Aggressive vs Reactive Dogs


Aggressive vs Reactive Dogs

What's the difference? Where does this behavior start? And how can it be corrected?

By Kaylen Alvarez


For as loveable and sweet as man's best friend can be, there exists a portion of our population that is afraid of dogs�skeptical of their often unpredictable nature�and there are also many dedicated dog owners struggling to reign in their hostile pup�s incalculable behavior.


So whether you own an aggressive or reactive dog, or simply are afraid of them, here are some things you should know.



Reactive Dogs


Reactive dogs are a specific subset of easily-triggered canines. The root of their behavior can be credited to a few key factors: Genetics, hormones, lack of socialization, traumatizing past experiences, or lack of training.


Reactivity can be categorized as the manifestation of overexcitement, or the release of pent-up frustration when a dog�s senses have been aroused by common stimuli� such as the

confinement of a leash, off-leash dogs, congested spaces, barking dogs, other animals in general, etc. Every reactive dog has their own triggers, and it is up to their owner to identify them in order to take next steps.


Though it can often be the prelude to true aggressive behavior, reactivity comes first. It should not be confused with aggression, nor is it a sure thing that all reactive dogs will become aggressive.


Don�t know if you have a reactive dog or not? An easy way to tell is to take your pup on a �test walk.� Monitor their behavior on a leash, observe how they interact with other dogs, people, and the environment around them. Common reactivity identifiers include barking, jumping, lunging, growling, or pulling when exposed to their triggers. Reactive dogs can even be overly defensive of their food, toys, or humans.


If you do have a reactive pup, it is important to be their advocate. They are trusting you to protect them from triggering environments and uneducated strangers who may not respect their space.



Aggressive Dogs


The categorical difference between reactive and aggressive dogs, according to Cornell University, is that reactive dogs operate out of fear, whereas aggressive dogs act with determination to inflict harm. Early signs of aggression can be nipping or biting as a puppy due to overstimulation, rough play, and snapping when experiencing physical discomfort.


The causes and triggers are similar to reactive dogs, with genetics and trauma acting as a catalyst for volatile behavior.


Body language is the biggest indicator that your aggressive dog might lash out. Anxious behavior such as a tucked-in tail, panting, lip licking, intense eye contact, growling or showing teeth can be a tell-tale sign.



Managing Behavior


Once you�ve determined whether or not you have a reactive or aggressive pup, you can begin taking the next steps.


�Aggression and reactivity can�t necessarily be �cured,�� Central Florida dog trainer, Samantha Criswell said, �but with proper training from a positive reinforcement or science-based trainer, it can be managed.�

Samantha has been a trainer for nearly ten years, specializing in reactive and aggressive behavior. She discourages the sentiment that all pups in these categories are hostile all of the time. �Once they form a trust bond, they are actually really loving.�


Aside from working with a veterinarian, trainer, or behavior expert, counter-conditioning is another great way to get your aggressive/reactive pet conditioned to their triggers. This involves exposing them to the environments and stimuli that scare them, rewarding them in the process. The goal is to give them coping strategies to transform their triggers into something positive. With consistency, this is possible.




Genetics and past experiences are the catalyst for reactivity and aggression; these kinds of dogs are no less deserving of love and respect. Whether you have the pleasure of owning a reactive/aggressive dog, or you happen to encounter one, be mindful of their triggers and comfortability level. Never purposely provoke them, remain patient, and seek out expert advice.


If you think that your pup�s hostile nature might be a liability, or if you�d like to protect your non-aggressive pet from future accidents, you may want to consider insuring your dog! InsureMyK9 covers injury-related medical expenses, property damage, and legal costs. Off-leash coverage is also available to those who are eligible.


Research & Resources

 Dogster  -  Common  Triggers  for  Aggression

 ASPCA  -  What  is  Aggression?

 Wag  Walking  -  Reactive  Behaviors  in  Dogs

 AKC  - Dog Reactivity Vs. Aggression

 Cornell University - Managing Reactive Behavior

 Behavior  Vet  NYC  -  What  is  a  Science-Based  Dog  Trainer?

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