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Reactive Dog vs. Aggressive Dog: What's the Difference?

Updated: Nov 9, 2023

Behaviors like fear, dominance, territoriality, or resource guarding are NOT true aggression, they are behavioral issues related to defense drive, another instinctual drive of the eight instinctual drives of all species.

An aggressive dog and a reactive dog may exhibit similar behaviors, but they have distinct differences. Here's an overview:


1. Aggressive Dog: A truly aggressive dog is rare. In over 30 years of training dogs and offering dog training programs, I have only experienced nine truly aggressive dogs. All too often people mischaracterize the words, aggression and aggressive, resulting in the euthanization of animals erroneously determined to be aggressive. A good example is a test that Animal Shelters do with dogs. While the dog is eating, an inexperienced staff member will use an artificial hand attached to a broomstick to see if the dog will show what these inexperienced staff, on up to directors of adoptions, call food aggression. They are seriously wrong! They euthanize a dog if it growls! The growling behavior is nothing more than resource guarding and can be corrected with behavior modification training. An aggressive dog is one that displays aggressive behaviors, such as biting, growling, or showing teeth, with the explicit intention to harm and assertion of dominance. True aggression in dogs is limited to genetic predisposition. Aggression is one of eight instinctual drives that all species possess, including the human species. Behaviors like fear, dominance, territoriality, or resource guarding are NOT true aggression, they are behavioral issues related to defense drive, another instinctual drive of the eight instinctual drives of all species. True aggression in dogs requires euthanization, not extensive behavior management and training interventions.

aggressive dog

Truly aggressive dogs are public safety hazards and must be eliminated through euthanization. It's the hardest part of being a true dog trainer, to have to communicate to a person that their dog needs to be euthanized. I have had to do this a number of times and it is not pleasant, but it is my absolute ethical responsibility to humanity to make said determination and assist people in carrying out the final, and only solution. It is as emotionally taxing on me as a dog trainer as it is on the owner, some owners who have had the dog since a young puppy. I was shocked, on one occasion, that my company was given a 5-star Google Review that was somewhat anonymous. I say anonymously in that I could not associate an identity to the review through my database of dogs that I trained, and the poster of the review left no identifying info. I posted a reply to the review and asked the person to please call me. When the person called me, I was shocked to learn that it was from a young woman whom I recommended she euthanize her dog that she had since it was a puppy. She broke down on the phone and cried when she told me it was her who posted the review and she followed through with my recommendation for euthanization. I cried with her. I offered her my own dog with no cost because I sincerely felt her loss. It must be remembered that canines are animals first, and then potentially our best friends. An owner of a truly aggressive dog may try medicinal intervention such as Fluoxetine with their veterinarian but must take extensive precautions to prevent humans from being injured, especially children. Once a canine has gotten away with biting a human and eliciting fear from said human without sufficient consequences, it is guaranteed to happen again. Injury to a human can be very serious and possibly fatal.


Aggressive dogs typically display aggressive behavior as a means to assert dominance and/or cause harm, while reactive dogs tend to act out of fear or anxiety.

2. Reactive Dog: A reactive dog, on the other hand, is a dog that reacts strongly or excessively to certain stimuli, such as other dogs, strangers, or loud noises. These reactions often include barking, lunging, or pulling on the leash. Reactive behavior in dogs is usually a response to fear or anxiety and can be conditioned or triggered by past experiences such as trauma. It has been my extensive experience as a dog and puppy trainer that has turned into wisdom, that not all dogs can be trained with behavior modification without medicinal intervention first. Fluoxetine is a viable solution for many canines that suffer from either genetically weak nerves through improper breeding and/or trauma/abuse.


The key difference between the two is the underlying motivation behind their behavior. Aggressive dogs typically display aggressive behavior as a means to assert dominance and/or cause harm, while reactive dogs tend to act out of fear or anxiety. The latter types of dogs require specialized training and management techniques to ensure their safety and the safety of others. It's important to consult a professional dog trainer or a behaviorist if you have concerns about a dog's behavior.

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