How to help your reactive dog

Have you ever considered the emotional toll your reactive dog experiences? The stress, discomfort, and anxiety they endure while struggling with their reactive behavior?

I, too, once found myself solely focused on my own stress when my dog, Blue, became reactive. The knot in my stomach as an off-leash dog approached, the desperate attempts to avoid confrontations, and the early morning or late-night walks to steer clear of others—all familiar scenarios for those with reactive dogs.

Now, there are two prevailing approaches: one suggests desensitizing the dog, a slow and often tedious process. The other, inspired by the so-called “dog whisperer,” advocates for dominance and corrective actions, which some may try but many cringe at the thought of. The latter can lead to a strained relationship, a dog that avoids you, or even increased aggression, creating a cycle of negativity.

Think about your own reactions during a confrontation. Do you trust the person you clashed with? Would you willingly spend time together afterward? Probably not. Now, imagine being leashed to that person with no escape—it’s a dreadful situation.

Thankfully, there are better alternatives.

My three simple techniques offer a faster, more effective solution. With these tools, you’ll embark on walks with newfound confidence. When you encounter other dogs, you’ll turn those moments into opportunities to boost your dog’s confidence and trust. The end result? A walk that leaves you smiling and a genuinely happy dog.

This is the story of my journey with Blue, my beloved Australian Koolie. I spent years trying to manage his reactive behavior, and I regret not discovering these techniques sooner. We both endured years of anxiety and stress because I focused on preventing behavior rather than building his confidence and trust.

Our story takes you through the depths of our struggles and reveals a surprising, heartwarming ending.

End Reactive Behaviour and Restore Calm with “Three Simple Techniques”.

12 thoughts on “How to help your reactive dog”

  1. My 2yr Chihuahua is reacting to everything and everyone. He has always been a bit reactive but I have managed to stop it by look at me. But no longer worked coz he’s doing it all the time

    1. When you ask your dog to ‘Look At You’, you are giving a directive and hoping your dog will comply in the face of a huge distraction. Rather than doing that, it is much more effective to use an holistic approach with Reactive Dogs. The aim is that your dog sees what concerns him, and he chooses to interact with you completely ignoring the problem. I do not recommend relying on one solution but rather having a toolbox that contains a number of solutions depending on the situation you find yourself in. For instance, many dogs can cope quite well if you add a lot of distance, but that is not always possible. You must have solutions that work when you find you can’t add distance. If you would like help with all this, please check out the Focus on Fun Pathway. It offers the toolbox of solutions that you are looking for with no missing links in your knowledge or training to ensure your success.

  2. My dog missy is a long haired Koolie, 1 year 5 months old. She is a beautiful dog with energy and personality +++. I got her when she was about 4-5 months old. When she was a puppy she was scared by a bigger and excitable lab pup on the lead, and then my room mate got a jack Russell who would “play” with missy by biting and latching on, so missy learned to be aggressive to the little Jack Russell stop that from happening. (The Jack Russell is no longer with us).
    Now when she meets dogs she is growly and occasionally starts fights with lots of growling and lunging, however to my knowledge she has never hurt another dog. After these fights, missy is ok with the dog and (depending on how the other dog feels about it) can play with them shortly after with no worries. However I’m not sure what to do because I don’t want to reward her for this behaviour by doing nothing, I feel so embarrassed and I don’t want this to continue.
    She’s also very reactive to cars going past when we’re driving and she’s on the back of the Ute. I feel it’s like a sensory overload thing because she’s ok with passing one or two cars, but 2+ cars in quick succession she goes nuts. If she’s off leash on the farm, she also likes to have cars “follow her” I.e. will try to always run in front of cars, which is a worry.

    1. Patricia Brewer

      Hi Bernadette, It is great to hear you do not want this behaviour to continue. As you say, your dog has learned how to behave this way. It is a learned response rather than a personality trait that she was born with. She can change and will if you show her a different way to respond. Other dogs are a worry for her and she is feeling stressed, hence the reaction that has learned works in keeping dogs away. It’s time to alter her emotional response so that she can experience what ‘Calm’ feels like. I can promise you this… You will be happier and she will be happier. You do need to be motivated, but the Focus on Fun Pathway shows you exactly how to go about it. In the meantime, you must prevent all rehearsals of this behaviour… That is step one 🙂

  3. Hi Patricia. We have a 9 year old Koolie /Aussie shepherd who has been anxious all his life. Not reactive with other dogs but people so we have had times when we thought we would have to get rid of him when he has nipped people. We are always worried when people come to the property, as we have no fencing ,as we never know how he will react. Generally he’s ok if people use his name but he is very protective of us. Do you think building his confidence would work in this situation as I’m sure he picks up on our stress and reacts to that also.
    I’ve been looking at your program for a new 10 month old rescue cavalier/ springer spaniel pup we have just brought home but this really resonated with me.

    1. Short answer is… Yes this type of training will alter your dog’s emotional response to people. I don’t see the behaviour as being protective of you as much as being nervous around people. Being reactive achieves his goal of keeping people away. Just as you feel stressed, your dog is equally stressed, perhaps more so. The day you decide to be proactive and show him a different way to behave in these situations, is the day he will become a happier more confident dog.

  4. My dog lily will bark at some dogs and not others. Lily is 11years old.Back in nov last year my daughter bought a blue heeler pup. Because the pup was always in in lilys face lily has started to bark at the puppy. Was i wrong in allowing the puppy to be in lilys face? Also the puppy s male, lily is female and before that lily use to have panda a 7 year old blue heeler which they got on very well until my daughter moved out and took panda to live will her and her partner because panda belong to my daughter.

    1. Patricia Brewer

      It seems Lilly felt the need to bark to keep the pup away. If it was effective in achieving that, then it would explain why she barks at some dogs rather than others. It is a learned behaviour. It is possible to teach a new learned behaviour when she feels this way.

  5. Hi Patricia
    I have two Koolies x kelpie they are father and son. We have had to move from the country to Sydney. The father is an ex work dog and almost perfect. His son Boots has just turned two is 3/4 keplie and 1/4 Koolie. Looks very much like you dog Blue. Boots was the only one in his litter. There were 6 other dogs on the farm. As far as I know there were never any incidences between them all. Boots was mr poplular , was great with the litter of pups we had. Boots did not work so i took him to town to the dog park. Boots was also Mr popular there. One of the workers did have a dog and Boots was reactive to this dog. We had to move to Sydney, the dogs ran and swam for 1 1/2 hours a day. Everything was great. I thought they had adjusted very well. However bit by bit Boots became more and more reactive. At first to particular dogs and now I cannot predict which dogs and it does not always happen. Will is fine . THere is also now some reactiveness between Will (father ) and son. Boots will start snarling and carrying on for no apparent reason. This seems to go in cycles. I do respect the heirarchy. Both Will and Boots are very obedient. I will say though Boots tends to focus often on Will and the ball and not always me first Any way as you know what it is like. I am hoping your videos work as I cannot continue like this

    1. Patricia Brewer

      It sounds like there are a few areas to work on with Boots. Once he has more focus for you and less for Will, life will become a lot easier. He want’s to control everything and now it is time for him to choose to ask permission from you as well as alter his emotional response. I look forward to helping you in the Pathway.

  6. Hi Patricia I have a 6 mth old red Merle Koolie x Mini Poodle he is over the top excited when he sees other dogs or people and is a pain to walk ….have been doing obedience classes for the past six weeks and he is really clever little dog BUT not when out and about ……..he was a rehome the women that purchased him at 8 weeks had a 6 yr old Collie and twin 4 yr old kids and the Collie was attacking him … she advertised him and I got him at 12 weeks ……he seemed like a really chilled little pup but once he had all his needles and I got him out and about he just became a pain to walk so take him when no one is about or to secluded areas of you think your training will work for him as we intend to travel with him but not until I can get him over this
    Cheers Margaret

    1. Patricia Brewer

      Oh my goodness Margaret. As you can see Blue was a Koolie and he grew up with our mini poodle Suzie. You have both of them rolled into one, an interesting mix 🙂 To answer your question… Yes the Focus on Fun Pathway has all you need to be successful and I would enjoy helping you. Your pup has learned to behave this way because of being attacked. He is unable to cope right now, but you can easily show him another way to behave and head off and enjoy your holidays. Buddy was also extremely excitable and hard to control. Last June we went to Moonee Beach for 2 months. He was 12 months old. It was his first experience in that atmosphere. Each time I took him out for a walk, I played the reactive dog game and by day five of the holiday I was having trouble convincing people he could be over excitable. Having access to so many people, and so many dogs, allowed me to achieve great results quickly. I left for that holiday feeling apprehensive. I did not want Buddy to spoil our holiday and although I did not let on, I was concerned whether he would cope. On the way home, I purchased a puppy! That is how much progress Buddy made in two months 🙂

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