Reactive Dog?

Updated: Nov 18, 2020

What happens when dogs react – simplified!

The term ‘reactive’ dog has slipped into modern dog training vocabulary over the past 10 years. Being old enough to remember dog training 'back in the day', these dogs were labelled aggressive at that time. Whilst I can see that reactive is a kinder label than aggressive, it is still equally unhelpful in explaining what the dog is trying to communicate.

When a dog is ‘reacting’ they are operating from their mid-brain, using their store of memories helped by the amygdala (limbic system). Alongside this the instinctive canine survival behaviours are also in action.


1. Dog smells cigarette smoke

2. Mid-brain remembers this smell as a negative association

3. Limbic system goes on alert to prepare for flight or fight

Now we have two scenarios:

Flight – the off-lead dog has a choice to run away

1. The limbic system is on full alert

2. The mid brain has a memory of safety

3. The instinctive survival response allows the dog to run

Fight – the on-lead dog may have no choice but to display ‘fight’ behaviour, even if their motivation is to run away

1.The limbic system is on full alert

2.The mid brain has a memory of safety

3.The instinctive survival response allows the dog to lunge, bark, spin, display teeth, growl, bite

The Limbic system is a multi-tasking part of the brain, it can be affected by diet which is why we talk to you about food, and it can get stuck which affects learning. Dog’s that are routinely stuck in a limbic response can be helped with herbal based products and/or veterinary medication, talk to us if you wish to know more about either of these. For more information on the limbic system and how it affects behaviour

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