How To Socialize A Reactive Dog

Getting your reactive dog trained on socialization would be one of the wise investments that you can ever place on your dog. Imagine having a lovely and sociable dog that is well liked by everyone in your neighborhood as your family member? Wouldn’t that be GREAT?

As your dog may get reactive when he is in a new environment, you would need to closely supervise him during the initial socialization process.

Essentially, socializing your dog requires exposing him to new experiences, people and things and teaching him to accept and knows them as a normal.

With this GOAL in mind, let’s get to the tasks.

To work on socializing your reactive dog. You would need to

  1. Identify the causes that lead to his reactive behavior.
  2. Work on how you can help him to “kick off” this undesirable behavior so that he can be sociable.

Why Do Dogs Become Reactive?

Dogs who are overreacting (flip out and lose control) in the following conditions are usually considered as “reactive”.

  • In an unfamiliar environment 
  • In the presence of people or species (could be their own breed, or other dog breeds or even cats) 
  • When hearing some sudden loud or high-pitched noises

They would usually exhibit undesirable behaviors (symptoms) such as:

  • Barking
  • Biting
  • Growling
  • Lunging 
  • Body Always Tense Up (Rigid Body)
  • Intense State
  • Keep Looking Away
  • Baring Of Teeth
  • Excessive Licking Of Lips
  • Stiff Tail

There are various reasons as to your dog might behave in this manner.


All dogs by nature will have a reactive behavior. However, there are certain breeds of dogs that are more prominent in showing this behavior, and they are mostly of herding breed. 

Herding breeds of dogs have the nature personality of laser focus and react instantly to any environment changes. So if your dog belongs to this breed, it would be of NO surprise that he is behaving reactively. But don’t worry as this behavior can be corrected. I will share with you what are the ways to address this shortly.

Reactive Dog Breeds

  • Border Collie
  • Belgian Malinois
  • Miniature Schnauzer
  • Australian Cattle Dog
  • Rhodesian Ridgeback
  • Airedale Terrier
  • Irish Terrier
  • Australian Shepherd

Lack Of Socialization

Socialization plays a critical role in ensuring that your dog is mentally well-developed and is able to react to the world around him (things, people, species, places) in a stress free way without any fear or anxiety.

Without proper socialization, his world is only restricted to your home and family members, and he would not be able to know how to react when facing new people, things and places in the outside world. 

It would simply be too scary and stressful for him, and he might be overreacting the moment he is out from your house!

Do not have this belief that dog socialization is only for puppies when they are 8 weeks old. In fact, socialization is an ongoing process and should be done for life. It’s like human learning socialization, your social skills will only get better as you social more often, correct?

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Experience: Abuse and Traumatic

Your dog could be having some traumatic experience in the past, and he is getting over reacting whenever he faces any of the similar situations. This is his way of safeguarding himself from any harms that he may have come across before.

For example, he could have been attacked by another dog before, and he starts to show fear and anxiety whenever he faces the same breed of dog again.

Health Related Issue

Discomfort in your dog can cause him to react in an unpredictable way. Did the following happen to your dog before he behaved reactively?

  1. Change in his behavior out of a sudden
  2. His behavior becomes unpredictable
  3. He acts in a way that is not typically his style
  4. Is he showing signs of sadness or depression?
  5. Any physical injury signs on his body?
  6. Any unexplained weight loss?

These “changes” might be caused by his illness or discomfort that he is experiencing and you would certainly need to bring him to a vet for medical assistance

Your vet might be prescribing some anti-anxiety or anti-depression medicine if he is suffering from some mental disorder.

How To Make Socialization An Enjoyable Task for a Reactive Dog?

You can certainly train your reactive dog to be sociable. Do the socialization training in small steps and not one big “bang” as he will need time to adjust and get himself in the right state after each training and you will also have to monitor his progress and re-adjust your training regime.

Train Him On Controlled Environment

Start with an environment that he is familiar with and you have full control of. If you have a backyard, this will be an ideal spot.

Invite your friend to bring along his dog – (I will call him DOG A – preferably a calm and well-trained dog)  to your home. Have DOG A sit down in one corner of your backyard and slowly guide your dog toward him. Keep your dog on a leash to prevent any accidents.

As your dog is about 5 meters away from DOG A, watch out for his reaction. Did he show any sign of fear, nervousness or anxiety? If he starts showing signs of discomfort, try to attract his attention using a high value treat such as a piece of cheese and see if this helps to calm him down.

Then slowly move nearer to DOG A using the same approach – distraction and reward to make him feel comfortable in the presence of DOG A.

When he is finally reaching DOG A, praise him with an excited tone and offer him a treat again.

He will find that there isn’t going to be any pain or harm when he is around with other dogs. In fact, when he starts to socialize with a well-trained dog, he will also be learning all the “good” behaviors from DOG A. Just like children learning from a teacher.

Make Use Of Positive Reinforcement

Rewards for good behavior never fails to delight my dog. This technique is a MUST if you want your dog to do away with his reactivity behavior and be sociable.

When your dog shows signs of over reacting to a situation such as barking and you issue the “quiet” command, only reward him when he listens and obey your instruction. This will help to associate the “quiet” behavior with his reward, and he will learn that by behaving in this manner, “Good” things will come.

Of course, in case your dog keeps barking and simply ignores the “quiet” command, you will just have to “move” him out from this situation. Once he had calmed down, reward him with a treat. 

When you reward him after he has calmed down, you are teaching him to associate that “calm” behavior with a reward.

In my opinion, rewards in the form of delicious food works best as all dogs hunger for food.

KEY point to take note:

NEVER scold or punish your dog for his anxiety. This will not do you any good. In fact, this action can only make him feel more nervous and anxious.

Make Your Dog Feel Comfortable – Define A Routine Schedule

Uncertainty of what will be happening can incur fear and anxiety in dogs. This is what happens when you first bring your dog back home. He is in a new environment with new people and things and all this unfamiliarity will lead to his reactivity.

So it’s important to define a routine schedule for him so that he knows what needs to be done for the day and would not be over reacting to what is happening around him.

What Needs To Be Defined In Your Dog’s Routine Schedule

  1. When he will wake up
  2. When he will have his meal
  3. When he will be taking a nap
  4. When he will be going for potty
  5. When he will be sleeping
  6. When will be his playtime or exercise time

Routine makes his world more predictable, and he will be less stressful and feel more safe and calm. When he is “managing” his emotion well, he will be able to socialize easily with any new encounter. 

Bond With Your Dog

Nothing works better than getting your dog’s trust and building the bond. This plays a critical role as once he considers you as his pack leader, he knows that you will be there for him when he faces danger. 

This will certainly help him to remain calm and control his emotion as he will be looking for your direction as his pack leader.

The Role of a Pack Leader or “Alpha Dog” is to provide guidance and protection for his pack.

So when he considers you as his Alpha Dog, he will be more dependable on you and will be more willing to listen to your command. This will make it much easier for you to manage his reactivity behaviors.

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WAYS To Build Bond With Your Dog

There are various WAYS that you can build that bond relationship with you dog

Spend Quality 1- 1 Time Together

Relationships take time to foster. You will need to “invest” time, effort and patience to earn that trust. Make sure that you allocate at least an hour per day with your dog, playing his favorite games or even just by sitting and hanging out with him makes a world of difference to him!

Dogs are social animals and what they want is someone to be with them and care for them!

Communication Is The KEY To Success Bonding

An effective communication channel can certainly help to break the “ice” and build a bond with your dog. Your dog will be able to comprehend your expectation and you will be able to know the signals that your dog is sending to you.

When executing command to your dog, be consistent so that he will not get confused.

Remember that dogs tend to pay more attention to visual than vocal. So your body language might also be sending “clues” to your dog as well. 

Know Your Dog’s Likes and Dislikes

Every dog is unique and has their personality and preference. Get to know what kind of affection your dog is looking for, what are the games he likes to play and what are the social events he feels comfortable to be around. This will certainly help to live his life to the fullest and make him trust you completely.