Recent Posts



No tags yet.

Coping with Reactive Dogs

Part 1 – Puppies!

There seem to be lots of dogs that yell “stay away!” these days; I seem to encounter them everywhere.

By this, I mean dogs who are leash reactive and who lunge, bark and growl when they are on leash and encounter other dogs. In my view, it seems to be a behaviour in dogs that is becoming more and more common. I said to another trainer recently that I felt it was of almost epidemic proportions. The other trainer concurred with my feelings.

I have found myself wondering why this should be. I can only speak from anecdotal evidence, and from my own experience. I haven’t found any statistics to back up my views.

  • Is it because these days, there appear to be fewer off leash places for our dogs to run and socialise and therefore they spend more time walking on leash?

  • Is it because less people socialise their dogs from puppyhood than they used to?

  • Is the problem actually due to lack of early socialisation or because of something else.

I'll admit that I don't have the answer.

Puppy Socialisation Classes

Surely there are more than enough puppy socialisation classes and puppy training classes available these days to be able to help with early socialisation? There seems to be a plethora of dog trainers and training classes in most towns and cities. I know in my fairly small area, there are several training clubs as well as around half a dozen trainers who run classes of varying types. Classes get booked up pretty quickly.

Of course, not all puppy classes or socialisation classes are created equal. If the class is not appropriately run, this can cause early problems in dogs.

I remember being at a conference a few years ago where Turid Rugaas was giving a talk. Turid is extremely well known internationally in the training world as a very experienced, knowledgeable trainer/speaker. She has books and DVDs available that many trainers, me included have in their library.

On this particular occasion, she said that she regarded puppy socialisation classes as a very bad idea and considered they were often the source of puppy and adult dog problems. I remember there being a sharp intake of breath in the audience (which was of course full of trainers). I too gave a sharp intake of breath because her statement seemed so contrary to all that we believed as trainers.

However, in recent years, I have begun to think that she might have a point in some cases because I’ve heard and seen some disturbing things. I’ve heard reports from people who’ve attended classes with pups that sound worrying, and I’ve also been along to observe some classes which have given me cause for concern. However, I’ve also observed some fabulous classes!

I’ve had several clients and spoken to others who have told me that they took a puppy to a socialisation group or class and after a couple of sessions they pulled their puppy out of the group and had not gone back simply because they were uncomfortable with what was happening. However, some pup owners might feel that the trainer is the expert and what happens must be OK when maybe it’s actually not.

Making sure the class is run by an educated, force free trainer

In a puppy class/socialisation group it’s vital that the trainer and class assistants recognise when interactions between puppies are inappropriate. If a puppy is being bullied and the trainer doesn’t step in immediately and stop it, that pup could develop problems. Likewise, the bullying puppy or puppies need to be stopped and redirected so they are not allowed to continue the behaviour.

Sometimes a puppy might find a class or group overwhelming if they are quiet and a little timid. A particular group might be overstimulating to certain puppies. All these inappropriate interactions might affect a pup’s behaviour towards other dogs thereafter. Therefore, it’s vital that the person running the class or group recognises all of these issues and manages it in the proper way. If there are puppies in the group that aren’t suitable then the trainer should be discussing this with the puppy’s people.

Another problem is that if puppy is in a class that advocates punishment based methods this could result in trauma for the puppy and thereafter a negative association with other dogs, and/or people.

I’ve seen small puppies wearing prong or choke collars which quite frankly, horrifies me because I don’t even recommend using them on an adult dog. If I see a small puppy wearing one of these, I usually try to have a chat with the owners. I would say that the majority of the time they tell me that a trainer recommended they use it.

**Choke or prong collars can cause damage to a dog’s neck, especially a young puppy. (See diagram and explanation at the end of this blog)

Early experiences affect the adult dog

To summarise: all these experiences as a puppy can affect how your pup sees the world, people and other dogs and can affect how your puppy’s temperament is shaped.

Juno my big pup at 18 weeks.

All of the above doesn’t mean that your pup shouldn’t be socialised with other dogs or helped to cope with the outside world in general.

My advice is that before enrolling in a puppy class or socialisation group, ask to go along and watch another class that the trainer is running. I recommend looking for a trainer who is teaching using positive reinforcement, with no choke or prong collars and a class that is calm with happy dogs and owners. If you see any suggestion of rough physical handling, (such as forcing a puppy into a sit or a down) leash jerking or choke or prong collars being used, then my advice would be to find another class. Please click here which takes you to a document compiled by the Pet Professional Guild, called Ten Questions to ask your Training Profesional. This is a useful document that suggests the vital questions to ask when you are considering hiring a trainer either for classes or private sessions.

With time and patience, puppy can be desensitised to what the outside world is going to throw at them and not be afraid. Puppy can also learn to have positive interactions with other dogs.

**You can see from this diagram why, apart from being painful and unnecessary, using a choke, prong or even allowing a dog to pull with a flat buckle collar can be damaging. Using a good harness is a better way. All harnesses are not created equal and I will be discussing those in a separate blog.



Brentwood Bay