How to Socialize a Reactive Dog? Everything You Need To Know

Reactive dogs usually overreact to external objects. Barking and lunging are two frequent forms in which dogs display reactivity. Things which dogs react to include people, animals, other dogs, noises, movement. It is important that dog parents respond to and try to fix reactive dog behavior quickly.

How Long Will It Take to Socialize a Reactive Dog? 

Reactive dogs need a lot of care and attention to deal with their behavioral disorder. The consistency of a pet parent is crucial. Socializing a reactive dog is a difficult task. A professional trainer and a dog behavior wellbeing consultant should be used to cut down your dog’s reactiveness.  

We cannot draw a line on the span of training and learning procedure; all we can assure is, training and consistency are the keys to successfully socializing a reactive dog.  

Tools Needed to Socialize a Reactive Dog 

To help lessen the reactive tendencies of your dog, you will need few tools, which include: 

  • Gentle Leaders: Hard pullers and dogs who are reactive on walks can benefit significantly from Gentle Leaders. They can come in handy if your cues aren’t functioning and you need to re-direct their attention. The Gentle Leader is positioned high on the back of the dog’s head, relieving strain on their delicate throat. 
  • Easy Walk Harness: The Easy Walk Harness attaches to your dog’s front. Your dog will be less likely to tug on the leash as a result of this. When your dog tries to pull, he will be directed sideways, refocusing his attention on you. The Easy Walk Harness lays over your dog’s chest, preventing choking, gagging, or throat injuries. 
  • Crate: A crate is essential to safeguard the dog’s protection and assist the dog in adjusting to a new environment. Dogs who have received good crate training regard their crate as a den. When moving your dog, a crate comes in handy. When in the taxi or when being taken to the vet, you could put your dog in a crate to reduce their anxiety. 

Reasons Why a Dog Becomes Reactive 

There are few reasons why a dog becomes reactive. A few of them are: 

  • Frustration: Some dogs like other dogs, but their leashes prevent them from doing what they want: running over to meet and play with them. As a result, they bark and lunge in frustration. These dogs are friendly with other dogs when they’re not on a leash. 
  • Resource Guarding: Some dogs like to guard resources including toys, bones, sleeping spaces and even people. Resource guarding behavior is typical in dogs as they get it from their ancestors, who had to live in the wild and guard their resources. The reactivity comes if a person or an animal tries to get hold of their things or space. Training a dog to “Leave” may help your dog to get over this behavior. 
  • Lack of Socialization: A dog can be fearful if he is not trained to socialize with others. A dog familiar with strangers, noises, small children, and other animals is less likely to be reactive to such things. Socialization is crucial to lessen reactive behavior of a dog. 
  • Fear Resulting in Fight or Flight: Because they had a negative experience or were under-socialized when they were younger, some dogs fear or detest other dogs. To keep other dogs away, these dogs bark and lunge.  

A dog could also try to protect himself when he is trapped and cannot flee. A dog in this position may commonly bite in order to protect themselves. The fearful dog’s body language will be the primary signal of it’s intent.

  • Breed: A few breeds are naturally protective, suspect strangers, or have aggression towards other animals.  
  • Genetics: Dogs with violent or frightened parents are more likely to be reactive, regardless of breed. Severe stress on a dog’s mother can cause genetic and hormonal alterations in her children.  

Common Stimuli That Cause a Dog to React 

A dog, like humans, has trigger points. There are common external stimuli that cause a dog to react. Trigger Points include 

  • Men with beards 
  • Men with hats 
  • Small children 
  • Feeling captive while on leash 

If not treated, reactiveness can escalate to aggression. Giving space is essential if you have a reactive dog. Behavior modification training is necessary.  

Steps to Socialize a Reactive Dog 

By socializing, we mean to expose your dog to novel situations safely and to make them comfortable with the various noises, people, dogs, situations.  

Desensitization and counterconditioning are required in an organized manner to train a reactive dog. The best way to proceed is to train under the supervision of a competent trainer.  

During the training phase, a professional trainer or animal behavior expert may assist you in ensuring that you’re managing your dog safely and addressing all of his fundamental requirements. 

It’s important to remember that punishing a reactive dog is a terrible idea. The majority of aggressiveness stems from fear, and having your dog fearful of you is likely to trigger the hostility! Let’s emphasize on healthy socialization. 

Although the methods to properly socialize an aggressive dog may appear complicated, follow them and don’t be scared to employ a trainer. The steps to training are outlined here. 

Step 1: Make a list of your dog’s trigger points.

It’s critical to have a firm grasp on what triggers your dog. List all of the circumstances that cause your dog to become hostile. This might be people, dogs, or situations that irritate your dog. 

Step 2: Estimate your dog’s threshold.

Don’t take your dog outdoors, exposing him to everything he’s violent at to discover what his boundary is! Alternatively, consider the last time the dog’s triggers caused him to behave violently. 

Step 3: Put safety measures in place.

It’s critical to take safety precautions before beginning socialization training for your reactive dog. These are the preventive procedures in place to keep everyone safe during training. 

 Depending on how severe your dog’s hostility issues are, you may need to: 

  • Make separate doorways for dogs (you can also make a baby gate): If your dog is reactive toward visitors or certain family members, you’ll need to make a baby gate or indoor dog gate to protect your family and other pets from your dog. 
  • Block the visuals from the window: Your dog might react to objects outside. If that is the case, you will need to close the windows to help them relax. When you’re not around, this prevents your dog from psyching himself up or developing reactive behaviors. Wax paper can be used to cover your window. This will let light in, but it will also obstruct the view outside. 
  • Muzzle training: Muzzle training is necessary for dogs that have lashed out at or bitten someone. Such training is a good idea if you believe your dog could injure someone in the future. A properly fitted basket muzzle allows your dog to eat, drink, and pant comfortably. Avoid any tight-fitting “groomer’s muzzles” that prevent your dog from eating, drinking, or panting. 
  • Crate training: Crate training is essential for your dog. This will help your dog to keep away from other people.  
  • Harness for your dog: Many reactive dogs display such behavior when they are out on walks. Getting an escape-proof harness will make the walks safer. A head halter is a better alternative if your dog is large and has trouble controlling him. A head halter, when properly taught, will make it easier to handle a large dog. 

Step 4: Change your behavior to protect your dog.

The above mentioned are the safety precautions. In addition, you should change your behavior to protect your reactive dog. For example, start with avoiding problematic situations altogether. This will help your dog to react less.

Below are the changes which can be made for the protection of your reactive dog: 

  • Take your dog out on a stroll when there will be significantly fewer people and dogs out for a walk.  
  • Stay close to your dog while passing others, crossing the road, turning the road.  
  • If your dog is reactive around his food, let him alone while he eats. 
  • Do not pet your dog in the circumstances which are triggering him.  
  • Request people not to approach your dog and to keep their dogs away.  

Step 5: Look out for the dog’s elementary needs. 

Taking care of the basic needs of a dog helps lessen the reactiveness. Let’s look at “The Four Steps to Behavioral Wellness,” as described by Sarah Stremming. 

  • Exercise: Dogs who do not get enough exercise may become reactive at some stage. It is crucial to build up mental stimulation of your dog for his well being. Weekly hiking, running, and sports can be of great help.   

Nosework is great for reactive dogs. It enables you to play and exercise with your dog inside the home. 

  • Enrichment: Keeping your dog engaged is a thumb rule. Puzzle toys are an excellent engagement for dogs who do not go out much. Enriching the dog by keeping his brain occupied can be mentally stimulating. It will also help your dog to live in the moment without getting bored. 
  • Nutrition: A proper dog diet will enable your dog to stay healthy. Staying healthy improves your dog’s mental health, which will lessen the reactivity bit by bit. Sit with a vet nutritionist once in a while to get checked for a proper diet. 
  • Communication: Communicating with your dog is essential to build up the bond between you and the dog. Frequent jovial training can specifically do communication. Consistency while training, positive reinforcements are necessary to keep your dog mentally and physically healthy.  

Step 6: Basic obedience training 

When you bring a dog home, specifically if he is reactive, the first task is to be ready with an obedience training schedule. It helps to lower the reactiveness of your dog.  

Commands you shall train your dog include: 

  • Sit/Down: Both are helpful when there is a trigger coming. Sit or down position can be very relaxing for your dog. 
  • Touch: Touch is a command that instructs your dog to place his nose against your hand. This might assist your dog in diverting his attention and look away from the trigger. 
  • Watch me (dog’s name): Use this cue to make your dog look at you when the trigger is nearing. You can also call your dog by his name.  

Having these fundamentals in place can make dog reactive training strategies much easier to implement, as they rely on basic obedience as a foundation. 

Step 7: Counterconditioning and desensitization 

Counterconditioning and desensitization are different training procedures. The objective is to progressively expose your dog to something distressing while complementing it with delicious rewards. This alters your dog’s core emotional reaction to something disturbing. 

For example, if your dog growls at people wearing hats, people in wheelchairs, people with backpacks, then those are his triggers.  

You can ask your friends to act as a trigger and stand on the opposite side of the road. When your dog stares at the person, offer him a high-value treat. Eventually, cross the street while giving treats. This enables your dog to not react to his trigger points.  

In step 6, we learned about the ‘Touch’ Command. While you are nearing the trigger point, implementing that will engage your dog to a task that will allow your dog to not react to his trigger points.  

This way, you will be able to desensitize the trigger points by introducing a treat as a counterconditioning against the triggers.  

This game is referred to as Look At That Game.   


Besides training, there are always few things that would escalate the chances of progressing more. To socialize a reactive dog, here are some pro tips which you need to follow: 

  • Learn your dog’s body language 
  • Count everything which can be a trigger 
  • Make your dog feel safe 

What are the Common Reactive/Aggressive Breeds? 

All dog breeds can have reactive issues, but for some, it is more prevalent. Australian Shepherd, German Shepherd are common breeds that are reactive and aggressive. Border Collies or Heelers too have reactive issues, as their task was to maintain the herds of sheep, which did not allow them to socialize. Miniature Schnauzer, Australian Cattle Dog, also falls on the list. 

What Are the Body Languages Which Dog Show As Signs of Being Reactive? 

Studying a dog’s body language is very important for you as a pet owner to understand his wants or desires and the problems he faces. It will also help in the training procedure.  

 Below are some of the common body languages your dogs have: 

Signs of Friendliness 

  • Relaxed body 
  • Wagging tails 
  • Happy Expression 
  • Relaxed ears 
  • Rolling Over 
  • Frequent Blinks 
  • Soft Eyes 
  • Gentle gaze 

Signs of Anxiety 

  • Lip Licking 
  • Yawning when not tired 
  • Panting 
  • Sudden scratching 
  • Tail tucked under the body 
  • Sniffing 

Signs of Arousal 

  • Mouth closed, ears forward 
  • Intense eyes 
  • Body forward and tense 
  • Tail kept high 
  • Slow wagging 
  • Raised Hackles 

Signs Before Biting 

  • All the symptoms of anxiety and arousal 
  • Intense eye contact 
  • Showing the whites of the eye 
  • Showing teeth 
  • Growling 
  • Tense Body 

Final Thoughts 

Socializing a reactive dog is overwhelming, but consistent training can fight a dog’s reactiveness. It is recommended to consult a vet behaviorist and a professional trainer, who, along with you, can train your dog methodically and emotionally. Follow the steps outlined to help your reactive dog socialize.

Leave a Comment