another dog on lead. I felt a real failure and have cried shed loads over him. Yet like you I have come to look on this as a blessing in many ways. My lovely Ted has made me look at things differently and at age 59 realise how to learn again. It occurred to me that perhaps things do work in mysterious ways and there was a reason he came to us even though we thought we’ d picked him. (We went to the rescue for an older collie and came back with a six month old “crossbreed.”) Boy has he taught me stuff! Everything you wrote about I have experienced. Slowly we are getting better at this but I know we’re a long way from perfect. Who cares? The thing is I love him now because of this not despite it. Thanks again

  92. We have a doxie from the shelter and we’re starting to work on his reactivity. What’s the difference between a reactive dog and an unsocialized one? Or is socialization only something you can do during the puppy stage?

  93. Ha this did make me laugh. My rescue dog Evie is similar. She is getting better as I am able to distract her with a treat when dogs walk past us. Once they come up to her shes normally fine! Off lead she doesn’t mind so much but unfortunately her recall isn’t great! My Springer who was very well behaved has now picked up on a few of her bad habits. He was supposed to be her mentor ¬_¬

  94. I have tears in my eyes as I write this. I found Emma starving in the road over a year ago and she is an amazing snuggler, full of energy and love. She loves to play and tries to play with everyone. Emma cannot be around other dogs though because she doesn’t understand dog social cues and when she senses any threat will attack viciously (dogs, never people). We have three other dogs already, so ours cannot be her forever home. She has been accepted into an adoption program, but still stays with us because there is no other available foster. Through no fault of her own, Emma can’t be in contact with other dogs without her basket muzzle. You’ve given us hope that we will find someone like you who will fall in love with Emma the way that we have and give her the life of unconditional love and acceptance she deserves. Thank you.

  95. Great Reading! This really hits home for my family. The youngest of our 4 we found on the side of the road. He is great with our “pack” but is highly dog reactive. Even reactive to the smell of another dog. After 3 years and still in training, every day is just a little baby step for him. But in all reality he has made me a better person and I would not have it any other way.

  96. Love your article! It helps to know that others have reactive dogs too 🙂 My Akita is a handful and I have to be so careful with him. Dog parks are not an option for us either. The early morning walks are though. And, I love acting like a ninja 😀 Thanks for this wonderfully-written piece!

  97. This is one of the most enjoyable things I have read in a while. My dog has a moderate leaning toward severe case of separation anxiety, can’t be at home alone that we haven’t been able to break through with his training yet. If that isn’t hard enough to deal with he is also very vocally leash reactive. He wants to run up and greet every dog he sees and will become way over excited and agitated on leash if he can’t. He truly does have a case of the “gotta say hi’s”, and he has seen multiple trainers and has gotten awesome reviews on his off leash group behavior from every supervised playgroup we have taken him to and he hasn’t shown any aggression in dog parks (although we don’t go much due to other dogs not being properly supervised). However, I am so tired of trying to convince people who surprise us around a corner in our high density apartments that no, he isn’t trying to eat your dog. Honestly, after a year I’m about ready to just tell everyone they better run! No one believes me that he just has a very rude barking problem anyway. We are the scorn of the “good” dog owners (as I’m sure they view themselves with their non reactive dogs).

  98. I enjoyed this! My 8.5month old pup is similar, unpredictable with dog run-ins & more likely to be reactive on leash.. Although people are a big issue too, he’s had bad experiences, like my neighbor trying to punish him & smack him, so he’s extremely cautious of everyone! Mostly men.. Makes it tough. This was a good read, i definitely do the stealthy ninja to avoid the neighbor! Would like to live in an apartment in the future, maybe we’ll get better.. 😦

  99. So comforting to read this as I too am struggling with a very reactive dog.
    As a point of interest, what type of cross is Jersey. She has a strong physical resemblance to my dog Merlin – both in build, facial expression ears etc and of course behaviour. We were told by the rescue organisation that he is a collie cross – certainly he has a strong herding instinct which is yet another challenge for me.
    Anyway, thanks for sharing you made me laugh!

    • Hi Maggy
      Jersey’s former owners who brought her to the shelter SWORE she was an australian shep x a bulldog (said father was pure). I strongly doubt the bulldog as she is 40 lbs and quite slim. I refer to her as an aussie x but she could have husky (she talks) or German shep in her. J has a strong herding (and fetching) instinct too. She just turned 6 and is also very very active.

      Thanks for your kind words

  100. That’s Cloe and me you’re talking about!
    Same love, same scanning the street before opening the door, same laughs, same every single thing you named. Except for whipped cream, which is veg cream here at our place, and unfortunately does not come in cans, we have to whip it 😉
    Cloe is a who-knows-what mix adopted from shelter when she was 65 days old, but her reactivity dates way before the day she was born, as she was rescued at 1 day of age together with 47 more dogs (young, adult and old ones) who had been living for years in a fenced garden, abandoned, fighting each other, generating offsprings, killing each other, lacking food and care and contact with the world and with human beings. Cloe never experienced any of this, but she carries in herself a heavy genetic burden, being the last result of an (un)natural selection.
    I’ve been lucky: as a volunteer at the shelter I spend most of my time in the company of professional trainers, attend courses and lectures about dog behaviour, walk and work with problematic dogs. So I’ve never been alone, nor has Cloe: she started classes and training at 5 months of age, we progressively adjusted the training to her specific needs and problems, we accepted she will never become friendly to other dogs and will always prefer not to get close to them. After two years and a half, she can now walk properly without pulling the leash, she can control herself if dogs are reasonably distant, and if an unleashed dog approaches she remains very close to me instead of sprinting towards it, at least most of the times, although she barks, and shiver, and shows all her teeth.
    True: it has been a difficult life, it still is, it will most probably always be, but I love Cloe and I’m proud of her for trying to fight her fears and for trusting me when she can not defeat them. Any time I feel tired, I can’t help thinking what would happen to her if she was adopted by someone else just because she was a cute puppy and then maybe returned to the shelter to get old and die there, or abandoned in this world which scares her so, and in the meantime I would never have the chance to learn all the gret things she’s teaching me, or to enjoy her beautiful eyes fixed in mine and full of love.
    Thanks you all: the world looks better after reading what you all wrote in post and comments!

  101. I love this and can totally relate. My girl is exactly the same way. It can be very difficult but like you said, it’s made me a better dog owner than I would have been if she wasn’t this way!

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  103. Fantastic post. My newf mix had given me 3 concussions and a torn rotator cuff before I realized that all the training and behaviorists I’d tried weren’t going to fix this. My “ninja skills” are now finely honed and a 6 foot tall privacy fence has made his life more comfortable as well. While the last 5 years have been incredibly stressful at times, he’s been a great teacher.

  104. Thank you for the reassurance that I am not alone! My first pair of german shepherds were not dog friendly . They especially did not like to have their grill((s) invaded by the unleashed masses that seem to proliferate our public parks. So, like you I found all the ways to avoid these dogs and their scoff-law owners. We ended up discovering the far reaches of our neighborhood 640 acre park, and in a busy metropolis truly found the road less traveled. Thanks for reminding me of those wonderful ninja days!

  105. After owning a golden mix for 15 years, we adopted a super cute puppy from And so began our education of the reactive dog! Up until Gilda, we were the ones saying things like, “I would NEVER own a dog that jumps at the window when you ring the doorbell!” and “If people would just train their dogs! ” when passing a lunging, growling pup. Call it Karma or whatever but we are now on the other end of the leash so to speak! Thanks for speaking for all of us as we continue the journey of loving a reactive dog…

  106. TRULY TRULY BRILLIANT. I cried with laughter. I too am a bush-diving, whipped-cream-eating dog-aggression- avoiding NINJA!! Loved your story and empathize whole-heartedly, although mine’s a Milly not a Jersey 😉 Sounds like you are making good progress with her. Best of luck

  107. Awesome.

    I have very much become a dog-walking ninja. What really cracks me up is when I’m out walking my (very loud) reactive Border Collie. Who is loud. Did I mention that he’s loud? Anyway, we see another dog approaching, and immediately seek an out, only to realize that the other dog-walker is also seeking an out, and that our outs will bring us to a Different meeting point just a block in the other direction.

  108. Thanks for this AWESOME post! I have a dog-reactive bulldog and it’s heartbreaking and frustrating and just… well, you know. I love him to pieces, though, and we’re working on it. We have a wonderful trainer helping us out and we’re doing Control Unleashed exercises to help him relax in stressful situations. I would love if you checked out our blog at I also run, a blog with lots of different writers, and many of us have dogs with… um, Issues., but we work through them and we do all sorts of fun activities 🙂 Thanks again for this post!

  109. Hi, that was funny to read although I know it’s not always funny to live with it. 🙂 A french bulldog bite to my labrador and that problem started, untill then he could just pass other dogs without any agression! We keep him on training and he’s doing better, but I still feel fear and have to work with myself as well and keep walking like ninja, stop talking in the middle and quickly go away, etc. I guess I look not so good when walking dog and keep looking around lol But I love my dog and hope to have him normal again so we can walk without leash and play wherever we want!

    • Thanks Sonata. I find I ALWAYS have to be on alert with Jersey..I consider each walk a training session that needs my undivided attention so I can see dogs coming and train appropriately (for me and Jersey it’s doing BAT). I have a few places I walk where I never/very rarely see other dogs so if I am not feeling focused/in training mode I go and walk there

  110. My dog trainer forwarded me this link yesterday. I didn’t have the opportunity to read it until I was home, in bed, just about to go to sleep. After a long day this unexpectedly brilliant post was just what I needed. I laughed so hard I cried at times. Great job at painting the story of living with a reactive dog. It is lonely but when I feel like throwing my hands up in the air, I’ll keep this post near by.

  111. From yet another reactive dog owner (1 out of my 3), I thank you for this post. For helping me realize that I’m not the only one out there that avoids particularly houses with open garage doors, has threatened neighbors into fencing in their yards, for running through the neighborhood carrying one of my dogs (not the reactive ones but she can’t move quickly) after seeing another reactive dog in the neighborhood loose from their electric fence. I’ve never realized how many idiots can’t put a leash on their damn dog until I owned a reactive dog of my own!

  112. Since i have my female MIsha i had to go through a lot of adjustments. I had that vision of a friendly loving dog that would do all those things with me (flyball, agility, playdates at off leash dog parks) but unfortunately she is not made for that. Every day is like pandora box u never know whats gonna happen. I attended 3 reactive dog classes with her, but the only thing i learned is that the classes are waste of time if you do not do the work yourself, the most important part is what you do on a daily basis, and how do you apply all the knowledge that was given to you.
    I wish i had some friends that have similar problem to work with. But living in a small town with no understanding people can be very hard.

  113. I have a very reactive 10lbs Yorkie. He is now 6 yrs old. He started out fine and we were living in downtown Toronto with lots of people and crowd and he was fine passing kids, other dogs..then we moved to Burlington and at 3 years old, his aggressive issues popped out. Funny thing is, there is a few dogs that he will actually like and tolerate and walk with, what a weirdo.

    We went to positive training school and learnt how to manage him. I don’t have lots of hope he will change, I think it is somewhere in the genes but I love him the same and at the very least, the school helped me lessen my stress of handling him. Like you, I plan my walk VERY CAREFULLY and I scan 40-50ft ahead like an eagle and my mind is always on the alert for backup plans…I always have the if a dog all of a sudden dash out from this house, I do this or this or this…or if all options fail, I carry him lol.

    • Where ‘food’ is used as a reward, substitute ‘toys’, ‘games of tug’, ‘cuddles’, or something else Oscar finds rewarding instead 🙂

      • Unfortunately he isn’t interested in toys in the park or in the streets, no matter if it is his favourite toy or a new one =S What I’m doing next is buying a pair of in line roller skates and to drain his energy even more. I trained dogs before and I could’t help him, I called trainers home and nothing could be done with external tools like toys or food. The level of anxiety he is in, goes far any of them. The only thing I found that works is keep on walking walking and repeating to him “come on” every time he turns his head to see the other dog (of course I sound like a scratched LP repeating it). He is absolutely brilliant with other dogs, he is not aggressive, I fostered two collies who where badly treated in the past and feared humans and he helped them to trust humans again and grew up with them (the 3 of them -my dog and the two collies- where 4 months of at the time, one of them stayed with us for 6 months the other only 4 until they were adopted) and I also look after my friends dogs here at home when they need it. What he wants is play with them non stop but lacks good social skills despite I socialized him since he was a pup. So instead of greeting a dog by smelling first and being cautious he jumps in front of them and shows the play bow position right away and start running like crazy. Some younger dogs play with him, but older dogs (of his age and plus) don’t like this greeting and they let him know. It passed some time since I wrote the 1st comment, and now Oscar is trying to hold himself and smell first in the park, I’m very proud, but it cost him to meet a pack of 4 dogs bigger in size doing the same to him (with me there to protect him just in case), he felt a bit scared at the beginning but the other ones understood he was scared so they kept on going with their owners and I said “go on” =) and he went very slowly to smell them, they did the same, and came back to me. Since then, he is doing it with older dogs. Now my challenge are younger dogs and walks.

  114. Reblogged this on My Own Personal Grey and commented:
    Bella’s not quite this bad, but she used to be…. Sometimes I’m very sad I can’t just take Bella everywhere with me as I’d originally intended, but she’s such a good girl and I love her. I wish more people understood that my “bad dog” is a good dog. She’s just not a “dog person.”

    • Suki’s the same way. She likes dogs she knows really well, but not other dogs. I was always so concerned about that until my vet told me it’s fine…not all dogs are “dog people”. Suki is such a cuddle bug, loves people, and is super sweet with kids. To me, that’s more important than whether she likes someone else’s dog. If they don’t like it, then keep your dog aware from mine.

  115. Love this post! Too funny, I posted something similar on my blog (, since unfortunately I’m a reactive dog parent as well. I may have to try the ninja bit next time, since I’m surrounded by dogs now.

  116. Thanks for this. It is nice to know I am not alone. I’m “that guy” of our neighbourhood too. FYI there is an adult socialization at Its a Dog’s Life on Jane and Dundas for reactive dogs. It has helped tremendously. Thanks again.

  117. It’s always nice to hear about someone else’s plight and similarities when you have a dog aggressive dog. Today my border collie Pumpkin reacted to R.C planes, then a dog that was off leash and ran past us, then a yorkie and a papillion that ran out of a yard at us, then a dog that was walking past us on leash that he mustn’t have liked. All of that in one hour and I was exhausted. But everyday brings new challenges. I have learned to understand that he’s not going to be like all the other dogs, but we work hard together to help him out ( a new trainer starting this week) and I would never trade him for the world. And now when we go out to an off leash, and he’s there with his big old basket muzzle, and I see someone else in the same situation we raise our hands and cry “Muzzle power” and we don’t feel so alone. Thanks for your post. I will share!

  118. I totally 100% agree with you… I have one reactive dog and one that is semi-normal but towards the reactive side. I thank my dogs every day for teaching me to be a great dog owner because like you said, otherwise I’d just be a ninny that says ‘oh he’s friendly’ when some tells me their dog is not. They have taught me so much and are exactly the dogs that I needed to learn.

    It’s funny how we feel so alone and judged as reactive dog owners, but there are more of us out there than you think! Too bad our reactive dogs couldn’t bond over their fear of other dogs like we can over their reactivity!

    Good luck with your rehab!

  119. Thank you so much for writing this. I really needed it. I own a dog reactive and traffic reactive dog which in combination with the recent snow over here in the UK has led to lots of fun. I too have hidden behind things leapt away from people mid conversation and have to peer around every corner to prepare myself for incomers.
    I had never considered the whipped cream, but now I definitely will. You made me smile and reminded me that there are some people out there who “understand”.
    PS – Jersey is a little bit lovely. 🙂

  120. Pingback: How to live with a reactive dog - My German Shepherd Forum

  121. I just adopted my first dog at 10 months and she was perfect with other dogs (except for resource guarding), now she is 13 months and starts fights completely at random. The last and final time I took her to the dog park she started fights unprovoked with 3 dogs bigger and smaller than her, and drew blood on a scared, shy 5 month old puppy. I feel terrible saying this, but I really don’t think we have bonded, and I am REALLY starting to resent her because of her behavior. She is perfect with humans and well-trained, and she loves playing with other dogs, but she is very dominant and her attacks are completely at random… I think she would be MUCH happier in a home with other playmates and people (like she was raised) instead of living alone with just me (thats why I tried to take her to parks). I researched dog care and ownership for months and even rented a house with a fenced yard specifically so I could have a dog. I feel too guilty to even bring this up to the foster agency I adopted her from, but I have had cats my whole life and think I’m just not cut out to be a dog person. 😦 I think she can tell 😦 😦 😦 Her adoption page said she “loves dogs and cats” but she loves to hunt, eat and injure cats and I can’t bear the thought of never having a kitty again. I don’t know what to do. I just feel horrible that I don’t have this overwhelming feeling of love for her like I should and I know she deserves better.

    • Breza,
      Please don’t give up yet. I was a life long cat owner until 2 years ago. Dogs are much different! A new situation like a new home with new people can be very stressful for dogs. I remember getting Suki home and thinking “ok, now what”.

      When I adopted her as my first dog 2 years ago, she was scared of everything, had no confidence, had submissive pee, and was super dog/leash reactive…even though she spent 2 weeks in a foster home with a cat & 2 dogs. With patience, love, and positive training, she is a different dog now. It took several months of working with her and gaining her trust. She still barks at other dogs while on leash, but she no longer lunges and plays fine with dogs off leash once she gets to know them. I dog-sit for my friend’s 3 dogs in my house (up to a week at a time), and Suki is fine. I don’t think she’ll ever be a dog park dog because she needs to get to know dogs well first, but that’s ok. Not every dog has to love other dogs or the excitement of a dog park. Suki likes being the sole recipient of attention with an occasional play date/sleep over. I can even take her into a pet store, and she’ll sit right next to the cats without a reaction now.

      I recommend looking for a reactive dog class or trainer who specializes in reactivity in your area. Please only do positive training though! Suki and I took a reactive dog class for a few months which was a tremendous help. She gained exposure to other dogs in a safe environment, and I learned many coping techniques. I started walking with a treat bag, and she learned calm behavior resulted in treats, barking/lunging did not. I also learned that dogs pick up on our stress which makes them react. I was always so stressed about meeting other dogs that I communicated that stress down the leash to Suki which caused her to react badly. I started walking with a hands-free leash (goes around my waist) until I learned to keep myself calm. It was very helpful.

    • I can totally relate. I feel sick to my stomach at the thought of walking my dog. When I got him in September, he was great with other dogs. The only time he would bark at other dogs was when he couldn’t meet them. Took him to a playgroup in January and he did find for about an hour. Then he wouldn’t leave this one dog alone (he was too rough), so we left. Then we went a 2nd time a couple weeks later. He was fine until this one dog arrived. He and the dog were playing rough and next thing you know, my dog has latched onto this other dog. Thank goodness he did not cause injury to the dog but ever since then he goes nuts at other dogs. We recently started private training sessions and when he sees dogs go to the grooming station, he goes crazy. The thought of his next vet visit makes me feel sick (because of the waiting room full of dogs). The trainer wants me to take him for walks and let him see other dogs but not meet them yet. The thought of this sickens me. I am not patient and my reaction is to walk in the other direction instead of trying to get him to behave and sit and give him treats. Glad to see I’m not the only one going through this.

      • def not the other one. Hope things have improved! Is there a way you can wait further away and have the training like text or come get you? It’s not good for the dog to have to wait and see other dogs coming/going/being groomed while waiting. Jersey has done a lot of training but that would be too much for her. Maybe your training could come to your home or meet somewhere quieter as well? My vet is great; if the waiting room is full you can always call and ask them to let them know when you can be brought into a room and wait outside/car in the meantime. The waiting room is stressful anyways so this is a good option for even non reactive dogs

  122. Breza, sounds like you need a bit of help in transitioning from understanding cats to dogs. As you are finding, they are very different in how they operate. For instance, when you say her attacks are completely random….there are likely body-language cues she gives off before the attacks happen, that you are missing bc you don’t know what to look for. (no fault of your own, it takes time to understand dogs and how they interact with the world and each other) Once you knew what to look for, you’d be able to intervene in time to either stop them. If you want to find a way to work with your dog, may I recommend finding a good, POSITIVE-BASED Trainer who will be able to help you. One of the many advantages to positively based training is that is actually forges a stronger bond between the dog and you, as the dog learns to trust you as a leader and wants to do what you ask it to do.

    Fights happen at dog parks, it’s just part of dog-park culture. In your description of the latest fight, you say three dogs and a puppy were involved…was this one big fight or 4 separate incidences? Once a dog has been involved in an altercation at the park, that dog should be leashed up and either taken out of the park, or moved away and allowed time to calm down before being let off leash again.

    Don’t under estimate resource-guarding either…the resource doesn’t always have to be food or a favourite toy….it can be a particular stick or a stone or even a patch of grass with a particular scent. If your dog’s resource guarding issue was never dealt with, this could be part of what’s causing the fights at the dog park. (and resource guarding can be dealt with with a trainer)

    Not sure where you’re located, but if you;re in/around Toronto, I would highly recommend as trainers who can help you. Don’t try doing all this by yourself, it won’t work if you’re not experienced with dogs. Get professional help (the right help, plz don’t go with “dominance based” training, it can make matters worse) and things should start to improve for both of you.

    And lastly, if you do decide to give up the dog, plz do contact the foster agency you got the dog from….they will have resources for helping the dog and ensuring the issues are either dealt with before re-homing, or will find experienced owners who do know how to handle the situation.

    It’s worth doing all you can, because when you do bond with a dog, there’s something you get from a dog that you don’t from a cat. I have dogs and cats, and love them all, and the relationships with the dogs is different than the one with the cats. Dog ownership is (generally) more challenging than cat ownership, and I guess because of that, can also be more rewarding on some level. At least that’s my opinion and experience.

    Good luck!

  123. Pingback: We’re both making progress | Bailey's Bail Out

  124. it sounds like you and jersey are soul mates! it takes a special type of person to love a special type of dog. but just as any other dog they need, want and deserve love too. good for you!

  125. I adore this post. I have a super dog reactive/mildly people reactive great dane. I pictured my theoretical dog and I as a parade attending, restaurant eating, therapy doing pair. Instead we are ninjas and sprinters. In the beginning I was so frustrated because she was perfect at dog parks and playdates, so i could not understand the on leash freakout when they started. I tried to explain to my terrified neighbors as she lunged and growled at their tiny pups that she “loves other dogs”. I was so embarrassed, Then one day I realized I wasn’t doing anyone any good with this. I started wearing running clothes on our walks so we could start sprinting when we saw the silloutte of another dog blocks away and not look completely insane. We are working on people first and avoiding dogs, because the people issue is less severe in its presentation and more important to deal with, but when presented with the opportunity we do distance counter conditioning with other dogs. It is a long road but it is so rewarding when you make progress.

    • Thanks Lauren! I bet it is hard with a great dane too as I find so many dogs react to them just based on there size alone and I am sure people want to run up and pet the “small pony”. Yikes. Good call on the running clothes. I have a feeling Ninja sprinting (both as a verb and style) is going to be all the rage this summer so you and your dane are ahead of the curve. Good luck with everything! Ninja sprinting; the act of stealthily sprinting upon viewing another dog.

  126. This blog on reactive dogs has been very validating to our current situation. I can sure relate and have used many of your techniques for avoidance instinctively already. I have even tried going to a holistic vet for flower essences to take the edge off but have not found it to be that helpful. I now have a consult with a trainer that does CBATI therapy. I hope this helps. It IS stressful to be a owner of a very dog reactive dog in public. I am thankful that at home Lucy is great. It also helps that she is so darn cute! We rescued her from the shelter for this reason. 🙂 Although we love her, I too long for a lower maintenance dog. Yes, a support group would be good!

    • WOW Lilian awesome you are looking into so many different therapies. It can be a bit of frustrating trial and error to find the right one. I really hope you find something that helps for you and your gal Lucy. It is completely normal to long for a lower maintenence canine; people always express guilt over it but we reactive dog owners have ALL though it (and the one’s who haven’t are likely drunk all the time or something haha).Lucy is lucky to have you

  127. So glad I found your site! My 4 year old Aussie became reactive at about a year of age. We’d gone to dog parks and he seemed to have a good time…until he was mugged a couple of times. We’ve taken two classes for reactive dogs and he’s doing better, whenever we see another dog he’s learning to look at me for a treat. Wouldn’t go anywhere without treats and try at all costs to not come too close to other dogs. We take a lot of detours and change directions a lot. We walk only where I can scan for dogs…surprise encounters with dogs result in my having a crazy dog at the end of the leash. But, I love him. He’s extraordinarily affectionate and loves all people…just can’t stand other dogs.

    • Aussie lovers unite! Jersey is supposedly part aussie and they are one of my favorite breeds.Jersey is similar to your guy; surprise encounters do not end well but we have lots of strategies in place to both a) avoid these situations b) get out of them ASAP is they occur and c) deal with them if they do happen (not often at all)

  128. Awesome read…a great laugh about a subject that needs attention! It is a great bonding experience, having a reactive dog in your life, and it’s true what they say that you don’t know what it’s like until you have lived with a reactive dog. You have to love them and help them through it with the understanding that they don’t know what else to do, unless you show them.

  129. This so describes my Marmalade. I too had fantasies about dogs parks and making new friends. The only dog mine has ever liked was the Chi that use to live next door, they were like Mutt and Jeff.

  130. Thanks for the tips. It is easy to think you and your dog are the only one going through this. Our rescue dog, Bruce, has shamed himself everywhere. We love him and he is come a long way. Nice to know we are not alone! Thank you.

    • Good luck to you and Bruce! You are definitely not the only one. One of the unfortunate parts is that reactive dog owners never really get a chance to meet (other than maybe a shared nod or eye contact of understanding)

  131. We have a reactive foster dog and I was nearly in tears of frustration tonight. After reading your post, especially the part about pretending you are a ninja, I was laughing and crying tears of joy. I actually peed my pants a little I laughed so hard.

  132. This is great! Thanks for the laugh! As a pet sitter and dog walker, I have also gotten very good at avoiding any dog or person that will cause the dog or dogs to react like a ninja. Some of the dogs react at anything or anyone they see at a distance so it can be very trying but I keep my sense of humor and love and accept all dogs for who they are and who they are not or will never be.

  133. We have a people reactive Belgain Malinois/Chihuahua mix (rescue puppy, but the DNA test came back with these results). Well the two combined traits made him a suspicious, people fearing brat. Loves anyone that he knows well, but who the heck wants to get to know him when he’s up in your face! We’re on our second trainer and fourth methods of dealing with him. He’s an absolute doll to us and strangely loves all other dogs, but crap with new people. And we just adopted a calm, loving puppy that is taking on some of his barking traits. Lord help us. Everyone’s stories here made me feel like I wasn’t alone in my crying and worrying.

  134. So so so true. Not only is my collie cross dog-to-dog reactive she is also noise phobic. Has made for many “interesting” walks.
    We are currently working with a great trainer in the hope of getting her to become less reactive.

  135. Finding this post has come at such a perfect time for me! I adopted a 1-year-old border collie/retriever mix, Dexter, 6 months ago. For the first 4 months, he was the perfect dog. Walking him was a breeze, it was possibly the most relaxing part of my day and I looked forward to it. That all changed when he slowly but surely started showing reactivity about 2 months ago.

    He is still a super social pup and I can still bring him to off-leash parks, but anything on-leash (walks, training classes, visits to pet stores or the vet), are a complete nightmare. What starts out as pulling turns into lunging, manic barking and all-out panic. I think I am dealing with leash frustration, but it has brought me such relief that I’m not the only one who comes home from an embarrassing walk in tears. Dexter’s walks are now the most stressful part of my day. However, reading all of these stories have given me a sense of peace and I feel so much less alone with this! Thank you!!

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  137. I love this blog! I have a reactive dog too, she is so lovely indoors and with friends and family but on walks she is scared of people with dogs and sometimes people (mainly men). She wasn’t socialised enough as a pup. She is slowly getting better but I still have to plan my routes, hide in bushes, cross roads when I see dogs etc and I know the gut sinking feeling when I get out and am walking happily along then realise I’ve forgotten the all important dog treats! It’s nice to know someone is going through what I am!

  138. Last night I was running in a field with our very dog reactive rescue. An off-leash Dalmatian came out of nowhere running towards us. Long story short, my dog bit my thigh (not sure if my leg got in the way of his open mouth or if it was redirected). Either way, I was extremely upset when I got home and shed many tears of frustration. I came across this blog posting and it made me smile. This morning I showed it to my husband and I was able to laugh. Thanks…..I really needed this. (I was going to say that you have no idea how much I needed to read this, but in fact you DO know how much I needed it!)

    • They turn and snap/bite at us because of the level of stress they are trying to endure gets to be too much and they have no outlet. Of course when the stress (unleashed dog) can’t be avoided, your poor guy feels overwhelmed. I have had two such “bites” – fortunately just leaves me with massive bruising (large rottie) – when there was no way for him to avoid/get out of a stressful situation, the first occurred before we knew of this stress overload concept. Now we are extra diligent: we keep a sharp eye, practice avoidance, and keep liver cubes to help distract him from a confrontation before his stress builds.

  139. My E. Setter is the dog who walks past other dogs who are snarling etc. etc. like they are not even there.(while she is on a leash) HOWEVER, no dog may walk on the sidewalk past our house or on the sidewalk across the street NOR any street visible from our house. She goes ballistic and has ruined furniture by tearing into it instead of the dog she can’t get to. The postman & UPS drivers & trucks also trigger this lovely behavior. BUT at least I can take her for a walk without issues!

  140. A friend of mine posted your blog on her facebook and I am so glad she did!!! I have a people-reactive dog and your blog is like a window into our lives. We love her very much and wouldn’t give her up for anything but she has definitely changed the way we do things. From the precisely planned walks, the pocket full of liver treats and the stealthy hiding maneuvers (she and I have the about-face pivot perfected). She is a 7 yr old mastiff and was well socialized as a puppy (Ive had her since she was 8 wks) but has had a few experiences that caused her to stop trusting people outside of her circle. We have managed to get her to calm down with new people in our house after about 15 minutes of heavy treating but outside our house all bets are off. I have been drug on my butt across asphalt, wrapped around trees and once I even mustered enough strength to pick her up ( all 120lbs of her!) But I think in 7 yrs we have made progress. (Thank the Lord for my trainer who has the patience of a saint!)
    So glad to once again find out that I am not the only one trapped in a fur covered box. Your blog gave me a chance to laugh at the craziness of it all!

  141. Thank you a million times for this post. I found it through Out Bound Hounds on Facebook. My female, Pit/Cane Corso Mastiff is dog aggression issues. We first came together almost 6 years ago. She was 1 and I was 37. She was my first very own dog. We do have another pit mix, Max who is 9 but he came with my husband and is the easiest most laid back dog. Suelie, my female, only likes dogs bigger than her or very calm, stable dogs. She came from an abusive home and would pancake whenever her previous owners would move his hands. I decided right then and there we were going to take not having any clue about dog aggression. She did not walk on a leash at all. Well almost 6 years later Suelie and I now run together. I can start avoiding other dogs a lot less and we can walk past a dog in a fenced in yard without incident. However, when walking by another dog on a leash things don’t usually go as well. I too either walk early in the morning or later at night, usually with an orange glow of reflective gear on. We do go to parks, not dog parks but go hiking a lot. The more tired she is, the less she is to react but we still run into people who don’t leash their dogs and I either walk the other way or ask them to put their dog on a leash. Most of the time people are very cordial but there are those who respond negatively because I have a pit bull and I quietly remind them that New York State has a leash law. I have cried a lot, definitely done several dance solo’s to get out some of my own frustrations. My life was turned upside down and honestly I have become a better person not only with my dog but my life in general. I believe she has done more for me than I ever have for her and will definitely take on another dog with behavioral issues just to give them a second chance.

    • Cheers to you and your lovely dogs! I have a 4 yr old boxer/whippet/pit girl who is reactive to other dogs and just recently have rescued 10 month old female pit. Can totally relate to the humans who do not help and get angry with you and your dog (even though they are helping to cause this reactiveness by letting their dogs get all up in your dogs everything!!).

  142. Thank you SO much for sharing this. I have hidden in a bush too with my darling reactive nightmare Tank. I feel so alone in this (even with our amazing trainer). It’s nice (in a way) to see I am not alone! Here’s to loving our pain in the butt dogs no matter what!

  143. Boy I thought I was the only person who had a dog like that. When I got my Fratus at 8 weeks old, I thought his behavior was just puppy behavior. I was told over and over again he would outgrow it. Well, he turned 2 in May, and he is still the same way. He is a challenge. I was told if I adopted another dog, he would change, but he hasn’t. He is who he is and that is it. He does things people don’t believe until he does it…….he is a little Morkie who can scale high baby gates and jumps on beds I can’t even get into because they are too high. He climbs like a cat. I hide his treats on top of things, and he manages to climb from one piece of furniture to another until he gets to where he wants to be. When he goes out, I have to hook him on his collar and his harness or he manages to wiggle out of them. A couple of times he has gotten out of the house without any leash and he will put his nose to the ground and just run, following whatever scent he picked up when he first got loose. He fears nothing including dogs 10 times his weight. When I take him to the vets, he is in charge of whoever might be waiting there to be scene by the vet. He will just break your screen out of your door and escape. I have screen guards on both sides of the door. He loves to dig holes in the dirt too. He is the most lovable dog I have ever owned. If my rescue dogs nibbles my fingers or shows his teeth, Fratus is there to beat the crap out of him for harming me. I love him to death and if he doesn’t make me grow old than no one will.

  144. Very entertaining and I can totally relate! Just wish those in the neighborhood who have gotten to know us, and our many challenge,s would stop trying to get Oliver to like them… You see, Oliver was supposed to be my easy dog, but this is not our reality. Male dog & male human reactive…some aggressive females also….he keeps me on my toes. He has improved however. Just yesterday he got loose in the hallway and did not attack the maintenance man he has despised since day one. It’s a start.

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  147. I just got a boxer who isn’t as dog-friendly as we expected and we live in a densely dog-populated building. I definitely poke my head around corners and take special paths! I’m hoping we can get the reactivity under control, because she’s otherwise a perfect dog, but eventually it won’t matter so much when we live in a house.

    I definitely got a giggle out of this article.

    • Oh yes I am sooooo familiar with the head poke. I always cross my fingers on move in day that the new people don’t have dogs. Living in a house would be so much easier. I had the same situation…new dog owner and then bam not quiiiite as dog social as I thought

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  149. Thank you, thank you, thank you. I live in a 1-mile square town of 90% rowhouses and trying to avoid other dogs is impossible. I rescued Rosie in February; supposedly she was 3 years old and liked other dogs. I know they were wrong about one of those. We ninja morning and night. I’ve worked with two different trainers. The first one essentially said she was too damaged to rehab; the second has been much more helpful and is working with me (and Rosie) using BAT. No progress yet, but I’m an optimist.

  150. This post is wonderful! I have a people-reactive dog; an adopted Romanian crossbreed. We socialised, we treated, we clicker trained, we consulted….but nothing really worked. Now we just avoid those situations that drive her crazy! Mercifully she is very social with other dogs, and when she’s not in the ‘red zone’ she’s very well behaved! I also would not change her for the world ❤

    Thanks for sharing 🙂

  151. Funny and cute post, however, avoiding the stimuli by only walking at vampire times and running away mid-conversation don’t help. The dog also can probably sense your own panicky feelings. While the reactivity may never fully go away, I’m sure with some proper training and constant introduction to the stimuli, it’ll at least improve.

    • Hi Nikki
      I have had this comment a few times; there are times to practice and other ones to get the hell out of the way. I have put a solid “let’s go” on cue where we turn and run the other way.i say it in a happy voice and she is rewarded at the end. I practice it all the time even when there are no dogs so she has a positive association and turns and pivots as soon as I cue her. I live in a major city and there are often people with dogs on flexis so it’s not a training opportunity when the dog is closing in or staring directly at your those instances I run or get off to the side and block the stimuli to avoid putting Jersey over threshold. When I have enough distance we train and Jersey is able to focus on me rather than the other dog. Every reaction is an opportunity for the dog to practice there barking and lunging so it isn’t just exposure it’s positive exposure in situations that keep the reactive dog under threshold

  152. So glad I found you this morning. I have been dealing with my four year old boxer/whippet/pit mix who literally freaks out all humans because of her reactiveness towards their dogs getting all up in her grill. Now we just rescued a 10 month old female pit bull who got over stimulated while we were in a pet store (she saw a black lab 15 feet away staring at her). I thought, oh hell here we go again! I am going to read up on all you have listed and seek out a class. Thank you also for the lighthearted laughs ~ don’t we owners of special needs dogs feel alone? Not anymore : } !!

  153. Love it! Thanks for the honesty mixed with laughter! Pablo, my four year old 80 lb. reactive boxer thank you. I had a good laugh and am looking forward to learning more abou my dog and continuing our obedience class…

  154. Loved this article, sounds similar to my dog and I, we case neighborhoods, and can tell you the dog walking patterns of every neighborhood in town.

  155. Hi! I’m looking for BAT trainers in Toronto, which led me to this amazing post. Have you worked with any CBATI in Toronto? I’m looking for a trainer and would love to know if you know someone that you can recommend. I’ve been struggling with my reactive pup for a year and a half now with counter conditioning but it hasn’t helped except to distract her. I just recently started reading about BAT (I am now completely obsessed with Grisha Stewart and BAT) and I feel like it would work for us! I really want a trainer to help guide me though so if there’s anyone you can recommend I’d really appreciate it! : )

  156. Loved the Ninja ! One of my cocker spaniels has certainly changed my life! I particularly
    liked the hiding places….dumpsters at parks where some dogs are off leash is my favorite
    place…just sayin! Just last night we encountered two terriers…I told my son to pick up
    crazy cocker and put her right in his jacket until they passed !

  157. Ahhh, you reminded me of my darling Bopre. A 110 pound German Shepherd, hater of all dogs, except one. Taking walks was a challenge too. We found a park that no one went to because it was just plain ugly. One picnic table, a loser park with trails that were boring. No one knew why it existed. Maybe for dogs like Bopre, no one was ever in the park. It was perfect for walks with a dog that hated other dogs with a passion. The low rumble would start before we would even hear or see the other dog…Oh no…move off the trail 100 yards…Hold tight, down Bopre….Good boy…

    I miss my big boy…He hated the dogs, but loved the humans!

  158. I would add *Become a power lifter*… Can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to squat and lift my 75 lb reactive dog when another person’s dog comes barreling up to us at the (leash required!) park. Or how many times I’ve had to say “I’m sure your dog is friendly; but if I tossed a tarantula in your lap and said ‘Oh it’s ok, he’s friendly’, would that make a difference to you? “

    • Ugh…Jersey doesn’t appreciate being lifted but my smaller dog Hiya often wears a Ruff wear backpack with a sturdy handle and the other day as a dog came barreling towards us I simply picked her up and turned her around

  159. So heartened that there are other people out there working hard to manage their reactive dogs – we are not alone and neither, more importantly are those dogs who need help. Lovely post and oh so familiar! Thanks for sharing.

  160. this cracked me up!!!! i go through this EVERY day. it’s as if i wrote it myself!!!!! thank you so much for sharing. this made my day!

  161. Thank you for the article! I thought I was alone! Glad to see that other people are willing to do crazy things to avoid dog confrontations. As the owner of a somewhat insane rescued and fearful pibble, this article truly made me smile!!!! I still remember the elderly woman with a little white foo-foo dog glaring me down as my crazy Maggie barked up a mad storm from across the street!!! LOL. Didn’t know if I wanted to cry or flip her the bird. I ended up just waving and going on with our walk!

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  163. Hi there. Reading this brought me close to tears. I, too, have a reactive dog. I’ve had her for almost a year, but for the first 8 months or so, we lived in a very small town and while the tactics that I tried weren’t working, we managed to live our day to day lives quite easily. We moved back to the city (Vancouver) a few months ago and things have been stressful to say the least. She hasn’t made much progress, despite training, but the level of stimulus must be rocking her little white socks off. I think I even see a couple of white hairs poking out of her snout. I have been maintaining a mentality that she will improve and I will eventually be able to be like everyone else, walking her on a loose leash, drinking coffee or answering phone calls. I suppose it won’t ever be like that, and that’s okay. Any improvement is fine by me and I will keep working to bring the best out of her. It’s encouraging to read about Jersey and other dogs like her, and I love your ability to use humour to make light of situations that could otherwise be awkward and horrifically stressful (the tears are real!). I wish we were neighbours so that we could sneer at the judgemental dog owners with their snooty normal dogs. I bet they don’t even cuddle.

    • Not to mention the countless times that I have wondered (and have been asked by others) whether she would be happier with someone else on a big farm somewhere… Do you ever feel like that? How do you justify that she is a happier dog with you? It’s something that I struggle with a lot.

      • It can be rough but there are issues in the country too (lots of offleash dogs etc). An island would be ideal. I love watching her run free after her ball and its sad that it cant happen more often because literally its absolute unfettered joy. Overall I would say Jersey is pretty darn happy; she loves people and we go on lots of city adventures. She is actually fairly easy to manage as long as their aren’t offleash dogs rushing her and I also don’t live in the downtown core. I lived in a smaller town before and your right though it was easier to walk places without dogs everywhere. My dream is to have a yard so she can be outside and play with her toys more. Good luck with your dog

    • Lol I love responsible neighbours who have reactive dogs and know whats up aka: don’t let there dog rush mine offleash, maintain distance, understand my dog isn’t evil. I have to say that Jersey is NOT a cuddler though; she is a serious little worker bee and only likes to be in work mode; fetching, training, staring/watching me..she occasionally cuddles but very briefly and then leaps up and goes and lays on her dog bed. I got a second dog just so I could get some cuddles

  164. This is brilliant. I laughed so hard I cried. This is me and my dog Joey. He is the love of my life but such a pain in the ass. I love the ninja part dear god that was hilarious.

    Btw I ended up in the back of someone’s pickup as he stopped at a light to avoid another dog. Wow was the dude driving confused.

  165. Thanks for this laugh. I have a reactive Rotti who weighs more than me and I 100% agree it has made me a better, more educated, dedicated dog owner.

  166. Just stumbled upon this – THANK YOU for the laugh and the reassurance that Bucky (my pup) and I are not alone. And, on our carefully planned walk through the neighborhood tonight I will pretend I’m a ninja!

  167. My Jessie the sheltie mix might be called “reactive”… at least that’s what they called her at the boarding place when they called me three hours and 100 miles away to tell me to come back and get her. Stupid boarding place. I didn’t realize that she and her two laid-back dog siblings would just be dumped into a play area with 25 other dogs with no introduction. Somebody bumped into Jessie, and she growled to tell them to back off. If some stranger crashed into my butt, I’d probably growl and tell them to back off, too. I never have to worry about anyone or anything sneaking up on us, and that suits me just fine. Loved your article, btw.

    • wow that’s just a poor understanding of canine behavior! Jersey is fine once she knows a dog but if my other dog is rude and crashes into her she is certainly allowed to let them know it wasn’t appropriate and to respect her space.

  168. Thank you this was great!!! We have learn to adjust. I need to pretend I’m a ninja cause i definitely done peering the corner of door before opening. I have had my baby Bella-Marie since Nov. We rescued her from an abusive home the husband beat his wife and threw and kicked Bella. She is fearful of both people and other dogs if people go to pet her she gets very nervous i think she thinks people will hit her. But if the people crouch down and let her come to them and don’t give too much eye contact to start she is okay. She has definitely taught me about trust as she takes time to warm up to others. I honestly think we were meant to be together. The first night she stayed with us she came up to me without growling just really scared. At first we we just puppy sitting which turned into months and finally she was ours. Training has been a challenge we knew it was important to get help as she Is a American Pitbull Terrier and just her breed has people judging her. We luckily found a trainer that also has a Pit and is big into BSL. We first tried the clicker training. Yea that didnt work she was afraid of the clicker. I tried to desenstizer to it but she was not having that she grabbed clicker with her mouth and threw it across. the room, no joke she seriously did. Then we tried treats. Treats sometimes work but not if there are too many distractions. Even hugh value treats if there are too many distractions she will not take them. Squeeky toys and balls work a little bit but then she wants to play with them. She is slowing getting better but its a slow process. She is the sweetest pup with us but outside of us she is so scared if the world extremely under socialized. Not only is she afraid of people and other dogs we found out she is afraid of the dark. I attempted to take her on early morning walks/runs but she put the breaks on and refused to walk more then a quarter mile. Although my baby has issues i wouldn’t trade her for the world she is my heart.

  169. This is really hilarious and I love it. I have a highly reactive and very sensitive boy for 12 years now. Not so keen on people. Nope. Your post made me smile and puts some much needed levity in what can be an intense lonely existence. Thx

  170. You are the BEST! Please keep posting!!!
    We are walking Ninja-style with our foster pup, eating his peanut butter (oops) and dosing ourselves with wine and chocolate after a tough day too. It’s nice to know we are not alone 🙂
    The alleyway networks though our neighbourhood have been a real saviour.

    • Pro tip: Label the peanut butter. Seriously. I double dip which is gross when your filling kongs. Lucky you with the alleyways! I have a couple “gauntlets of terror” in my hood where there is literally no where to go but the road if a dog is coming. Good luck with the foster!

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  172. awsome post, reminds of my baby a large pitbull. it was really hard for me to get used to it because i grew up with a huge rottie that loved everyone, and i also have a little mutt that i found on the street who is an amazing dog and very easy going . But when i got google he was a 1yr old and was trained to fight, he tried to kill every dog he saw except for my little mixed girl and another huge dog who became his friend. with alot of work he became very dog friendly and started loving more and more dogs, he got along with everyone and got even old dogs to play with him. At around 2 yr he changed, he no longer liked new dogs, he only likes his old time friends, and he became a “sniper”, he stoped warning before lunging at other dogs. he also became suspicious of ppl, and if you approach him the wrong way when he is on leash he will bite you.
    so now we live with it, we were able to bring him to a very strict place on walks and as long as he is in a working mode other distractions are not there, he is not a dog to be released off leash with random dogs but he got his friends, and whenever he meets a new dog he is always with a muzzle.
    its not easy especially when you are used to much easier dogs but i love my huge baby to death, i just wish i had him since he was a baby himself and not abused, starved, beaten, and sickened on other dogs.

  173. I just found this blog and I brought home an 8 week old cocker spaniel puppy home November, 2013. He is very reactive now and he’s 9 months old. There are loads of loose dogs in my neighbourhood, in fact the dog owners instruct you to take your dog off leash in the park and the park is not fenced in. It’s so difficult to walk him. The people in my building corner him in the elevator to pet him and won’t stop even though I say don’t pet him, I’m training him. For the first 4 months, he peed in the elevator when people petted him. He ended up wearing a band. He is terribly reactive in the elevator but outside he’s fine. It’s all I can do to hold him back. I’m very small and he’s super strong. But when dogs approaches, he lunges forward, almost tearing my arm out of it’s socket. I almost gave him up because the people here just won’t stop petting him, cooing over him, letting him jump on them, the dogs are either on extend-a-leads or loose. And of course, they all have to ‘meet’. He’s been attacked 3 times, he has a scab on his nose. I’m moving out of Toronto and will be commuting to work. They city doesn’t enforce the leash policies and it’s not fair to people who want to enjoy the park. The other day I saw a pit-bull charge at three little girls. One of the little girls started to scream and run and the owner started to holler that his dog is friendly. The dog gave chase. The girl froze. The dog returned to the owner. The parks are for people, children, dogs on leashes. And when the dogs are on the other side of the park, please don’t tell me they pick up the poo. Children play there. Dogs can carry worms, giardia, and other infectious diseases. I’m so looking forward to leaving this city with my puppy. He’s attending Level 1 obedience classes again – for the fourth time. But all the training gets undone with these loose dogs, or owners that push their dogs on mine and people allowing or encouraging him to jump up. Once he peed on a lady’s shoes. She got a little upset. Served her right!

    • Human ignorance at its finest. I am a dog lover but I hate seeing offleash dogs running offleash in children’s play areas. This is a space for CHILDREN and its not sanitary or safe. Good luck with your dog; best wishes that a move out of the big city allows you both to make progress and not constantly have it undone

  174. Thank you so much. I have such guilt when my dog Tuck reacts negatively towards other dogs. We are using positive reinforcement, but when he breaks loose from our grip on the leash I feel like such a failure. Then the next time out he will be a complete angel. It’s definitely a rollercoaster adventure.

  175. Preach it! Having a reactive dog means other people SUUUUCCCKKK!
    God, the owners in my neighborhood need to have their doggy parent licenses revoked! I now avoid suburban areas in fear that I may come across yet another off leash, aggressive, yappy poodle with an owner that couldn’t care less. My girl has been bitten FOUR times! It can get to the point when you don’t know whether to cry about your destroyed progress or punt the little brat that got into your face right at that owner’s head.
    Found a trail and a park, bless my neighbors’ lazy hearts, very few dogs make the trip. My own dog may hate the exercise, but I’m loving the mileage.

    • UGH. It seems to be in vogue not to leash your dog. I plan my visits to any grassy areas strategically because people seem to think grass=offleash here. Like literally any miniscule patch of grass.

  176. I have an 8 month old reactive mountain dog and we are using every single training technique we can find (all types of condition, BAT training, etc). He was born this way (I can remember seeing little things here and there at 7 weeks +. I have a private trainer come 4 times a week and I am very involved in training also. I will say things can get better, though somedays it feels like you went backwards, other days you feel like you just went miles ahead with their behaviour.

    I am also looking into herbal remedies and medication, but this is a last resort and wont’ be considered for years, so he has the chance to grow up and learning himself.

    I will say I purchased a little red coat that says “in training. no talk no touch”. This is a warning sign to people and makes me more comfortable when I’m trying to walk him around.

    And what everyone does not want to hear.. if it gets to a point where you just can’t provide a happy environment on a daily basis, seriously consider re-homing. not taking them to a shelter or any of that, but somewhere and with someone who you know can support the dog the way it needs to be supported. That is a super duper last resort, but the dogs well being is critical.

  177. This article provided more support to me, a reactive dog owner, than the vast majority of “professional training tips” out there online. It can be a lonely, exhaustive, stressful road, and it’s only so because you care for your dog so much. Thank you for sharing!

    • Thanks for your kind comments! It can be a pretty lonely world but then I creep offleash park or doggie meetup groups on Facebook and the comments make me realize that we may be lucky not having to deal with the weird shit that goes on there

  178. I know this is years old, but I found your post when searching (in a fit of desperation after this morning’s walk) for tips on dealing with a dog-reactive dog. And this page popped up, and it was just such a freaking relief to read! I was literally nodding along and laughing out loud as I read – I know these feelings ALL too well, from the self-medicating with chocolate and alc to the ridiculous running/diving away from other dogs’ paths. Thank goodness someone else understands. Thank you for this.

    (I am working with a professional trainer, but, you know, progress is slow, and I also live downtown in a big city, so it’s …not easy to deal with.)

    • Thanks PJ! Yep city living with a reactive dog has meant spending a lot of time in close quarters with dumpsters and in alleyways. Sometimes the only places to escape in a city setting. Toally dreamed of spending many hours bonding with my faithful companion squeezed tight next to a dumpster haha. Best of luck with your dog and remember to keep a fully stocked snack/alc cupboard for the bad days

  179. Oh my goodness, I completely relate to this! Thanks so much for writing it.

    We adopted a shelter dog 6 weeks ago, who has turned out to be reactive on walks. Last week I found myself:
    1. Hiding behind an electrical substation being a sausage vending machine because of a spaniel
    2. Body-blocking somebody’s d*ckhead off-leash german shepherd which was stalking my dog
    3. Running through the woods with a 9 month old, extremely friendly and badly-socialised retriever on our tail, it’s owner shouting FREYA, FREYA, and me, F*CK OFF, FREYA, GO HOOOOOME

    I’m also no stranger to melting silently into bush, or disappearing sideways through a hedge at the mere sight of a guy with his ‘really friendly’ staffy carrying its lead its mouth.

    The most liberating thing I’ve learned from talking to other people with reactive dogs is that you don’t have to walk your dog every day. Fenced field twice a week is fine. Better to keep EVERYTHING low-stress so you have a chance of desensitising them in a controlled setting! Phew.

  180. Thank you for this. I seriously laughed out loud many times reading this. I can relate to each and every issue described in your article. It’s so great to be reminded that other people go through this and that I am not alone in the craziness that is reactive dog ownership.

  181. Thank you so much for this, I found it at just the perfect time to show me there are other ninja’s out there! Reactive dog ownership feels very lonely at times. You get so many owners of ‘perfect’ social off leash dogs they’ve raised since puppies, who judge you as they’ve never rescued a dog, particularly one with issues.

    I have our local routes mapped out in my head, which houses have dogs, which gardens have barking dogs, which streets are a safe cut away. Parks in theory should have more space to escape, but more chance of off leash dogs…Though streets are a minefield too as you could turn a corner and come head on with a dog. I catch myself walking in wider areas away from the main path even when he’s not with me, just from habit!

    I’ve had my boy 3 months now, and his foster carer said wasn’t reactive with her, so it makes me feel like I’ve failed him hard when he’s reactive now. I’m trying not to avoid everything, hence why I take him on group dog walks occasionally, but I will not set him up for failure by walking him on narrow paths etc. With a good intro, he’s okay with smaller dogs. But dogs his size are still a no. If he sees dogs outside, he freezes, lays down and refuses to move until the dog has gone from view. And I hate extendable leashes with a passion! They allow owners to be careless and zone out from what their dog is doing until it’s too late. He even wears bright yellow “NERVOUS” patches on his harness, yet you still get numpties that are too busy on their phone, letting their off lead nightmare approach mine, saying “Don’t worry, he’s friendly!”. Yet if my dog was to react due to this, he’s to blame? It’s not fair. The other day two off leash pugs came charging at my dog, just outside our house. I’ve never felt so disheartened as when this has happens, they have no idea how much their careless attitude sets back our training. But, we dust ourselves off and carry on. I adore my boy all the same, and have become a better dog owner for all he teaches me.

  182. Pingback: À tous ceux qui ont passé une mauvaise journée avec leur chien réactif – Petit Chien

  183. First of all shame on the arm chair experts! If you know anything about dogs they are not one training type fits all. Do avoid situations that trigger the reactive behavior- that is common sense people! The dog gets agitated, the human gets stressed and the dog senses the human stress and becomes more agitated. Why on earth would you purposely do that? Dogs aren’t people and repeated exposure does not necessarily help them.
    I have two Portuguese Water Dogs. The older (5 years old) dog is highly reactive and the younger one is friendly, but timid. I never take my dogs out for a walk without having some fairly high value treats and wear shoes that I don’t mind getting dirty. I try to always keep my hand in the treat bag so I’m ready. Other dogs and cars are my dogs triggers. When I see a trigger coming our way I say “what’s over here?” In a happy playful voice as I quickly turn them so they are facing the other direction and walk away while grabbing a handful of treats (gotta have enough for both dogs). The dogs smell the treats, I tell them to sit and slowly give them some treats one by one, until the “threat” has passed. I give them good girl pats and walk on. It’s a good idea to do this even when there is know threat, and it becomes a game! If you are consistent in following this, you might not have to walk a block or two away- maybe only half a block!
    Good luck to you. I’ve been on many walks where the stress has me dripping in sweat!

  184. I so needed this today. Thank you for these words. I laughed and cried with you through the article. Reactive dog owner solidarity! My 8 month old rescue is reactive- partly from not being socialized and partly from being attacked by two of the neighbors black labs the second week I had him. Totally get where you are coming from since we live in a condo in a residential area. Dogs everywhere! Used to be my dream running into dogs at every turn and now it’s a nightmare! We just started the first class of a reactive dog class last night so I’m hoping we can make some progress so that I don’t dread our nightly walks.

  185. Thank you for posting. We just adopted a dog who is dog reactive- up to 150m. She has severe separation axiety too, poor gal. Her heart is huge and she loves to cuddle. We are working with a trainer and have seen progress but some days can feel so defeating, especially when other people don’t leash their dogs in leashed areas. Wishing all of you support!!

  186. Pingback: How do I walk a puppy that barks growls and lunges at people and other dogs Once barking starts she is in a trance and nothing will stop it until she can t see them anymore I have tried ignoring picking her up using | All About Animals

  187. Thank you for sharing! Even though your blog is almost ten years old, it’s very refreshing. I just got really angry at my reactive dog but after reading your blog I realised that anger is not the answer but humour!

  188. My dog is reactive but only to the dogs that are in our multi-unit building. When we are out on a walk he is just fine when he sees other dogs. I wonder why he only freaks out when he sees my neighbors dogs?? My vet said this is environmental aggression. Why would he be like this?

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