Reactive or Aggressive - What’s in a Name?

Reactive or Aggressive - What’s in a Name?

By Carolyn Fuhrer


With more dogs being adopted and more dog events being offered, we need to look at our responsibility to our dog and to other dogs that we may come in contact with. One thing needs to be clear: it is not only rescue dogs who can fall into the reactive/aggressive category. Many purebred dogs also have these issues.

If you purchased or adopted a dog, you have taken on a responsibility not only to the dog you have acquired, but also to other dogs and their owners with whom you may come into contact.

I use the term reactive/aggressive because, unfortunately, many people feel that by labeling their dog reactive it excuses its bad behavior. This is not true, nor is it fair to your dog or other dogs that certainly may perceive your dog’s behavior as aggressive. Your dog may not intend to be harmful, but rearing up, lunging, and vocalizing at another dog is very likely going to be perceived as aggression. A soft or more introverted dog can be terribly frightened by this behavior.

Anyone with a well-behaved dog should be able to attend a dog event and walk through the area without feeling that their dog will be subject to this type of behavior. You should be able to walk past a row of crates without a dog lunging at the crate door just as you pass. You should be able to walk past a parked vehicle without dogs suddenly smashing up against a crate or the windows of the vehicle. In other words, a reasonably safe environment should be expected at a dog event.

If your dog has issues, then perhaps it cannot be left unattended or it may not be ready for this type of event. This is not to say that the problems can’t be worked upon and behaviors modified and improved, but this takes time and dedication. Simply exposing these dogs to more dogs and events will not solve the problem; in fact, it may deepen the problem.

If your dog has these issues, it is not up to others to avoid your dog. It is up to you to take care of your dog and be considerate of others and not put your dog in a situation that it cannot handle.

A reactive dog can appear aggressive to other people, especially children, and to other dogs. Some dogs will never be able to be in certain types of situations, and in reality, it is better for them to be home and safe rather than in a situation with stimuli that they cannot handle.

Socialization alone will not solve your dog’s problems. The dedicated work of training and behavior modification is also necessary. You owe it to your dog and all the other dogs with whom you may come into contact.


Carolyn Fuhrer has earned over 125 AKC titles with her Golden Retrievers, including 2 Champion Tracker titles. She is also an AKC Tracking Judge and an AKC Temperament Test Evaluator and a White Mountain (Julie Daniels) Agility Instructor. You can contact her with questions, suggestions, and ideas for her column by e-mailing

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