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Got Reactive?

Dogs that bark and lunge at people and other dogs are often called reactive. Some reactive dogs are friendly and over-excited. Some reactive dogs are afraid and acting out to defend themselves. Other reactive dogs are biologically so over-stimulated that they cannot calm down. Regardless of reason, all types can be difficult to control at best, and at worst, dangerous. What type do you have, and should they go to a group class or private training?


Dogs that are happy and overly excited tend to have friendly body language even when they are barking and lunging. Their tails wag wide, and not higher than their normal tail-set. Their mouths are more relaxed and friendly looking. They are bouncy but playful in their stance. When they see a trigger, they can calm down quickly.

Group Classes?

Yes! These dogs typically do well in group classes. After their first week, they begin to understand that they are there for training. They continue to improve weekly.


Dogs that are afraid and acting out of defense may raise their hair up at the base of their necks to the tip of their hindquarters. Their tails may wag but not wide. Their mouths will be tighter, and lips may be pulled forward or back. They may also stand taller than normal. They may pant excessively.

Group Classes?

It depends…If they are exhibiting a mix of friendly and worried body language, they may do well in a small group class… But, if their tails are wagging narrow and higher than their normal tail set, and if they are pulling their lips forward, and their barking sounds threatening, they require extra caution. Extra caution reactive dogs should start with private training. Also, if the dog does not calm readily, once the trigger is no longer visible, it should start with a private lesson. Our animal behavior specialists would be happy to meet you and your dog for a private lesson. It’s easy. You can either email us to schedule an appointment or call us at 708.636.1998.


Dogs that are over-stimulated and cannot calm down have an anxious bark. Their body language is bouncy, physical. They pant excessively. They may be reacting to multiple triggers and just need a break so that they can calm down. Beware of the over stimulated dog that snaps at the nearest thing to it (typically their handler or an innocent bystander walking by).

Group Classes

Not just yet! These dogs are best in privates for quite a few months as they require a calm environment for learning to take place. We would love the opportunity to help you and your dog form a better bond and to help ease your dog’s anxiety. Please contact us to schedule reactive dog private training by emailing or by calling us at 708.636.1998

Still Not Sure

If you still aren’t sure if you should bring your dog to our group classes, contact us, or schedule a private lesson. We look forward to meeting you and your dog.

Pawsitive Pet Visits

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if puppies didn’t wiggle so much and dogs didn’t cower in fear when being examined?  Some puppies start out liking their vet visits but as time goes on they learn that “bad things happen here” and grow fearful and sometimes aggressive.

Owners can start off right by bringing their dog into the office just to visit.  Receptionists can visit with dogs and owners can reward them for good behavior.  Dog owners can also practice mock exams at home by checking ears, toes, tails, teeth, and touching their dog with a metal object.  Enrolling in a puppy kindergarten or basic training class is a great way for owners to get help with technique as well as give their dogs practice.  Dogs should learn that “Good things Happen” when people do these things to me by pairing rewards with the various aspects of the exam.

Dogs should also learn to relax while being lifted and to be examined on a counter/table at home.

At the vet’s office, stay positive.  Keep it fun for the dog by using treats and toys.  Clients should practice the exam while waiting for the vet.  Tricks can also help to reduce stress for everyone.

When restraining an animal, remember that the least amount of restraint equals the least amount of stress for the dog.

A confident relaxed dog equals less time for the healthcare practitioner and a more thorough exam for the pet.

Dog owners need to understand that it is their responsibility for their pet to behave while being examined.

Editor’s Note:   These exercises are for normal, non aggressive dogs.
Clients should contact a professional for help with aggressive dogs. 

On Aggression

Helping owners with dog aggression problems is a task that dog trainers and veterinarians often share.  Owners often want guidance as to whether or not they should spend the money for necessary tests and private behavior consults.  Owners should consider the following when deciding whether or not to try and work with an aggressive dog.

Have they had any bites?  How hard were the bites? Do the aggressive incidents involve repeated multiple bites?
A dog that bites soft, leaving no bruising or skin breaking is different from the dog that bites multiple times in a row and leaves swelling, bruising, and blood.  Most owners do not receive appropriate medical treatment when bitten by their own dog.  Asking an owner if the victim required medical attention does not adequately describe the bite.  Ask the owner to physically describe the bites.

Does the dog give warning before it bites?  Have the owners punished the dog for growling?
Very few dogs bite without warning.  Dogs have complex canine communication systems that are used to prevent biting.  Owners typically understand growling. A growl is the dog’s way of saying; “Stop what you’re doing.”  Dogs that are punished for growling may learn to inhibit their growl leaving them with nothing to do but bite.  Ask the owner to describe the dog’s body language before, during, and after the incident.  Look specifically for signs that the owner can clearly read such as piloerection, growling, weight placed on front of body, weight placed on back of body, or an agonistic lip pucker.  It’s always a nice surprise if you learn that prior to the ”aggressive incident” the dog crouched on the ground with its front paws outstretched, rump high in the air, and wagging tail.  Some dog owners are confused about play bows.

Does the owner have an ability to manage the dog so that it doesn’t get aggressive in the first place? Who are the dog’s victims?
A portion of aggression treatment involves avoiding situations that warrant the aggression.  Animals are instead desensitized to the events that cause them to become aggressive.  If a dog guards food or objects from children and the owner has small children they may be living with a time bomb.  Children are notorious for dropping food and dogs are notorious opportunists.  Dog bites are the number one reason why children have plastic surgery.  If a dog lives with grandparents that occasionally have grandchildren visit, management will not be that difficult.  Managing a dog with an aggression problem may require some confinement, the use of a head collar, or a muzzle.  Ask the client if they’re willing to use these tools even if the dog doesn’t like them.  A client’s lifestyle and personality are a huge component in proper management.

Does the client have the necessary time commitment to train the dog?
A dog with an aggression problem should not be deprioritized.  Owners should be prepared to spend at least one-half hour daily training.  Owners may also need to provide for additional exercise.  There are no quick fixes in training.

Is it Really A Separation Anxiety?

A common complaint of dog owners is that their dogs are destructive, excessively vocal, or urinate/defecate, only when left alone.  While these problems may be due to a separation anxiety there is a possibility that these dogs have learned that it is only “safe” to engage in these activities when their owner is not home.  Distinguishing between the two requires careful questioning.  The table illustrates some of the topics to discuss with clients when suspecting a separation anxiety.  The check marks indicate the more likely diagnosis for the behavior.  Multiple check marks are necessary for an accurate diagnosis.

Chewing and scratching at doorways, windows, May include chewing carpet in these areas.
Chewing or soiling areas that have strong owner scents.
Panting, pacing, drooling, self-licking, shadowing owner from room, before actual separation.  Frantic greeting when owner returns.
Dog owned by someone else before.
Dog punished by owner for engaging in same activities when owner home.
Occurs at specific absences or every time that owner leaves.
Counter surfing, ingesting or shredding garbage.
Dog will sneak off while owner home and engaging in same behaviors.
Change in household such as death, divorce, returning to work or seasonal worker.
Problem behavior occurs even leaves for 5 to 10 minutes.