Why I judge people who have reactive dogs

Josh and I see it almost every time we’re out walking: Some lady’s dog is freaking out—lunging and barking at us—as she just stands there.

“Why doesn’t she tell it ‘no’?” we sometimes say. Or, “She isn’t serious enough.” Or, “Why doesn’t she just walk the other way?”

I want to offer advice to these types of dog owners, but I never do. I don’t think it’s right to offer advice unless asked.

But that’s not the point of this post.

The point is I have no business judging other people and their dogs.

I know better, but I still do it. I don’t know why I do it. It must be an ego thing, like I somehow believe I could do better. That seems to be a common theme when it comes to dog ownership in general. “I could do better.”

We think quite highly of ourselves, don’t we?

Why I judge people who have reactive dogs

This is not fair, of course. Because maybe (usually?) that other dog owner just doesn’t know what to do. Or maybe she just adopted the dog and we happened to see her on their first walk. Maybe it’s a relative’s dog she’s walking, or a friend’s dog. Maybe the woman is a pet sitter, walking a client’s dog that no one else is willing to work with.

Maybe this person is fostering the dog so it could get out of the shelter. Maybe she’s working really hard to train the dog and making great progress. Maybe we just happened to walk by at the worst time.

I’ve been in her shoes.

I’ve walked plenty of reactive dogs as a foster owner, dog walker and shelter volunteer. Let me tell you, no matter how careful you are and no matter how experienced you are, there will still be moments when you’re caught off guard. At least that’s the case for me, and I’ve been walking dogs since I was 8 years old.

My dog Ace

Heck, my own dog is a friendly, mellow guy and he still makes me look like I can’t control him at times. He’s a dog; they’re good at making us look incompetent.

Certain dogs just get into those “freak out” moments, and there’s not a whole lot you can do except calmly walk away and remind yourself to avoid the same situation the next time around.

So, if you need help with your dog, I hope you find the help you need.

The rest of us should keep our opinions to ourselves.

When have you caught yourself judging other dog owners?

Why I judge people who have reactive dogs

79 thoughts on “Why I judge people who have reactive dogs”

    1. Oh yes… I see these dogs everyday while out on my walk with my two goldens. Usually small little yappy dogs… going beserk on their leashes across the street as my dogs are just walking by. My dogs look at the little dog like what is wrong with you? I do not know if it is possible to stop a nerotic dog like these dogs that go nuts just seeing another dog. I feel sorry for the owners. My dogs just never have reacted like that ever. They love people and even other dogs. Maybe I just lucked out?….

      1. We live on a golf course and often have people who walk their dogs by our fenced back yard, some even with their dogs off leash. I wish that I knew what to do to keep ours from barking and running the fence line. They just want to be friendly, not aggressive. However pack mentality does seem to aggrrivate the issue. It seems to us that the dog walker is inconsiderate since all of the dogs along the fairway usually bark as they pass. The other barking dogs also seems to excite our dogs. We’d really appreciate any ideas for helping our dogs to be less “assertive” and more watchful. We’ve tried many methods and had only minimal success. Thanks.

      2. This is in response to the person who wrote that she’s never had a reactive dog. Well listen up friend – I have one and he’s been the biggest challenge, heartbreak, and best friend ever. I adopted him 5 years ago but wasn’t told about behavior around other dogs – not all dogs, mostly large dogs but he’s been known to go off the deep end with some small dogs too. He’s a Jack Russell/beagle mix so he’s a medium size dog. He hasn’t met a person he doesn’t love, and some dogs he warms up to immediately. Sometimes I think his issue is from a vibe he gets from another dog, sometimes I think it’s a result of whatever happened to him during his first five years of life with a different family, and other times I think it’s just his personality. I’ve had 2 different trainers but all they gave him was a miserable bout of diarrhea from all the treats they used to “desensitize” him to other dogs. He doesn’t bark in the house, he doesn’t go crazy if someone comes to the door, he loves the mailman, and he will sit quietly if I stop to chat with someone while we’re out for a walk. We’re trying our 3rd trainer next week and hoping for success. Don’t judge me with my dog and I won’t judge you with your dog. I can be pretty reactive too….

        1. Reactive dog owner

          Thank you for this! I was going to go off at that rude and ignorant person. People never understand until they’ve been in the situation. Having a reactive dog is incredibly challenging and what some Karen’s should try to remember is that some dogs are reactive because they DID NOT have good lives. Maybe the reactive dogs you are seeing were rescued and came from horrible situations and were never socialized. So yes. You did luck out or maybe you have dogs that you were able to raise from puppies and provide the best life possible. Not all dogs get that in life so consider yourself very fortunate. And most owners of reactive dogs are TRYING! We’re working with trainers already and it’s hard enough without the snarky judgement. We’re not giving up on our dogs that may have otherwise been put down or sent back to the shelter so please try to be less ignorant.

      3. I have a small dog. He barks, he doesn’t yap. That said, ive come across plenty of people with a yapping issue.

      4. This is ignorant. I hope you’ve learned to be a little bit more kind since this comment and have had your eyes opened that dogs come from a variety of different situations and that affects ho they behave. Some dogs may have been abused and some may have been abandoned.

    2. Sharon McGuigan-Baki

      I mind my dog and correct her if she is reactive and being a Shepherd she protects me. If the other dog owner does nothing to control their reactive dog I ask if they know how and if not suggest they get training. So many people have dogs and there is no law banning people from having dogs but there is no excuse with all the information out there for people to ignore common sense

      1. WOW! How nice that you have the ability to offer your advice. I am a grandmother who walks my granddaughters pit/boxer. I have always had small dogs so this is new to me. I have read and done research but it is still hard. Good for you that you are such a great dog handler

  1. Ugg. My reactive dog has come so far! The one area we still have a lot of trouble is when a neighbor surprises us in the stairs of our building (randomly, once a month or so). So basically my dog only yells at the few people I would most like to think well of us (and the people who KNOW I didn’t just adopt him, so there’s no hiding from the shame).

    1. This is so funny- my dog only yells at.. I never looked at it that my dog is yelling!!! He doesn’t like ANY strangers canine or human. It’s been very difficult to manage . We’ve had a trainer who came to our house and we made some progress but had to stop because of finances. I just don’t understand his reactiveness to so much. He is a strong pit boxer mix

  2. Great reminder that we have no idea what situation a stranger is in! The other day walking Brick I got upset with a woman we were approaching on the sidewalk. Her pomeranian was on a retractable leash fully extended, barking and pulling all over the place. I reigned in Brick’s leash so we could walk by her without an altercation, and I paused, hoping she’d do the same. Instead, she stopped, eyes glued to her phone and never once even looked up. Meanwhile her dog was freaking out, and it seemed like she was completely oblivious to her own dog, let alone me or my dog. I gave up and walked across the street, and of course fumed at how she could let her dog act like that and have no idea we were there. But, like you said, maybe she had been dealing with a hyped up dog all day, took him on a walk to burn some energy, and was texting a friend for tips on how to control it. Who knows, but I certainly don’t know and instead of getting worked up, I should just roll with it and try to not be so judgmental. Good post, Lindsay:)

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      Such a good example! I agree, though, it is frustrating when someone doesn’t seem to even be paying attention to the dog.

    2. Hey next time you have problem like that,you can do what I do in that situation it w/o r ‘s every time. I get the owners attention telling them to control your dog or my dog will have your dog for dinner they look at my big ass dog that weighs about a hundred pounds and they cross the street problem is solved

      1. What an insensitive response. You must need a “big ass” dog to build up your own self-confidence. Why not try a little kindness instead – or I are you too busy being a jerk????

  3. Having been – and sometimes still being! – the person walking the reactive dog, it still can be difficult to avoid judging or wanting to give advice. Whether it is that the handler isn’t using the appropriate tool for the dog (leash, head-halter, harness, training vest, etc.) or seems very oblivious to the fact that they have a reactive dog (no, your dog is not just overly interested in “playing”), it is completely natural to think that we could maybe help that person or dog out.

    The way I try to help (and be less judgmental, if possible) is to remember that there IS one thing we can do to help people with reactive dogs: GIVE THEM SPACE. If you can go another direction, great. Often, we can’t. But maybe you can stop and wait? Let them take the path that is easier to go and then continue on your own. And if you absolutely must pass someone who is handling an obviously reactive dog, go around them in a way that creates as much space as possible: cross the street, create a wider berth to pass, etc. Sometimes the best thing you can do is to hurry past and just reduce the stress. Don’t let your dog sniff and smell the roses and pee on them and take your time while a dog and handler are under stress nearby. If you are close enough to ask and hear, you may even be able to ask where they need to go so you can give them the space to do so. Being “trapped” by clueless people with dogs when you can’t escape with a reactive dog is so stressful. Most people handling reactive dogs will be extremely grateful of anything you do to give them more space. It is so frustrating to be managing or handling a reactive dog and to have a person continue to walk directly at you in a narrow or contained space. Yes, there might be someone who gets offended that you are avoiding them or perceives your creation of the space as judgment. But those are people who are often not clued in to their dog’s behavior and mental state, so even if they are upset with you, the dog likely appreciates the space you’ve given him or her!

    Also, sometimes, the judgment is simply having the attitude that, “My dog can walk nicely and calmly and behave and doesn’t care about your freaking out dog, so why should I have to do anything different on my walk. Deal with it.” To me, being a good dog person and loving dogs means not just ensuring that your dog is cared for, but that you don’t knowingly make life worse for other dogs you encounter in public too.

    1. Sean, I loved your points! I have a leash reactive dog. The other day, I was walking my two dogs down the road. A lady with another dog was walking towards me. As soon as Chip started reacting, I stopped and tried to box her in against the wall so that she didn’t lunge and snarl at the other dog. What did this dog owner decide to do…..let her dog on a loose leash and come up to smell my two. Thankfully, my other dog is great with strange dogs and was sniffing away. All the while, Chip is going mental under my feet getting wrapped up in the lead and rearing and barking.

      I couldn’t move (because I was trying to keep Chip from getting to this dog) and I had to finally ask the lady to move on before my dog snapped at her dog.

      The thing that annoys me most about it was IF Chip did snap, it would have been MY fault because I couldn’t handle my dog!

      I wish all dog owners can understand the concept of space!

        1. They don’t think! And yet, having a Pit Bull who hides behind us, it would be His fault if something happened. Grrr.

    2. Sean that is so right on. I adopted a 2 year old male rottie, and I really dont have a lot of history, other than the previous owner became incarcerated and my boy ended up in a high kill shelter. I walk him diligenly 7 days a week, from anywhere to 45 minutes to an hour twice a day. I have exposed him to dog parks, and new environments, in an attempt to socialize him. He is a reactive dog, so when I encounter other dogs, I usually will cross the street, or walk in the opposite direction. However there are some people who are intent on approaching me on my walks, as if they get pure joy out of seeing me struggle with this massive dog. I found another route where the likihood of me running in to another dog at 6a was slim, so I thought, and an area where he could rlieve himself and have a little off leash time, but to my surprise, one of these dog walkers who would not budge when they they obviously saw that my dog was reactive, found my other route, and just as I bent over to clean up my dogs waste, he encountered her two dogs and took off running towards them. By the time I got to my dog, the owner was screaming and kcking my dog in the side, while I was trying to get a handkle on the situation. My dog was not bearing his teeth, nor was his tail upright or the hair on his back raised. He just simply wanted to sniff this dog. I was heart broken as I watched her kick my dog. I know she may have been afraid, but I feel she over reacted, and instead of letting me grab my dog, she continued to kick him. I have not brought my dog in that neighborhood since. I have also called a professional trainer, and am going to get some help, so that he can learn to be around other dogs, without becoming overly excited. I have learned that until he gets the proper training, I cannot ever have him off leash, because his meer size is intimidating, even though I know he’s a gentle giant. But I do feel that people should be a little more compassionate, when they see someone obviously struggling to handle their dog, because you don’t really know what the situation is. It does cost you anything to give the dog and owner some space, by crossing the street, or going in the opposite route, thats what I would do.

      1. For a moment I thought I wrote that! I have acquired two boys under same situation. They tend to be jerks until they reach 3 yo or older. My almost 4 yo is finally at the point where I can relax on the walk while the 2.5 yo is a scaredy cat and reacts to everything. I sent them off to expensive training and it didn’t seem to help much. What has helped is a good pair of basket muzzles. When I see something they will or may react to then I slip it on. If he chooses to go AWOL and not obey command, I know that he can’t hurt anyone. When other dog owners see the muzzle, they relax a little more knowing he can’t harm their dog. Not that it was his intent, he just comes on strong sometimes. Also try taking a toy he cannot resist. See another dog? Stick the toy in his face and lead him in another direction. Boys are much more difficult during adolescence than girls. Hang in there, he will calm down.

    3. I really appreciate your support and understanding. I have two dogs, one is as mellow as you can be but my older dog has always been reactive. We are not sure what started this behavior and we have tried many different ways to fix the issue and we are still working towards this goal. It is frustrating for us and to people who are trying to have a nice enjoyable walk with their dogs, when our dog behaves like that.

    4. Having a reactive dog is a challenge. I have worked with trainers, go on a group walk with other reactive dogs,. Use general leader & keep him close. All things help but there are still times he reacts badly. It can be embarrassing, frustrating etc. But we love these dogs & keep working on their issues. In our case he is scared, become defensive. Space is the best solution

    5. So true! Owners who just stand there or even wait for you (so the dogs can meet – which blows my mind) when my pup is acting out are the most frustrating. What I need is space- not judgement!

  4. You make such good points. It’s hard to not judge people sometimes. Well, it is for me. I actually got a really good reminder just last week as to why you shouldn’t judge people’s treatment of their dog at first glance.

    I was at dog beach and this family showed up with a small dog on a retractable leash, ill-fitting harness and the dog wasn’t neutered (I know, there are perfectly good reasons to not neuter your dog, but most of the time when meet people with unaltered dogs it’s because they just don’t care, not because they’ve done research and weighed their options). They didn’t let the dog off the lead like everyone else, and I could tell the dog was having some leash frustration and anxiety issues. He had a complete tantrum when my dog approached him, and was trying to hide behind his owner. I immediately assumed they were terrible dog owners.

    After a while I actually suggested to the guy that the dog may feel more comfortable off-leash, and told him that my dog acted just like that on a leash, too (true!) but he was much more confident without it. The guy said, “Okay!” and promptly unleashed his dog. There’s nothing worse than giving advice that turns out to be awful, but to my relief his dog immediately calmed down and actually started playing with my dog. I then got to talking with these people, and found out that they had just found the dog abandoned two weeks ago and were trying to socialize him. They said they wanted to take him to an obedience class and asked where I’d taken my dog. Basically, they were amazing, caring people who were GREAT dog owners, just a little new to the game. I really hope that experience reduces my instinct to judge in the future.

  5. I catch myself judging other dog owners in my mind, but I don’t say anything, I also agree it’s not my place unless asked. The saddest part is though is that my own dog can be reactive and I still do it.

    We really can’t prepare for everything, it’s so true. My dog has been really good for the past 2 years. Id’ say 95% of our walks go according to plan (aka normal). Yesterday I was on my same morning walk we do everyday and we had to walk past 2 horses and 3 off leash dogs. I was panicking way before they even got close. I suppose I was lucky that my dog actually sat for me opposed to lunging but it was still pretty bad listening to her howl like a maniac. I just wasn’t prepared for that, and of course the off leash dogs had to come up and say hello.

    The people in my neighborhood believe that living on a dirt road = no need for leashes. It drives me insane.

  6. I am occasionally reactive, so Mom likes strange dogs to keep their distance but our pet peeve is those owners that keep coming right up to my face with their dog after Mom tells them to back off. What don’t they understand. I just don’t like every dog, and if it is a bigger dog I sometimes panic. It would be nice if owners would listen when Mom tells them something. 9 times out of 10 I’m fine but on a leash if I feel cornered I sometimes snap.

  7. We can’t help but to judge, can we? While I’m out judging, people are judging me. It’s just the way it is, I suppose. As you may know, my dog Pierson is very reactive. We try to avoid people. If I can’t turn around, I try to cross the street and make him sit while I try to bribe him to look at me with a treat. It doesn’t always work. I hope people aren’t judging me because of it, but if they are, oh well. 🙂

  8. Just got back from a walk around the lake with my reactive dog. I stop, bring her to heel, way off the path and if people want to bring their dog up to her I say, “she is unreliable.” Then I hang on. Sometimes she is fine, but some times she goes nuts. We’re working on it.

  9. I was just telling my roommate earlier that when Kaya was younger I had a running inner monolog that went something like “Respect me! I’m dominant! You’re embarrassing me again! Why do you hate me!?” While she’d run away from me at the dog park with some other dog’s toy, bouncing off everyone in sight and grabbing chuck-its from every fetch player blissfully unaware of my emotions. There’s some sarcasm and some truth to that but I know I looked like a total idiot over and over again for a good year.

    I find myself only judging people when they are out of control, not the dogs because after all, they are animals. We recently came across an angry guy at the park, screaming “heel” at a dog walking at the end of its leash and screaming “come” to a little puppy that was off leash and came over to see my dogs. Neither were out of control, nor were they listening or understanding him. I attempted a smile as our dogs greeted each other but he scowled past me, still screaming. I felt so bad for his cute dogs. Then I got yelled at because Kaya got to close to some lady’s yoga mat. Oops…

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      Those are all great stories. I think we all get frustrated with our dogs sometimes. I know I do. I try really hard to remain calm and collected, and dogs are really good at teaching me patience!

  10. I only judge dog owners that don’t leash their dogs. It’s irresponsible and rude. My last dog was very reactive to other dogs on walks. It was something I worked on with her until the very end, but I wasn’t able to ever break her of it.

  11. JD made an embarrassing display just tonight. One of our new neighbours invited us for dinner. It was so nice of them. We said we never go anywhere without our dogs so they left their own dogs in the house to accommodate ours. (The dinner was at their near by cottage) and JD decided he wasn’t gonna like the man of the house. For three hours he [JD] remained being a total jerk. In spite of us having the guy try ignoring JD, presenting treats or a stick to fetch …

    Cookie, on the other hand was a very good girl; beside being her friendly self she remained close and always came when called. Even though it was out in the bush with no fence and no leashes. And critters to be chased everywhere. She quite exhausted herself being frustrated with a chipmunk who refused to come down off his tree …

    We humans have strong propensity to judge others. I try hard not to but we all slip. One thing I cannot help judging is people with obese dogs, though. Particularly when I know it’s their dog and they had it for a long time. I don’t think there is an excuse for that.

  12. Just a tip to those of you who do have reactive dogs….its in no way a solution but more a quick fix! Im lucky to have a small dog and a big dog, so if I see a dog the other side of the road before Chip (my reactive dog) does, I hide Chip behind Phoebe so Chip doesn’t even get a chance to see the other dog! Sorted! 🙂

  13. As an owner of a dog-reactive dog, I have found myself in your shoes, though usually I just feel bad for the dog. It took a few weeks for my newly adopted dog to feel confident enough to “show her true colors” (I was told she was great with other dogs). I was your average dog trainer at the time – teaching group obedience classes and helping people with mildly reactive/barky dogs – and I quickly realized I was in over my head when people would say “you should get a dog trainer” when she would have an outburst.
    So, I devoted myself to learning everything I could to help her and four years later, I now specialize in treating reactivity and fear in dogs and my own dog can even take outdoor group classes. She still barks occasionally, and people may think I don’t care because I don’t “react” (read: yank her and yell at her), but I have found that what helps her most (and most other dogs as well) is to remain emotionally neutral about the situation and just tell the dog what you’d rather they do. She calms down immediately, I praise her, and we move on. My point is that sometimes it’s not that the person doesn’t care, it’s that it takes a lot of practice and effort to remain calm so that they don’t feed into the panic.

  14. Oh man, I’ve definitely been guilty of that (with dogs and horses). I will definitely be thinking of this post the next time my mind tries jumping to judgement. It’s also hard not to feel completely embarrassed too when it’s your own animal that gets out of hand. I usually take it to reflect poorly on me (at least I’m consistent in that!).

  15. I judge people who seem to drop off their dogs at the dog park. I also judge people who bring small children with them when they go to the dog park. I’ve seen so many mishaps that could have easily been avoided by smart thinking and paying attention.

    1. I judge people who bring kids to the dog park as well. A couple times, I even saw people pushing a stroller straight through the gate as all these dogs rushed up to the stroller. I couldn’t believe it! Yes, the dogs were all friendly, but how would you know? I found it unbelievable that a parent would do such a thing.

      1. I HATE that people bring young kids to the dog park. My younger dog (a perfect dog park dog, frankly, as he is amazing with other dogs and can adjust his play style to any dog he meets) is terrified of kids, especially young ones. And it’s unfair that they should intrude on “his” place when he should be able to run free and enjoy himself.

        (His terror, btw, means he reacts by trying to get away…he does not react with aggression to anything he’s afraid of.)

  16. A neighbor has a dog that is most likely a Chi/Dach mix (probably more Chihuahua in it than Dachshund) and it is very leash reactive towards people, dogs, cats, some cars, etc. The owner gives no corrections or anything and lets the dog pull and go crazy on its retractable leash instead of teaching it what’s right or wrong.

    My purebred Dachshund was leash reactive just towards squirrels on our walks, but some positive reinforcement changed all that and now he ignores those little rodents. 😀

  17. I don’t dare judge…unless their dog is running loose…there is NO excuse for that. All of my dogs are prey driven dogs. Something runs they want it. Two have come a long way but one doesn’t care what training he gets he wants whatever is running. If nothing is about we actually get complements on how well behaved he is. The third one reacts out of fear of most everything. He walks great if people are a good distance away as well as other animals. If they get close his tail goes between his legs and he’s ready to scare the heck out of someone to keep them away. We’ve tried many things to overcome his fear but some days are just better than others.

  18. I absolutely agree on keeping opinions to yourself. When I adopted Dahlia she was HUGELY reactive (out of frustration — she couldn’t get to other dogs and she’d lose her fool head, like a toddler in line at the grocery store who wants that candy AND CAN’T HAVE IT). She was my first dog. I’d never experienced a reactive dog before and I was completely out of my element. I had only had her about a month and was still trying to figure out exactly how to work on the issue when I stepped off my porch with her and some guy came running by (not seen until it was almost too late as the apartment had HUGE bushes that blocked the view of the sidewalk) with his little pug. Dahlia lost her head and he turned around, stopped, and said “Maybe if you exercised your dog more she’d be better behaved.” I remember staring at him and then SCREAMING at him about what a rude creep he was and that in case he didn’t notice I WAS walking my dog and I had just adopted her and I was trying to figure out how to work with her and he wasn’t helping and and and…ok I might be a little reactive to. But that STILL sticks with me. It was so incredibly rude.

    I DO wonder about the people who just stand there while their dog goes nuts but I ALSO remember being panicked and not sure what to do and sometimes just holding on for dear life. My young dog can be reactive too…mostly to dogs who are reactive to HIM. And he has a LONG memory. So if a dog leaps at him ONCE, he’ll start barking and carrying on as soon as he sees that dog. Walk by others who have no reaction and neither does he. So trying to figure THAT out and remembering which dogs he might react to and which he’ll be fine with is kind of crazy.

    Also, to add…sometimes people don’t go the other way because they’re heading in a predetermined direction that gets you home in the amount of time you can spend on the walk (e.g. in the mornings before work) so trying to alter that to avoid other dogs can be difficult for some of us! Especially if you run into one of those dogs a few houses down from your own.

  19. I actually am a dog owner that gets judged, I’m sure. My boyfriend and I have two dogs – a little Scottie mix who is very well-behaved (even when he’s not, he’s too small to be a big hassle to control) and a pure bred Siberian Husky who is very, I guess, reactive – walking him can be very nice or highly frustrating. He just gets very excited when he sees other people or dogs and wants to go love on them or play. He’s not aggressive – giant baby actually – but I try to keep him away from most people just because he is such a large dog and most people are wary of him because of his wolfy features. He pulls like crazy any time he wants to get to something though and I’ve been trying to teach him not to pull so much because my boyfriend won’t even walk him due to it. He’s gotten better, but it’s still not at even 50% of the time without him pulling. He’s the first big dog I’ve ever owned so I am still learning. I really like this article just because it does address that you don’t know what every owner is going through or how much progress they have made. The worst part for me is that I don’t want to make him feel bad for wanting to play, but I’m also embarrassed when he pulls and whines to get to another dog.

  20. Got a rescue golden 9 years ago, very fearful and reactive. Changed her diet to raw, no carbs, obedience and rally classes then found the perfect trainer for me so I could learn to handle her. Now we compete in agility! I still keep our safety bubble, re-direct etc. we have doggie friends to play with, I’m very careful and make sure she’s not put into the position of fearfulness and she always looks to me for assurance. I’ve learned a lot from her.

  21. A nice young couple around the corner from us adopted a Chihuahua mix (mostly Chihuahua) named Peggy. Peggy is such a stressed out dog when she see’s other dogs no matter what their size. She has bitten my large shaggy mix in the nose on one occasion and continues to freak out whenever they walk by other dogs. The couple clearly tries to work with her to no avail. They stop by me and my dog and keeping a small distance try to calm her, and on one or two occasions she did stop barking, but on different days she still is her wild uncontrollable self. They said she was never socialized and are trying with the husbands brothers small dog to calm to improve her reaction. They said that they think she is getting better. I feel sorry for them because you can tell they love her. Then on occasion my boy will react to a dog (usually larger) and it reminds me dogs will be dogs.

  22. I have a rescue that was saved from a dog pound at 6 months! I had him shortly after. He is extremely reactive. Has obviously never been socialised. He loves people, but not dogs he doesn’t know. As a young dog, no puppy class would take him as he was so reactive. I run four dogs in agility classes & he is one of them. He loves it. I took him to a competition & right at the end I took him in. He ran the course until he had to turn back towards dogs he did not know. Down went his tail & head. I lowered the next jump ( with judge’s permission. He just would not jump towards those dogs. I turned & jumped him over jumps away from the other dogs & he was fine. The judge said the more times I take him, the quicker he’ll cope with it. I’m not so sure. He hasn’t improved on walks in the 18 months I’ve had him. He knows a dog is about even before it appears & he will start shrieking then. I’ve read so many books on reactive dogs. Nothing seems to work except familiarity & you can’t do that with strangers.

  23. Lindsay Stordahl

    I enjoyed reading all these stories! I’m SURE people have looked at me and my adolescent weimaraner and thought, “Wow, that dog is out of control.” A trainer even said to my face, “I bet you wish you’d taken him to a puppy class.” We DID take a puppy class!! Remy gets so excited when he sees other dogs at times and pulls and jumps and “chokes” himself. It is a sight! But it’s not all the time and I usually manage him well. We just have our moments.

  24. We have a dog Mac that barksfor anything like he is actually ready to bite. He sees golf cart moving he growls & barks, moving bike, sound of motorcycle , landscaper cutting grasses , squirrels etc.
    We even sent him to obedience school & trained by behaviorist. He needed another 2 more wks but because its very costly we are trying to train ourselves but with the trainer assistance.
    So far he has good & bad days. I dont know whenhe will be so scared so I still walk him as my trainor taught us to continue desensitize him. Mac was good with the trainir when he walks with him but i guess I was soft & slow to stop him before his fear escalate.
    But he is much easier to walk now after trainer worked with him.
    He is the dog if you remember I wrote to you looking where he wont be put to sleep because hewas very aggressive. He was rehabilitated & continue to practice to lessen his fear. Getting this trainer worked like wonder to us .We have 2 dogs ( Mac & Myla).
    In regards to walking them & dogs reacting ? This is our daily life. I walk the other way if I know its going to be a threat to the other walkers . , i distract him by giving him treats when I know theres someone behind us ( joggers, bikes). Sometimes it works & sometimes it doesnt. But i always say No when he dont listen & re focus.
    Its embarrassing for me that dogs pass by & Mac go crazy. So i walk him the other side of the street. But im in control as what our trainer told me. Its a working progress for me & look forward of walking him every AM despite of all these frustrations he has.
    Other than that he is such a sweet dog.
    Our dog Myla on the other hand is very easy to handle. I dont have issue with her reacting to others eventhough she is half Labmix that weigh 50lbs. Mac is only 35lbs but he is a challenge walking him but i dont give up on him.

  25. I adopted a young German Shepherd/Lab mix 4 months ago (my first dog), and for the first 2 months she was insanely reactive on leash. She/we were yelled at, called names, sworn at, and got lots of judge-y and dirty looks from other dog owners and people she barked at; she’s a big girl and she looked/sounded aggressive, even though her trainer said she was just acting out of fear. While some fellow dog parents read her body language from a distance and rerouted (which I appreciated SO much), and some were sympathetic and told me their dogs used to be the same, there were always those few that were hostile (which makes everything worse) or didn’t seem to care that my dog looked like she wanted to chomp the head off theirs. Every walk was stressful and exhausting for me, but we worked with a trainer and she has since improved a lot. She still tenses up and plants her whole body down to wait to lunge at an approaching dog, but now will re-focus on me if I have treats or call her name.

    I understand that people judge, because I do it too (especially people who walk their dogs off leash on city sidewalks…), but every time someone cheerfully responded to her snarling with, “Oh you’re fine!” or “It’s ok, mine used to do that too!”, this huge wave of gratitude would engulf me. I think some purebred owners have a difficult time understanding how tough it can be to train an adopted adult dog, and I still fume when people yell at me or raise their eyebrows as if to say, “Control your crazy dog”, although I’m slowly learning to let it go and move right along. I love my pup and even though I’m frustrated and stressed 50% of the time, I know she’s trying really hard to be good, too; you can tell she’s straining with the effort sometimes.

    I guess this is a huge Thank You! to those who get it, and those who give us a quick smile and cheery response when I apologize for her behavior.

  26. I am so glad I read this article all the way through. I have to admit, the title and the first little bit of the post made me kind of angry at you, lol. I have four Aussie’s. They are all very well trained and continue to go to classes and learn more because I feel it is important and beneficial to them as well as a good way to keep them socialized. However, my oldest boy still has reactive issues if I don’t keep a constant eye on him. I have learned a great deal from him, and we have made incredible progress, but still the issue remains. It can be very frustrating and even make you feel like a failure as a trainer. So thank you for giving consideration the way you did in this article and maybe giving others something to think about the next time they encounter a reactive dog. Well done. 🙂

  27. I’ve known so many dogs who are tied out or in their yards and never get walked, let inside, nor have I ever seen anyone outside playing with them. Now, those people I could judge… but I really just want to be their dog’s friend, lol.

  28. My dog is a reactive dog. I adopted her 1.5 yrs ago. She is absolutely perfect with people, loves children like crazy. She was taken away from her Mom too early and never learned socialization skills. I work so hard with her… growl classes, private training… and it’s always one step forward, 2 back. She is a big 70 pound dog, and when she reacts to other dogs on walks she lunges and sounds pretty ferocious. I’m not that big and at times struggle to control the lunging. I am never without high value treats and sometime it goes well and sometimes not- especially when we turn a corner and I don’t see another dog coming. It’s a lot of work, and constant. I love this girl with all my heart and will never give up … so please, don’t judge us.

  29. We have a rescue Patterdale Terrier that is significantly less reactive than when we got her, but still expresses her dislike for some dogs almost 2 years after we got her.
    We improved her behavior by bribery quite frankly – whenever she is good to a dog she meets we give her a treat, which will cure about 80% – 90% of the strong reactions.
    You can’t judge someone’s dog training based on a single view of their behavior. We cannot directly read a dog’s thoughts, and for all we know, it may be your dog that triggers my dog’s behavior. As my former boss might say, you can’t judge a book by its color.

  30. I dont think anyone has the right to tell someone how to raise their children. So why do so many of you feel lke you have a right to tell other people how to handle their dog?
    Helpful advice when asked for is nice but otherwise I think you should mind your own business and dog!

  31. Sandy Weinstein

    i got so mad one time at a dog event. Evie was just a young gal. she is and was always so well behaved. it was the Bark Around the Park dog event. we were waiting in line to get pictures. a little Russell terrier with a muzzle was causing a lot of trouble. the owner took the muzzle off and as soon as she did, that dog attacked Evie. the lady did not even see if Evie was okay, did not even apologize, nothing. if you have to put a muzzle on your dog, he should not be at an event where there are hundreds of dogs and furthermore not take off the muzzle. at this same even, another dog, a big dog part German shepherd attached Evie as well. again, no apoligies, no sorry, nothing, just walked off as if it were my dog’s fault. Evie was just standing there beside me. the guy yelled at me, when i told him he should not have a dog like that at an event where there are lots of kids, and other dogs. Evie has never attached another dog or even growled at another dog. she would let little kids pick her up, hold her, she has always had the best personality. my 2 other girls are the same way. i dont say anything to anyone when there dog acts up, unless it is a danger to my dogs or attacking them. i was so pissed. even some of the vendors got upset at these people and said they should not have their dogs at such an event. i dont care if someone else’s dog like to play and have a good time, and gets excited, some breeds are naturally like that, as long as they dont attack, growl or bit my dogs. then i have a right to voice my opinions loudly. that goodness, Evie was not hurt, but it sure scared the crap out of her. i had to calm her down and hold her for a long time.

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      I’m so sorry to hear that Evie was attacked. That must have been so scary for her and you! I’m glad she was not hurt.

  32. My pup is a super mellow leash walker, and even more so after she went on Prozac and intensive training for separation anxiety. A few months ago she was bitten by a dog on a leash and since then, my nerves are on edge any time I pass a dog who I can tell is reactive or whose owner is aloof, using a retractable leash, or clearly unable to control their dog. I often feel like I need to be judgmental in order to be alert so I do what the poster above said, I walk my dog on the other side or passing dogs and will cross the street or walk in the street when necessary. I also agree with another poster, that if my dog happens to react negatively to another dog, I give a quick correction. I try to keep in mind all the possible situations you mention because we truly don’t know what’s going on for the person and the dog. I do wish dog owners in my neighborhood were more attentive, caring about the local dog community, and understood their own dogs behavior better. No one understands how to allow their dogs to greet properly on leashes here!

  33. I get frustrated because I spend a lot of time working w7th my large dog to make him a responsible fur citizen, and other people just let their dogs act like aholes. It is more frustrating when I am carrying the latest bag of poop for 4 miles, and round the corner to home just in time to see another resident lettihg their dog poop in my yard and walk away with out it……

  34. The problem when you have a reactive dog is that they need to see other dogs and go through the freak out as part of rehabilitation. Our dog is a rescue and reactive because of the situation he came from. Of course, we never let him up close with another dog without permission or a muzzle for saftey. The big problem we see is people walking their dogs off leash. We have a sleeve and everything and those people still come towards us.

  35. One of my dogs hates other dogs that she does not know. She is fine with dogs in our house, dogs out and about that we are friends with etc, but she hates dogs that are strangers. She has been attacked by 5 different dogs, leading her to need stitches and surgery. Another dog choked her almost to death- she was on her lead and wearing her muzzle, the other dog came out of nowhere and no one could get it off her, not even the dog’s owner, even when he was kicking and punching his dog to try to get it off. She went floppy and passed out and her gums and tongue were grey. We thought she was dead. Another dog has grabbed her around the neck and shaken her, causing damage to her throat and neck.
    It is easy to see why she does not like other dogs.
    I don’t like the word ‘reactive’ as to be honest I think people sometimes use it instead of ‘aggressive’ but my dog is reactive/aggressive with other dogs.

    She is thirteen years old and I have been trying to help her with her hatred of other dogs for the 9 plus years we have had her, but nothing changes. It devastates me when people judge us and look at us horribly. It is not through lack of training or socialisation- my dog knows over 40 different commands and I have spent hundreds of hours training her. I have had two other dogs with no issues with other dogs and my dogs are my life, yet people really do judge us. Also, my little dog is a terrier…I think a lot of reactivity etc is to do with breed as much as anything else.

    I try not to judge other people who are obviously trying, but I have to admit I do judge people who happily/obliviously let their dogs run riot off the lead up to my dog when I am trying my best. Progress we make is ALWAYS derailed by people letting their ‘friendly’ dogs run up to us. I understand sometimes dogs stop listening/things happen since they are all dogs after all, but I try to never let my friendly dogs run up to on lead dogs because I think it is so unfair- you never know why they are on the lead after all.

    I really like this article 🙂

  36. I think people just need to chill. I have a reactivate dog. I am disabled I can control him. Please don’t judge. I correct him but it is anxiety. He is on meds for it. People that give me dirty looks gives me anger and I just wanna show them what my dog is all about. No dog is perfect. Please have some respect.

  37. Serina J Rieckman

    Aw, how honest. I was that way too until I started fostering dogs. Then I understood how little control you sometimes can have over a dog. Lol! You have a dog thats been locked in kennel for weeks, and he comes to your house for 1 week. Discipline is nonexistent

    For my dog I try to work with her. She’s leash reactive so actually correcting her and saying no makes it worse. Because basically whenever stimulus comes around she has a negative reaction/ experience from me. I’m sure its extremely weird for people who walk by while she’s sitting and softly growling that I’m giving her treats. However she’s gone from barking and lunging to sitting and quietly complaining that she has to stay next to me. That’s after a month progress. We’ll see what happens in 3 months.

  38. People judge it’s a fact! Dogs, Cats , Kids , clothes, hell body size … everything you can think of it’s sad and it’s human but still , just try not to also try not to tell others about it. It is good to think about your situation, realizing that you have been there! It’s almost better to acknowledge the situation and tell the people that try to deal with kids or animals that you have been in the same situation and that they should hang in there or something! Also try to think if it makes you feel better in any way… not? Well then just quit it…

  39. I’m not going to lie the title of this made my shackles go up lol. I have a reactive dog. I went from the stage of not knowing what was happening to trying to fix it through various trainers and then feeling so overwhelmed with her reactivity. I realize it will take time.

    We have a new trainer now and lots of lessons so we’re just going through them and hoping for change.

  40. I only actively judge people who don’t do anything about it. I have a friend with a reactive dog who refuses to seek out a class and refuses to try any kind of training and instead has decided that her dog is perfect and everyone else should accommodate her. AND she wants to complain about it to me while not doing anything about it. No. The world doesn’t work like that. I totally judge her for that, I admit it.

  41. This is a great post! I am that person with the reactive dog…le sigh…I do not judge other people with reactive dogs any more because I know how it feels! My dog humiliates me on a daily basis when we are out walking. I have a 7 month old weim puppy who does NOT know how to walk nicely past another dog. He really just wants to play and say hello, but sadly, he doesn’t know how to do that politely yet and I am not completely sure how to expose him to other dogs nicely. I am new to my area and don’t know any one in my town with a dog for him to socialize with and learn doggy manners (no, we are not ready for the dog park and I’ve not decided on if we will attend it at all). I have seen several different trainers, and have had success in other aspects of his behavior, but I am at my wits end with this (and a few other naughty behaviors)! If anyone can offer tips, I’m all ears!

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      My weimaraner is like that. May I ask, do you feel like you have the right collar/leash set up for the best control? Not sure if you are comfortable with a prong collar, but that is what helps mine behave the best. I have an Easy Walk no-pull harness that I also like to use but he’s hard to control with that around other dogs. He kind of “leaps” at them on his hind legs when in the harness. You could also try a Gentle Leader. Mine doesn’t do well with that but it worked really well for my previous dog, a Lab mix.

      I would try group obedience classes if your area has any. Good chance to practice around other dogs in a controlled environment.

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