Tuesday Training Tip: Reactivity!!!

Mama Sally:

Rugby reacts to every little noise or movement.  He likely would have been a wonderful herder if we had gotten sheep for our back yard!  As it is, living with his reactive behavior can be challenging!!  One example of his reactivity is that he periodically explodes into barking jags that give me a heart attack because they come from out of the blue….when we are peacefully hanging out together!  There are many other forms as well, and this has been probably the hardest hurdle to get over, in terms of training him and living with him!

He will hear some phantom sound while he’s half asleep, and he fires up barking and grabs the closest piggie and goes to town grunting it! Over the years, I’ve successfully cut the duration for his reactivity to just a few minutes, where it honestly used to go on for almost thirty minutes at a go…depending upon what the trigger happened to be.  And he had barking jags multiple times every hour in those first few months in our home!  UGH!!

Dogs are great about alerting us to things to be sure, and it’s one reason we might choose a dog over a cat, for example.  However, dogs who are overly reactive, and who can’t let it go when they are asked to do so….often get recycled into a shelter or rescue, because it’s a very difficult behavior when it happens nonstop!

Trust me on this one!

Reactive behavior can be common in dogs, and it can be difficult not only to live with, but also to work through in training.  Most dogs that I train make good progress with moderating this behavior, but patience and good timing can really make all the difference!!  These dogs also need lots of consistency in order to make the necessary progress forward.

When you have young puppies, don’t forget to socialize them to sounds as well as things to see.  They need to understand that at times there will be random noises that they can’t see.  And in spite of those random noises, they need to grow up knowing that they are absolutely safe in spite of them.


I often think that Rugby was likely left to raise himself, and he really doesn’t know what to make of noises.  He can do just fine one minute, and fire up the next.  For example, sometimes he can easily ignore barking dogs outside, and other times, especially when it’s not a regular dog in the neighborhood….Rugby will fire up like nobody’s business!  I suspect that when he was a really young puppy, he was never socialized much at all, and his resulting behavior is that he over-reacts to every little thing and can’t sort it out for himself.  Impulse control has always been so very difficult for my little dog, and his reactivity leaves him often anxious and worried.

Let’s face it:  reactive dogs are emotional dogs, and they react out of emotion rather than cognitively thinking about what their response should be.  And over time, those initial emotional responses become learned behavior, and like any habit, they become very difficult to break.  Reactive dogs need training  which can teach them to stay calm when their emotions are telling them something differently.  It’s sort of teaching them that they have other options for their response.  We want to teach them a “Plan B” type of behavior, so that ultimately we can get them to bypass their learned behavior of over-reacting in a negative way.

Rugby James:

When I first commed to live wif the Mama, I wasn’t used to any of the noises at their house.  There was doggers what lived on bof sides of me, and they gotted to run around…off leash…any place they liked outside.  Sumtimes when I was snoozing, they would walk right past the door or window where I was napping and startle me.  They showed up in our yard when the Mama taked me out for potty breaks too, and it maked me very nervous about being outside, on account of I never did know when they would show up, and it always startled me.


I used to bark at all kindsa noises what I would hear, only I would run frew the house and bark like a crazy dogger and I never would let anypawdy catch me.  So the Mama started making me wear a leash all of the time, and I hadda stay next to her.  It really helped me not to bark so much or for as long, and I didn’t getsa run anymore.  She always tried to get me interested in sumping else, only it was really hard for me, on account of I was all freaked out about what I had just heared.

She teached me basic commands to give me a platform of communication wif her, and to help me refocus my attention and start finking instead of letting my emotions run away wif me.  Mostly, I gotted so worked up when I heared sounds I wouldn’t refocus into doing work.  I was always so scared sumping was gonna get me, and I just wanted to run and bark to stay safe!

Over time, I gotted frustrated on account of I didn’t have a good outlet for my anxious response to stuff, and I started grabbing the leash and biting it really hard and shaking my head wif it, sos the Mama sayed I was getting too aggressive in my response to feeling frustrated.  So the Mama gotted me my lil polka dottie piggies and when I feel all frustrated wif noises, I can grunt them instead.

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I doesn’t hasta wear the leash anymore, and when I get all spun up, the Mama just directs me to one of my piggies and I can re-direct my emotions to my piggies instead!  It keeps everpawdy safe, and my lil piggies likesa be grunted lots, so it works out purty good at my house!  I doesn’t bark for very long any more, and I just get interested in my piggies instead!






    • Sally says

      Hi Carol! Thanks for reading and for your comment! You've nailed down the keys to ANY and ALL successful dog training. Multiply your keys exponentially when working with reactive dogs, and you'll get somewhere!! Belly rubs to Dexter! 😀

  1. says

    It's so great that Rugby has made such wonderful progress. It's kind of funny that as I was sitting here reading this, Luke suddenly broke out into barking and scared the heck out of me!
    When I'm sitting at my counter I can't see the driveway, so I kind of like it that he or one of the girls lets me know if someone has pulled in. As long as we can keep the barking short lived then I'm OK with it. We're working on it and it's getting better.

    • Sally says

      Thanks so much, Jan!! I know exactly the heart attack you're describing with the explosive barking!! I don't think I will ever be able to stop Rugby from much of his reaction to his trigger sounds. But, his little piggies have been a tremendous help, and I would much rather hear him grunting a piggie than barking and racing through the house at top warp speed!! And, it gives him a safe outlet so that he's not exploding with aggression!! So glad you're working with Luke!! Don't give up!! 😀

  2. says

    Mr. N is very aware of everything and curious about everything as well. He would probably make a good hearing dog! Unfortunately, that is also the case with his leash reactivity. But he's getting better. Impulse control is hard. Thanks for joining the hop!

    • Sally says

      Oh GREAT!! I did it right? I was afraid I didn't get the right post plugged in!! Most reactive dogs I train do make good progress over time, with patience and consistency. Rugby is one who has never really figured things out well. He frustrates very so easily, and when I've coupled that with many areas of stimuli for him, the result is often frustration and fear aggression if we are out and about. He's soooo stressed when he's away from home, the stimuli just push him over the edge and he completely melts down. I'm continuing to work on impulse control games and helping him learn new responses to reactivity at home, and he does pretty well in working through things at home. So glad to know that Mr. N is doing so well!! Impulse control IS very hard for dogs to learn!!


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