Introducing A Reactive Dog To Another Dog

Anxious Dogs

Introducing A Reactive Dog To Another Dog

introduce reactive dog to another dog

If you own a reactive dog and are planning to introduce him or her to another dog, you will have many questions and doubts. How to do this safely? How to make sure it is a positive experience for both dogs? How to progress without risking bad experiences?

I have trained with thousands of reactive dogs over the years, especially in my Tackling Reactivity course. In this post I will share my best tips and tricks for introducing a reactive dog to another dog – as safely and successfully as possible!

How To Introduce A Reactive Dog To Another Dog

The most important thing to keep in mind is that you should not rush the introduction. Once two dogs are off to a bad start, you will have a hard time fixing their relationship. It is much better to take any introduction gradually and also ask yourself how important it actually is that your reactive dogs gets to meet another dog.

If you own a reactive dog and are for example planning to move in with somebody with a dog, it is of course unavoidable that the two dogs live in close vicinity. In this case you should absolutely start training weeks or months before you need to have the two dogs in one house. You would begin with training in a wide, open space where there is a lot of distance between you guys and you can keep your dog from crossing his threshold.

A lot of high-value treats should be given to your reactive dog to help him build a strong association:

Another dog means good things are about to happen!

You should absolutely avoid scolding or punishing your dog for reactive behavior. This would only build a bad association. If your dog has negative experiences, he is much more likely to show reactive behavior in the future. The training sessions should be positive and rewarding.

german shepherd barking

What Is A Reactive Dog?

But what actually constitutes a reactive dog? Reactive dogs show distress-based responses in the presence of their triggers. They may bark, lunge, growl and raise their hackles. If allowed to approach their trigger, reactive dogs might escalate the situation and have a bite incident.

Reactivity is sometimes confused with hyper-arousal. The two can look very similar but have different origins. A reactive dog has a highly negative response to his triggers. A hyper-aroused dog however is highly motivated by for example other dogs, because he wants to play with them. Especially when on leash this motivation can quickly turn into frustration which will also result in barking and lunging (also known as leash-related reactivity).

Reactive dogs can be reactive due to a number of different reasons. They may have had traumatic experiences in the past. Some breeds tend to be more reactive than others, especially high-strung herding breeds such as Australian Shepherds or Heelers, Shepherds or their crosses. Dogs bred to guard livestock or homes also will be more likely to show reactive tendencies.

Reactive Dog vs Aggressive Dog

The difference between reactivity and aggression will be individual for every dog, and many reactive dogs will become aggressive dogs if the behavior goes on long enough and is not addressed. Reactivity is an over-reaction to triggers such as other dogs or people. Aggression is behavior that is outright directed at the trigger and nearly always escalates.

Some dogs are purposefully bred with natural aggression, such as many breeds that are used in Schutzhund and IPO. These working dogs need to be trained to a high level to control their drives.

Other dogs develop aggressive behavior after not receiving training for their reactivity. The more often a reactive dog gets pushed over his threshold, the more likely he is to start showing true aggression towards his triggers.

black reactive dog barking

How To Deal With A Reactive Dog

Unfortunately, reactive dogs do not grow out of this behavior. They only change through consistent training.

If you are in a situation in which your dog shows reactive behavior, the most important thing is to remove your dog from it.

The longer your dog spends in a reactive state of barking, lunging, growling … the worse this behavior will become. Dogs ingrain responses and emotions and they will become more and more reactive the longer they are over their threshold.

If you are out walking and you see another dog, ideally you would be proactive and bring a large enough distance between you and that dog before your own dog becomes reactive. If this is not possible or you get surprised, you should move away as quickly as you can.

It is nearly never helpful to tell your dog to Sit, Leave It, No … he is in such a high state of arousal that he will not understand and he will not be able to follow your cues.

Leaving the situation as quickly as possible – ideally within less than 20 seconds – is your top priority.

Leash-Reactive Dogs

A common behavior pattern in reactive dogs is that their reactions are much more pronounced when they are on a leash. In fact, some dogs are able to play perfectly fine with other dogs in a dog park or doggy daycare – but when they encounter a dog while on leash they lose their mind.

This is in part due to the way the leash restricts their movement. On the one hand, they may be frustrated because they cannot approach a dog on their own terms. On the other hand, the leash (especially if short) also prevents the dog from using his doggy body language he usually would. Dogs have a wide variety of movements and behaviors to signal other dogs their intentions. The leash physically prevents dogs from doing.

When straining against the leash, the dog will also be put into a very intense and threatening position. A dog that is pulling towards another dog looks a lot more menacing than a dog who is moving freeling off-leash.

If your dog is leash-reactive, you should work with him on a long line in a large distance to his triggers. This way he won’t experience a short and tight leash and can practice calm behaviors successfully.

little aggressive dogs on leash

Reactive Dog Training

When you dive into reactive dog training, you will find that consistency of the training process is highly important. No dog trainer in the world can “cure” your reactive dog within one session or with a magic trick. The key to success is to commit some time at least 3-4 times a week to working with your dog. In our Reactivity Class we show you exactly how this is done!

How To Socialize A Reactive Dog

Should you socialize your reactive dog? Whether and how this is done will depend on your individual dog and his specific behaviors. A dog that is leash-reactive might get along well with other dogs off-leash. In that case you can definitely let him play and socialize with doggy friends.

If your reactive dog however shows pronounced reactivity and you are uncertain about how he would do if he were to actually meet another dog, you need to keep him on a leash and at a safe distance from other dogs at all times. While every reactive dog can make some improvement with the right approach, not every reactive dog will ever be able to joyfully play with other dogs.

You should not feel guilty if your reactive dog cannot socialize with other dogs. It is important that you observe your dog well and make the right decisions based on his behavior. If you feel that your dog does best if not interacting or coming close to other dogs, then this is exactly what you should be doing for him.

You are your dog’s advocate and you know him best! Do not put him into a situation in which he cannot succeed. If you set him up for failure, his reactivity will just get worse and worse.

Socializing is not the only way in which dogs’ lives can get enriched. You can do many other things with your dog that will not trigger his reactivity. Teach him a new trick, scatter some treats for him to find in the yard, play hide-and-seek or craft a home-made puzzle game for him.

reactive white dog

The Bottom Line

There is no guaranteed way to successfully introduce a reactive dog to another dog. You will need time, patience and you need to pay attention to your dog and his mental state.

If you rush the introduction, your dog will become even more reactive. Preventing your dog from crossing his threshold is highly important.

The more time you can take for an introduction, the smoother it will be.

Some reactive dogs can never be introduced to other dogs – and that is ok as well! You as the owner know your dog best. Trust your instincts and only move at a pace that works well for your dog.