Muddy Mutleys

Dog Training & Behaviour Specialists

My Dog is Reactive!


I met up with a very close friend recently who was given advice from a trainer living locally to him. His dog has the propensity to lunge towards other dogs when on her lead and obviously my friend, feeling uncomfortable about this behaviour, reached out for help. (I have forgiven him for being unfaithful! Couple of glasses of Rose did that.)

The advice he received was this… “distract her with a lure”. In this case it was her ball, but equally a suggestion might have been to use food. So, the advice was, if you see a dog coming, distract your dog with her ball so she doesn’t notice the other dog and therefore won’t react.

On the face of it… great. Quick easy fix. Job done. But…. Let’s dig down. There are a few reasons why this isn’t a silver bullet, a one quick fix that suits all dogs, people. and situations.

Call me the grinch … but here is why.

The dog isn’t learning anything. Through distracting her, all we are doing is that. We are not addressing the underlying motivation or function of the behaviour, so we are not making things better for the dog, for the future.

The behaviour won’t improve or change. The dog will therefore in theory remain, worried or over aroused or frustrated by the sight of another dog on lead, whilst on lead herself. We aren’t addressing the root cause of the behaviour. In other words, the emotional association with the trigger isn’t being addressed or improved.

What happens on the occasion the “lure”, the distraction plan with ball or food doesn’t work? What then. What if the oncoming dog is TOO CLOSE, too fast, too quick, surprises you coming around the corner.

If using food, the dog is very unlikely to be interested in it if stressed, so, if the oncoming trigger is too close, too fast, too scary… food is not going to be of interest. Once a dog reaches a certain point, it is very difficult to distract them and redirect their attention with anything. It’s far too late!

We shouldn’t be using the ball or food as a distraction. WHY? Because we can create a situation whereby the ball or food becomes a cue for the reaction. It can signal to the dog, that there is something to worry about, or to react to, coming up. If they haven’t noticed the other dog or the trigger yet, you have just alerted them to it. We can all too easily build up a pattern of behaviour.

On a bad day, this could render the food or the ball as “poisoned”. Ie, the dog no longer finds the ball or the food fun, or interesting, or tasty, because they just associated it with a scary thing coming at them too quickly or too closely etc.

You are up the creek, if you forget the magic lure or loose it. I also feel it gives you a false sense of security. “It’s ok, I have my magic ball, we don’t need to give the dog (trigger) space.”

This can be dangerous. We must take into consideration how close is too close to a scary or over arousing “thing” for our dogs to cope or risk just making the reactions more likely and more intense.

What happens if your dog becomes OBSESSED by the ball or the food and starts to feel the need to protect it at any cost. What if the trigger, the oncoming dog, decides they would like the ball or the food….? What then eeek. This is potentially a very dangerous scenario.

So… wanna know what to do instead. Give me a shout!;