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Published: August 17, 2023

Unleash Harmony: 5 Effective Strategies to Curb Your Dog’s Reactivity

co-authored by Cat Harbord and Sheila Gunston

Living with a reactive dog is challenging.

Living with a reactive dog presents its own set of challenges, stirring up stress for both you and your four-legged companion. This stress can strain the bond you share, leading you down a rocky path that can be hard to navigate. But don’t worry – we’ve got you covered with insightful tips to guide you on this journey.
Drawing from a published piece in Psychology Research and Behavior Management, it’s evident that the human element, including personality and attitudes, significantly shapes the dog-human relationship. Positive attitudes and affiliative behavior foster a robust bond, as corroborated by hormonal changes experienced by both partners in the dyad.

Reactive and aggressive dog training classes in Calgary

Unraveling the dynamic between you and your dog

The intricate dynamics between you and your dog have seldom been explored as they can be now. A multitude of behavior experts, whether specializing in dogs or other fields, are unearthing the value of transcending the confines of behaviourism and operant conditioning (reinforcement and punishment paradigms). This article presents five transformative tips that not only address your dog’s reactivity but also shed light on new ways to cultivate a profound connection with your beloved canine companion.

What sets these tips apart?

Through immersion in the Core of Thrive Learning System™, we unlock insights beyond our original expectations. Unlike conventional approaches that often lead to repetitive training cycles with little lasting impact, these tips provide a whole dog perspective. They encourage you to perceive your dog in a novel light, appreciating every nuance and subtlety in a way you may never have imagined.

Navigating the terrain of learning

What if you make mistakes? Will your missteps harm your dog? The beauty of delving into the Core of Thrive Learning System™ is that even wrong turns can lead to new discoveries, helping you uncover the reasons behind your dog’s struggles. Mistakes are an essential part of understanding your dog’s behavior, eventually transforming into moments of clarity and insight.

5 strategies to diminish your dog's reactivity

By following these actionable strategies, you can begin to uncover the root causes of your dog’s reactivity, paving the way toward effective, long term solutions.

Sharpen Your Observation Skills

Pay close attention to the instances, locations, and triggers behind your dog’s reactivity. Does it arise in specific situations, like when your dog is leashed or off-leash, when encountering other dogs, or around certain family members? Having scratched the surface, it’s now time to delve much deeper into the underlying factors.

Explore the Depths of Interaction

Venture further into your and your dog’s social network, examining interactions with neighbors, family members, fellow dogs, across various contexts. Is there a common source of conflict or competition lurking beneath the surface? For instance, if your dog reacts on-leash towards other dogs but seems sociable off-leash, observe if they are consistently the one to initiate social interactions at the dog park or daycare (even if the other dog isn’t interested in interacting). Do they tend to jump up on both you and strangers? Analyze their play behavior for instances of occasional awkwardness or excessive enthusiasm. While these may seem disconnected, these subtle micro-level conflicts constitute around 90% of the underlying issue. Unearthing these nuances requires keen observation that goes beyond the obvious, allowing you to peer into the unseen world where answers lie in wait.

Exploring Your Dog’s Adaptive Capacity: A Vital Aspect of Overcoming Reactivity and Aggression

Diving into the heart of your canine companion’s adaptability unveils an essential facet of their behavior. It’s time to closely examine how your dog’s innate ability to adapt has evolved over time. Could it be that unintentional training missteps have unwittingly chipped away at their adaptability? Perhaps an undue emphasis on obedience and micromanagement has sidelined their capacity to engage in instinctual behaviors like sniffing, peeing, and shaking off. Even seemingly unconventional actions such as leash pulling might play a role. Alternatively, life’s hardships and traumatic experiences might have worn away at their adaptability. Whatever the cause, your dog’s adaptive capacity stands as a pivotal factor influencing their reactivity, making it crucial to invest ample effort in exploring this pivotal aspect.

Within this exploration lies the quest to pinpoint stress triggers in your dog’s life. It’s a multi-faceted endeavor, requiring a discerning eye to identify potential sources of strain. Are there moments of uncertainty? Could an excessive amount of direction be dampening their natural instincts? Perhaps underlying medical issues or suppressed instincts contribute to their struggles. The dynamics of your relationship with your furry friend might also hold the key. Unveiling these stressors necessitates a thorough examination of every conceivable angle. This transitional period, nestled between identifying the problem and crafting a solution, is an invaluable opportunity to uncover the clues essential for liberating your dog from the chains of reactivity and aggression.

In this pursuit, no stone must remain unturned. Your commitment to understanding your dog’s adaptive capacity can pave the way for a transformative journey. By delving into the intricate web of factors that influence their behavior, you’re carving a path toward lasting change. As you seek to empower your dog with the tools to conquer reactivity, remember that the seeds of transformation lie within their ability to adapt.

Dive into the Unique Elements Influencing Your Dog’s Behaviour

Embark on a journey to unravel the distinct factors that shape your dog’s behavior. Delve into key considerations such as age, inherent breed tendencies, temperament, existing medical conditions, sleep routines, nutritional needs, mental engagement, physical activity, prior negative encounters, and potential developmental challenges. These facets, including “fractures” in development and resulting sensory or sensory motor limitations, all play a pivotal role in your dog’s behaviours.
Effecting meaningful change requires interventions that mirror the intricate web of these factors. It’s essential to address each element with an intervention that aligns with the complexity it’s deeply rooted in. By matching interventions to the depth of these influences, you lay the groundwork for a comprehensive approach that speaks to the unique needs of your canine companion.

Environmental Tweaks
Optimize your dog’s home and community environments by implementing strategic changes. For instance, consider having your dog behind a baby gate or tethered when guests come to visit. Take a thoughtful approach to removing access to perch points, which can inadvertently contribute to micro conflicts.
Adapt the level of structure in your dog’s environment to align with their unique needs and their stage of readiness for increased freedom. Remember that the appropriate degree of structure is heavily influenced by the comprehensive factors addressed throughout this article.
It’s also essential to recognize that dogs have distinct responses to structure. While some can flourish in an environment rich with structure, others might find themselves overwhelmed by excessive rigidity. This highlights the importance of understanding your dog’s disposition and preferences, ensuring that they are provided with the optimal environment to thrive.

Vet Check

Schedule a veterinary visit to rule out any underlying medical issues or unexplained pain that might be influencing your dog’s behavior.

Reflecting on Your Relationship

Take a moment to deeply assess the quality of your bond with your canine companion. Is it a secure, nurturing connection, or does it display signs of uncertainty? Explore your dog’s trust in you across the comprehensive spectrum of the “Trust, the Big 6” dimensions listed below, as detailed further in the accompanying graphic:

  1. Guidance
  2. Resources
  3. Protection
  4. Security
  5. Care
  6. Safety

Picture these six dimensions interwoven like a tightly-knit knot. Just as a knot relies on the strength of each thread, trust depends on the solidity of all six dimensions. If any thread weakens or breaks, trust becomes fragile across every dimension. In such instances, trust must be restored before any meaningful progress can be made.
We acknowledge that this introspection can be a demanding endeavor, often unveiling aspects of the relationship previously unexplored. It may even reveal hidden facets of yourself and your dog. However, we assure you that this self-discovery is a tremendously valuable and rewarding pursuit. Embracing this reflection holds the promise of profound insights and a richer, more fulfilling connection with your beloved canine companion.

Progressing with thrive learning system™

Thrive Learning System™ operates under a systems-thinking philosophy, allowing us to unearth fresh insights into our canine companions. By shifting perspectives, embracing innovative concepts, and recognizing your pivotal role in your dog’s life, you’re embarking on a journey toward shared growth and flourishing.

Concluding thoughts

Embrace these five strategies as invaluable tools to diminish your dog’s reactivity, forming the bedrock for a more profound bond and a harmonious coexistence. Guided by the Core of Thrive Learning System™, you’re setting forth on an expedition of discovery that enriches both your life and that of your beloved canine companion.

Seeking further assistance?

If your current relationship with your dog isn’t where you envision it, and you’re eager to understand how this might impact your dog’s reactivity concerns, our webinars and specialized reactivity courses, centered around Thrive Learning System™, can illuminate the path. These resources provide clarity, dispelling confusion, and reorienting you toward a successful trajectory. Check them out here:

The Core Essentials: Trust
Rover Reimagined: Reactive Dog Program

Moreover, if you’re interested in deepening your understanding of attachment, Grisha Stewart presents an enlightening framework and helpful tips in her resource: The New S.A.F.E. Framework for Dog Training & Care: Secure Attachment Family Education | Grisha Stewart

Remember, with Thrive Learning System™ as your guide, you’re embarking on a transformative journey that cultivates a more profound connection and a brighter future for both you and your dog.


Elyssa Payne, Pauleen C Bennett & Paul McGreevy (2015) Current perspectives on attachment and bonding in the dog–human dyad, Psychology Research and Behavior Management, 8:, 71-79, DOI: 10.2147/PRBM.S74972

Lee ED, Daniels BC, Myers CR, Krakauer DC, Flack JC. Scaling theory of armed-conflict avalanches.
Physical Review E. 2020, 102(4): 042312. https://doi.org/10.1103/PhysRevE.102.042312 PMID:

Fleming, B. (2023, July 11). Conflict Scaling Analysis in Canine Aggression: The Devil’s in the Details. Retrieved from Chaos & Canines: https://chaosandcanines.substack.com/p/conflict-scaling-analysis-in-canine

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